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WV Business Aim to ‘Catch ’Em All’

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Terra Cafe in Star City, WV made Pokémon themed pastries for their customers. An "Eevee" sits on top of a Poke ball cupcake paired with a Pikachu smoothie. Photo Courtesy of Terra Cafe Terra Cafe in Star City, WV made Pokémon themed pastries for their customers. An "Eevee" sits on top of a Poke ball cupcake paired with a Pikachu smoothie. Photo Courtesy of Terra Cafe
A "Charmander" cupcake was also available to catch - or eat. A "Charmander" cupcake was also available to catch - or eat.
The cafe also made Pikachu cupcakes. The cafe also made Pikachu cupcakes.

The Pokémon slogan “Gotta catch ’em all” might just as easily apply to a new marketing plan for businesses trying to snare the attention and dollars of the game’s players as it does to a player’s quest to collect all the “pocket monster” animated characters.

Stores, restaurants and other businesses are cashing in on the popularity of the two-week-old, augmented reality mobile exploration application by offering discounts and other incentives to players. West Virginia businesses are no exception.

Since Pokémon Go was released July 6 it has been downloaded 30 million times worldwide and has generated $35 million in revenue, says intelligence gatherer Sensor Tower.

What Is It?

“Pokémon” is a combination of parts or sounds of the words “pocket” and “monsters.” The Pokémon franchise debuted in 1996 as a Japanese animated TV show about mixed-species animals, said Ajay “AJ” Aluri, an assistant professor at West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics who has submitted a white paper about Pokémon Go for publication.

Poké- what? 

Pokémon: Creatures from a different world with specialty abilities.

Pokéstop: A location where players can get more items

Gym: A location where players can battle Pokémon to control the gym

Lure Module: When used at a Pokéstop can attract more Pokémon

Poké Balls: Balls used to capture Pokémon

Pokémon spawned a video game (Nintendo owns The Pokémon Co. behind Pokémon Go), films and collectors’ cards. Niantic Labs and The Pokémon Co. developed Pokémon Go based on the infrastructure of another Niantic game, Ingress, which is nowhere near as popular as Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go uses augmented reality — technology that makes digital animations appear to be in the real world using a smartphone’s camera. The phone’s GPS locator and clock also help with the interactive experience as the user plays.

This is not the first time businesses have used augmented reality. Hardware stores and paint companies have apps that let homeowners see what different colors of paint would look like on their walls when they point their smartphone cameras at an area of their room.

Aluri attributes Pokémon Go’s instant and overwhelming popularity to users’ openness to embracing the technology.

“It is a good indication smartphone users are attracted to augmented reality,” he said. “What Pokémon Go did was it created an immersive, interactive experience for the smartphone. Virtual reality is something that blocks interaction with the real-world environment.

“AR is a different approach that focuses on interacting with the real and virtual worlds at the same time. I can see what’s in front of me. I know what’s around me. You can see the reason why people love this is the experience it creates with the real world.”

In the game, a player makes an avatar that moves on a map of the area with the player as he walks or drives in the real world. When Pokémon appear on the screen in the vicinity of the avatar, players — who are called Trainers — try to capture them by throwing devices called Poké Balls by flicking their phone screens. Players visit locations marked as Pokéstops — these can be post offices, churches and historical landmarks — to pick up gear to help them in the game, such as more Poké Balls. Players also visit spots designated as Gyms to exercise their monsters, training them to fight the Pokémon of other players.

As players gain experience and achieve benchmarks, they advance to higher levels.

“If used appropriately, AR mobile games like Pokémon Go can be used to make good friends, educate, explore places for tourism, learn history and discover local art or landmarks,” Aluri said. “In places such as universities, Pokémon Go users can use the app to network and make new friends. Perhaps the future of social networks is headed back toward networking and meeting with friends in the real world.”

Increasing Engagement

Almost immediately after Pokémon Go launched, organizations started using the phenomenon as a chance to engage with people.

The National Park Service, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, posted on Twitter: “Attention Trainers: We’re so excited you’re headed out to the parks. Go #FindYourPark & catch ’em all! #PokémonGo”

West Virginia University made a map of all the Pokéstops and Gyms on its downtown campus and plotted a route players might take to hit every one.

“Morgantown and the WVU campus has gone Poke-crazy,” said Candace Nelson, social media editor at West Virginia University. “It’s now so common to see students sitting outside many campus buildings with a phone in their hands swiping away. We have 61 Pokéstops and nine Pokémon Gyms on campus, so it’s a great place to play the app. 

“We wanted to encourage our students to explore campus and find ‘Pokéstops’ along the way,” she said. “Not only are they able to play the game, but they get to see some spots on campus that they may not frequented often — like different sculptures around our Creative Arts Center or various types of trees in the Core Arboretum. 

A blue cube represents a "Poké stop" and the pink hearts (lure modules) falling from the cube draw in more Pokémon. The cube in this picture is the Charleston Town Center Mall. 

“And, really, we’re just happy to lend a hand to help anyone on our campus catch one of those tricky Zubats.”

Some cities are using Pokémon Go to promote tourism, directing people to attractions and restaurants, Aluri said. He used the app as a tour guide this week in Philadelphia as he explored Independence Hall.

Some businesses are lucky enough to be at or close to a Pokéstop so they benefit from foot traffic with no added effort.

Taylor Books at 226 Capitol St. in downtown Charleston, WV is a Pokéstop and there are two directly across the street from the store.


“Somebody asked me today why we aren’t putting out any lures,” said the manager who is just learning about the game. “We will probably be doing it by tomorrow. It’s fun, and it’s free. Well, almost.”Store manager Dan Carlisle said plenty of his staff members play Pokémon Go and he has seen members of the public coming in and catching Pokémon hiding among the bookshelves. “It’s a big space in here. There’s lots of space and areas to roam around.

Inexpensive Advertising

Lures Modules are game add-ons that can be purchased in the app. The lure attracts Pokémon (increasing the chance the game will cause the critters to appear to players), and also attracts Trainers who hope to capture them. A business could buy 14,500 Pokécoins (the currency of the game) for $100. That many coins will buy 21 packages of eight lures or 168 lures. A lure lasts 30 minutes. Assuming the business drops a lure every half hour, it just bought “advertising” for $1.19 per hour ($100/84 hours).

While a lure offers the chance to collect Pokémon that trainers haven’t caught yet, some businesses are offering more tangible incentives such as themed products and discounts.

Ryan Neal owns seven Beef Jerky Outlets, including one in Lewisburg, WV two in Charleston, WV and one in Princeton, WV. He said the chain advertised on its Facebook page a 10 percent discount for a limited time if customers showed they had achieved at least Level 5 in the game.

That was enough to draw crowds.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in and get the discount,” Neal said. “It was unreal how many people came in. It’s not even a big discount, but we’ve had really good feedback from it. It has been incredible.”

The app uses your phone's camera to place Pokémon in your location. Players can fling the Poké ball to catch the characters. 

Sarah Straface, owner of Tutto Gelato in Morgantown, WV, came up with a confection she is offering at a discount to customers who show they have downloaded the game.

“We noticed Suburban Lanes (bowling alley) is a Pokéstop,” she said. “One of my employees is big into the game. We quickly thought of a gelato made to look like a Poké Ball.”

The dessert can be made with any red or pink flavor and a white flavor. Some combinations are raspberry and lemon, strawberry and coconut, mixed berry and vanilla. Tutto Gelato advertised the discounted goody on its Facebook page and a sidewalk sign.

The store has seen increased business lately but, because the Pokémon promotion coincided with National Ice Cream Day July 17, Straface said she isn’t sure if the mobile game should get all the credit for increased sales.

Terra Café at 425 Industrial Ave., in Star City, WV, also has offered themed menu items. Manager Anna Kleb came up with a Pika-colada smoothie special and the bakers are decorating cupcakes to look like Pokémon characters.

The store was naturally getting more business from more people being out on the nearby rail-trail playing the game, Kleb said. But some of her employees who play the game have been putting out lures. “From our back patio you can reach a lot of Poké-gyms. That is helping us as well.”“The Pokémon cupcakes have been flying off the shelves,” Kleb said, adding that buyers are all ages.

Terra Café wants to build rapport with customers, not just make a buck.

"We're catering to customers even more by catering to their interests," Kleb said. "And creating a space where they can relax and gather in a welcoming atmosphere."

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