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Pokémon GO & Its Impact on Non-Profit Branding
By: Kaitlin T. Gallucci
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A brief synopsis: the new and tremendously popular mobile game Pokémon GO, in which players catch Pokémon in the “real world” via augmented reality, generally identifies local historical markers and points of interest as PokeStops (locations to collect items) and PokeGyms (locations to battle Pokémon). As a result, museums and historic sites have noticed increased local traffic as users flock to these identified locations. The effect this will have on real institutions is uncertain.

On the one hand, increased traffic is a good thing. This could be very valuable for businesses like coffee shops or restaurants in the vicinity of a PokeStop. However, for museums and historic sites, this traffic is distracted, and the affiliation is off-brand.

For example, I currently work for a 10-acre non-profit National Historic Landmark District. Across our site, which is open to the public (with the exception of paid guided tours that take visitors inside historic structures), there are about eight PokeStops and two PokeGyms (one of which is across the street from a historic burial ground, the other is located at an original 18th century stone house). Given the nature of our site, players can hunt Pokémon without trespassing or converting to paid guests, so it’s unlikely this game will affect our bottom line. What I find to be the biggest concern is the potential impact on branding.

A surprising number of museums have publicly embraced the game on social media (see, for example: Colonial Williamsburg, the U.S. Capitol, the National Mall, the Art Institute of Chicago). Others, like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, have actually asked to be removed from the game. As USHMM Communications Director Andy Hollinger said, “this game falls far outside of our educational and memorial mission.” I’m apt to agree with Mr. Hollinger.

Yes, it’s wonderful to see so many young people flocking to museums and historic sites, but not at the expense of an organization’s mission and identity. It’s doubtful that museums or historic sites want to be known as Pokémon GO destinations rather than for their own merits: their mission, educational resources, preservation efforts, and programming. Pokémon GO players are highly unlikely to become paying visitors, supporters, or donors. To seemingly cater to this audience by issuing communications that encourage players to visit seems – at least at this stage – to be critically off-brand for many institutions.

In the case of my organization, I just can’t see it being brand appropriate to post on social media about the presence of Pokémon on a site that covers the topics of religious persecution, refugees, and slavery. The thought of phones buzzing in the middle of a tour, alerting players to Pokémon in the vicinity, would be disruptive. It will be interesting to see how this game continues to impact non-profits historic sites and museums as time goes on.

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About the Author
Kaitlin T. Gallucci is a New York based direct and digital marketing strategist. She tweets here.
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