Top of the month: How did Pokémon Go catch everyone's attention?

There is, famously, no 'I' in 'team', but the extraordinary way in which the Pokémon Go phenomenon has played out this month leads to the question: how much 'PR' is there in 'viral'?

Teenagers play Pokémon Go on a bridge in Düsseldorf, Germany (©ROLF VENNENBERND/dpa)
Teenagers play Pokémon Go on a bridge in Düsseldorf, Germany (©ROLF VENNENBERND/dpa)

History repeats itself sometimes. When the first two Pokémon games were released for Game Boy in 1996, they broke all sorts of records for sales as users across the world clamoured to "catch ‘em all".

Twenty years on, July 2016 has witnessed the franchise’s latest incarnation, augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go, rack up downloads and column inches at an extraordinary rate.

The app has been taking social by storm, filling streets across the world with Pokéhunters glued to their phones, giving clever, reactive brands a chance to shine and boosting Nintendo's share price to a five-year high (temporarily, but with initial huge gains) – despite it not actually having developed the game. It is hard (but not impossible) to overstate the app's success – although whether this can be more than a passing fad remains to be seen.

So, what exactly is behind this success? Here are five factors that to greater or lesser degrees have contributed to the world going utterly Pikachu.

Nostalgia it being two decades since the debut Pokémon games' release, many of the franchise's first audience are now smartphone-owning young professionals with time to kill, looking for something fun to do with their summer. Taking people back to their childhood is always a good bet for capturing an audience.

Quality – it's obvious, but it needs to be said that the game is good fun and well made. No amount of marketing or PR could have gotten it this big if it hadn't been – after all, you can't polish a Turtwig.

Escapism – after a torrid couple of months (there has been a fair bit going on in the news, readers may recall), was this the perfect time to give people the chance for a bit of frippery?

Luck – if people do insist on finding dead bodies or walking off the edge of cliffs while playing Pokémon Go, then the news is your oyster. Overquoted ex-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan surely had this sort of thing in mind when he came up with his famous "events, dear boy, events" line. 

Visibility – parents know that their children are using a thing called Snapchat. CMOs are aware that there are these 'influencers' on YouTube that they ought to be working with. But often these modern crazes are something that, due to their digital nature, are discussed but unseen by non-users. Not so with Pokémon Go – which as videos like this one below show, has a more tangible (and sometimes slightly terrifying) presence.

PR – here is the big question. To what extent has comms been a factor? The UK PR firm for franchise owner The Pokémon Company (the game itself is developed by Niantic Labs) is Premier, and the agency told PRWeek that its client would not be doing any media interviews as it continued to focus on the game's global rollout. While it and other agencies (such as Triple Point in the US) doubtless deserve some credit, it is still surely a distant second to the fact that sometimes, for some products, the Staryus align in a way nobody would have predicted.

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