You wake up one morning and everything has changed. Everyone you see is stumbling around, head down, feet dragging. Random droves of people shuffle toward seemingly empty spaces with an energy that borders on manic mob mentality. All of the sudden the rules of social engagement and the vocabulary you hear around you has shifted.
No, it’s not the zombie apocalypse, although sometimes it might look like it. Welcome to the age of Pokemon Go.
It seems like no matter where you look, every other article is talking about Pokemon Go, the latest craze recently crowned the biggest mobile game in history.
From concerns about safety and the decline of non-mobile social interaction, to optimism about America’s health and the future of augmented reality, everyone has an opinion about this real-world viral phenomenon.
Of course marketers haven’t kept their toes out of this conversation pool. With most focusing on the marketing possibilities of augmented reality and the success of repackaging an existing super-brand, I’d like to talk instead about the psychology of Pokemon Go and how it capitalizes on six psychological principles which are key to reveal marketing.



It’s psychologically proven that curiosity drives people to move from passive involvement to active engagement. Pokemon Go taps into the fact that humans are curious creatures. By keeping the Pokemon hidden on the Pokedex screen until the user has caught them, or greying them out if you’ve seen them but failed to capture them, the game motivates players to keep logging in and learning more about the virtual creatures around them. The curiosity about these mystery Pokemon has got the number of daily users soaring, with the app topping in around 21 million daily users only a few days after release.

Fear of Missing Out


By now, you’ve certainly heard of the Fear of Missing Out of (FOMO) and know that people are more motivated to act when they’re afraid they’re left behind on something awesome. Pokemon Go capitalizes on this fact through their use of purchasable items like lure modules. When a user activates one of these items, which lure rare Pokemon, other nearby players can see that action, and are driven to walk to that location by the fear that they might miss a rare Pokemon appearance. These lures are so good at attracting not only Pokemon, but also players, that small businesses have even begun purchasing them to attract new customers.

The Ikea Effect


Experts have discovered that the more effort we put into obtaining an item or reward, the higher value we place on it. This is known in modern terms as the Ikea Effect. Pokemon Go utilizes this principle by requiring users to walk a set distance in order to hatch their Pokemon eggs. More valuable Pokemon require further walking distances, proving that the more effort you’re willing to exert, the greater your reward will be. Players are willing to walk up to 10 KM, or almost 6 miles to hatch a single egg. Plus, the mystery of the egg’s contents stimulate your curiosity and keep you trekking.

Near Miss Theory


You know that feeling when you’re gambling and you almost win, but you don’t? That rush that comes with a near miss stimulates the same sections of the brain as if you had actually won, motivating you to try again. Pokemon Go uses their radar function to trigger this rush in users. By showing you nearby Pokemon in the bottom right corner, the game reminds you just how close you are to catching a new virtual friend at every moment. This strategy has allowed Pokemon Go to surpass even Facebook in terms of amount of time users spent accessing the app.

Endowment Effect


I’d be willing to bet right now that there’s a shirt in your closet that you haven’t worn in at least 6 months. Yet for some reason every time you go to clean out your junk, this shirt makes the cut. You keep it because humans are prone to over value items that they feel some sense of ownership over, the Endowment Effect. Pokemon Go triggers this feeling by allowing you to customize your user avatar and Pokemon’s names. If your avatar looks like you, and your Pokemon are named cool things like “Khaleesi,” you’re more likely to feel that the game adds value to your life. These personalization features have led more than 7.5 million users to download the game, leading to 1.6 million dollars in daily revenue.

Operant Conditioning


Alright, you remember that high school psychology class that taught you about Pavlov’s Dogs? How if you trigger someone to behave a certain way and reward them when they do the right thing, they’re more likely to repeat that action in the future? Pokemon Go utilizes this psychological fact through their Poke Stops. When a user comes into range of a Poke Stop, a noise alerts them, and they then are directed to a screen where they spin the top of the stop and collect rewards like Poke Balls, Potions or Eggs. Trigger, Action, Reward. Simple enough! This Pavlovian Conditioning is super-effective. Since Nintendo is keeping the data under wraps for now, I’ll use myself as an example: In the past two days I’ve walked almost 15 Kilometers and visited 85 Poke Stops as a fairly casual player.

The numbers are in, and Pokemon Go has taken over the mobile gaming world almost overnight, raising Nintendo’s value by almost 12 billion dollars. By using the six psychological principles of reveal marketing, Pokemon Go has captured the market in augmented reality gaming and created millions of engaged users.

Special thanks to Nicole Cordier for contributing her Pokemon knowledge to this piece.