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Pokémon GO: Are brands responsible for what their customers do with their product?

by | Jul 18, 2016 | Branding, Technology, Video Games

As you may have heard, Pokémon GO is kind of popular. According to TechCrunch, the game now has more active online users than Twitter, and a higher user engagement rate than Facebook.

Oh, and 5.6% of all U.S. Android users are using the app regularly—put into context, the game is downloaded on more Android devices than Tinder.

Rest assured media pick-up of the game has been astronomical—and the game hasn’t even officially been released worldwide. Since July 5th, Pokémon GO has acquired more than 100,000 online news mentions and nearly 60,000 mentions on blog sites.

The best part of this entire release? Nintendo and Niantic haven’t needed to put much effort into their PR strategy in terms of distribution—the power of nostalgia alone is enough to drive the whole campaign.  And though the game has generated hilarious moments and tweets across the net, the video game Goliath and developer haven’t done much in terms of issues management to try and discourage players from seemingly “unethical” behaviour.

But do they have to?

Just recently Robin Bartholomy and Adrian Crawford of Ohio were caught sneaking into the Ohio Zoo at 2:30am to fill-up their pokédexes. As you can imagine, they were promptly arrested. Nintendo and Niantic’s response? Zilch.

Public mayhem has ensued over the spawning of rare pokémon in public parks.

Aspiring Pokémasters continue to find pokémon in the most inappropriate of places—Ground Zero and the Holocaust Museum, included. Certain places like Auschwitz have even asked to be removed from the game completely out of respect for the dead. Nintendo and Niantic’s response? Zero. But that hasn’t stopped the infamous World War II museum from trying to ban players from playing the game on museum grounds, anyways.

Trespassing, robbery and distracted driving causing an accident are just a few of the crimes noted since the release of Pokémon GO.

And players have even been locked in cemeteries while trying to “catch ‘em all.”

Nintendo and Niantics response? Nada.

All of these incidences bring up some interesting questions in public relations and morality:

  • Should Nintendo sacrifice its brand’s image to its consumer’s unethical actions for the amount of publicity Pokémon GO has received?
  • Could Nintendo and Niantic have predicted the popularity of the game, and therefore the actions its audience would take to “catch ‘em all”?
  • Should Nintendo and Niantic take immediate actions to remedy complaints from places such as Auschwitz by removing its location from the game?
  • Should Nintendo and Niantic even need to acknowledge the “bad” side of Pokémon GOs release and just focus on a global rollout of the game?
  • Did Nintendo and Niantic have the foresight to exclude certain locations from its game? Did they purposely include these areas to generate buzz?
  • Are Nintendo and Niantic ultimately liable for the actions their consumers take while playing the game? Or have they ultimately surrendered their reputation to the masses?

While we may not have the answers to all of these questions, it will be interesting to see what happens when the game is officially released around the world. With the implementation of sponsored pokéstops and potential new features like leaderboards and trading, it’s hard to see the pokémon craze losing momentum anytime soon.

What do you think Nintendo and Niantic should do moving forward? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sara Chisholm

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