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Over the past week or so, you might have noticed people roaming around in peculiar places, eyes focused intently on their phone screens, stalking empty sidewalks or hovering over random patches of grass as if trying to capture some invisible creature.

No, they haven’t lost their minds. They’re just hunting Pokémon.

The Pokémon Go Craze

As you’ve probably heard by now, Pokémon Go was released last week and immediately went viral. The free mobile game received an estimated 7.5 million downloads in the U.S. within the first five days of launch, according to TechCrunch. And, as Forbes noted, the millions of Americans who have downloaded the app are spending twice as much time engaged with it than they are with other popular apps like Snapchat. 

The game uses your phone’s GPS and camera to display your real life surroundings on the screen, and then superimposes digital creatures (Pokémon) over this live scene. This blend of the real world the and virtual world is known as augmented reality (AR).

Personally, I can’t walk five feet without hearing about this thing. People were hunting Pokémon in the elevator up to the office this morning, and in the conference room before a meeting. Smart, successful adults are walking into walls—and, in some cases, even falling into ditches—too entranced by their phones to look up.

You get it. It’s big.

Why Should Publishers Care About This?

You’re probably wondering what on earth this all has to do with local media. The answer has nothing to do with Pokémon and everything to do with the light this game has shed on consumers’ wants and needs.  

The success of Pokémon Go shows that the mainstream is more than ready to embrace augmented reality.

The fact that today’s consumers are hungry for more interactive, connected experiences is not news—the quick shift from analog to digital made that clear. At the same time, though, it seems most people aren’t ready to make the full leap into virtual reality (VR), which involves replacing the real world with a simulated world. For all the buzz VR has received, it hasn’t quite caught on with the masses yet.

Augmented reality provides a nice middle ground. Clearly, this type of multi-layered, virtual-meets-physical hybrid experience is hitting a sweet spot.

For any organization interested in engaging and growing an audience—especially a Millennial audience—this could be an important finding to take into account. 

How Newspapers Can Use Augmented Reality

Some publishers have already started experimenting with augmented reality technology. The Sun Community News, a local media company based in New York State, incorporated AR functionalities into their print publications this past spring. Readers could download a free mobile app and scan the publications with their smartphones to experience the printed pages in an entirely new way.

This type of augmented reality integration makes it possible for publishers to enhance text and images with rich media like video clips or slideshows. They can also embed reader polls, live hyperlinks, and other advanced features into printed articles.

Right now, it’s too early to say for certain whether Pokémon Go fever is just a passing fad or the tipping point of an AR revolution. Many are predicting the latter. Regardless, newspapers might consider trying it out as a way to enhance coverage, breathe life into static content, cater to mobile, and build deeper connections with younger audiences. After all, it could play a significant role in the digital future.

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