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Businesses latch on to Pokemon craze

They drop digital 'lures' near their premises, resulting in an increase in footfall; but observers say the move may not be sustainable

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COME CATCH ME: The Pokémon named Psyduck on a player's smartphone screen near Marina Bay Sands. Businesses which set up Pokémon 'lures' say they have attracted avid gamers on a critter hunt.

Singapore

IT has only been a week since the official release of Pokémon Go in Singapore, but amid the smokescreen of marketing puns and Poké-themed promotions, businesses across different sectors are already reporting an increase in business activity.

Businesses are riding on the popularity of the augmented-reality game by dropping digital "lures" near their premises to attract Pokémon - and consequently, game fans (along with their smartphones and their wallets) to their locations, in search of digital critters to "catch".

It seems to be working, going by the experience of Ion Orchard, City Square Mall and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), which have had more traffic of late; Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs Jurong Bird Park, River Safari, and the Singapore Zoo, joins the fray this weekend by scattering lures in the three parks.

The key reason behind the success of Pokémon Go's integration into businesses' marketing models comes from the game's augmented-reality aspect, through which the game's software interacts with the elements of the real world; this is unlike most other games, in which the gaming activity is confined to the native gaming software.

Businesses have been quick to bring customers into their stores in the real world by clever placement of "lure modules" - digital devices earned in the game app or bought through the game shop - near their establishments.

Clement Goh, managing director of Equinix South Asia, said: "The game in itself has definitely blurred the lines between the virtual and physical world. Brick-and-mortar shops can leverage the game by using it as a marketing tool . . . to attract footfall."

Desmond Sim, head of CBRE Research for Singapore and South-east Asia, said using lures is a low-cost avenue for businesses to reach out to a targeted group of potential customers.

"There are very low barriers to entry for this game. It does not cost players anything to start playing the game; for businesses, it doesn't cost much to buy the lures to use at Pokéstops near their shops.

It is basically cheap advertising for businesses."

Ion Orchard and City Square Mall, owned by CapitaLand Ltd and City Development Ltd respectively, have placed lures and launched promotions to attract Pokémon Go players to their premises.

Ion Orchard's marketing campaign, called Go@Ion Orchard, has been effective, said Chris Chong, chief executive of Orchard Turn Developments. "Based on the number of Go@Ion Orchard redemptions, we have witnessed healthy spending by shoppers who visited our mall to catch Pokémon."

CapitaLand launched an Instagram campaign called #PokemonSTAR, which combines the gaming phenomenon with its rewards programme, Capitastar. The campaign rewards players with points, which can be used to redeem CapitaLand vouchers.

Teresa Teow, CapitaLand Mall Asia head of retail management in Singapore, said that even though it has been only a week since the game's release, business activity has noticeably increased in its malls.

"During #PokemonSTAR, the average daily signups for Capitastar increased 43 per cent compared to July. We have also seen a 33 per cent increase in followers for CapitaLand's Instagram account, with about 2,000 posts garnered on #PokemonSTAR."

City Square Mall said it had a "healthy turn-out" of visitors to the mall when it released its lures on National Day.

Aside from also planting lures, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) offered a 10 per cent discount for admission to its S.E.A. Aquarium and Universal Studios Singapore for every five Pokémon caught within an hour on its premises.

An RWS spokesman said Pokémon Go has generated "significant footfall". "The lures we are releasing across the resort every day this week, including Universal Studios Singapore and SEA. Aquarium, brought about increased visitorship into the attractions.

"Pokémon Go enthusiasts also took advantage of the promotions running until this Sunday, with many prolonging their stay on the resort and patronising our retail outlets and restaurants."

Wildlife Reserves Singapore will release more than 500 lures at the nearly 70 Pokéstops in the BirdPark, River Safari and the zoo, and offering prizes such as free annual membership and plush toys to visitors who catch eight unique Pokémon in the parks.

One of the more creative marketing strategies out there was launched by dating app LunchClick, which has run a Pokémon-themed dating event at which singles form teams to try outdoing each other in catching the Pokémon with the highest number of combat points.

LunchClick chief executive Violet Lim said the response to the event was "overwhelming" - its 50 available spaces were gone in three days; it has since opened more spaces to meet the demand.

Local telcos Singtel, StarHub, and M1 have also placed lures at many Pokéstops to encourage gameplay, although they say they have not noticed a spike in data-usage among their customers; this is because Pokémon Go's gameplay is not data-intensive.

So instead of offering data at discounted prices, the telcos have instead opted for more conventional marketing techniques such as putting lures out to help players catch Pokémon.

In spite of this, industry watchers cited by OCBC Investment Research Pte Ltd expect data usage to go up by 500MB per month, up from the normal monthly average of 3.3GB.

Separately, these industry watchers also expect the current Pokémon Go trend to boost F&B sales and retail footfall, since many Pokéstops are around shopping malls and landmarks.

There were, however, mixed reviews about the game's overall effect on businesses in the long run.

CBRE Research's Mr Sim was optimistic: "The main effect is that the presence and visibility of these shops would increase. While not all Pokémon Go players would buy from these shops, more people will now know about the shop's existence - this can only help businesses in the long run."

Srinivas Reddy, SMU's professor of marketing, took a more neutral stance: "Because of the geocoding, some businesses are benefiting from the game - in terms of attracting people to their location. It is still unclear if they are able to convert them into purchasers."

Arvind Sethumadhavan, chief innovation officer for the Asia-Pacific for Dentsu Aegis Network, said Pokémon Go will have only a marginal impact on business due to the marketing campaigns being unsustainable - because they hinge on the continued popularity of the game.

He, like Mr Sim, thinks the craze will fade away, like fads.

Mr Sim said: "The litmus test of seeing whether this will last is in looking at how the game reinvents itself. After two to four weeks, when Pokémon Go players have 'caught 'em all', what incentive is there left for them to keep playing?"