Congratulations to Noah R. from Texas, Katelynn K. from Kansas and Natalie D. from Illinois for winning the Fall 2016 HALO Scholarship Contest. We’ll publish each winning essay right here, and we’d like to start with our first place winner, Noah.
Noah will be a freshman at the University of Texas A&M in Fall 2017. During his high-school career, Noah has taken a number of classes that, have helped him think and act like a marketer. “I honed a mindset that challenged the status quo, while still thinking practically,” Noah said.
For the essay contest, Noah chose to answer our rebranding question, and the brand he chose, Niantic Inc., is actually behind the summer 2016 phenomenon Pokemon Go. (Read more on that here.)
You can read his essay below.
Essay topic: Give an example of a rebranding strategy done well. Why was the change necessary, what steps did the brand take to implement the change and what was the result?
Rebranding: The Key to Global Phenomenon
Niantic Inc. was a company that was relatively unheard of up until this year. Starting life as an internal Google startup, the now prominent company developed a smart phone game called “Ingress.” Ingress was a revolutionary idea behind the mask of generic branding. The game featured a connection with the real world through augmented reality. Players would interact with real-life landmarks near them through their phones’ GPS as they competed with other factions of players in the game. Although the game found success within a small passionate group of gamers, no real theme or branding existed to explain to the average person what exactly they were looking at. CEO of Niantic John Hanke was not oblivious to this glaring lack of branding, an article on the subject from Forbes says, “By the spring of 2014 Niantic CEO Hanke was dreaming of applying location-based gaming to a well-established intellectual property that would entice more users. Both Mario and Donkey Kong were considered, but one name that kept coming up was Pokémon, a franchise that hit Millennials hard in the late 1990s with videogames, trading cards, movies and a television cartoon. As of May 2016 Pokémon products had grossed $45 billion in lifetime sales” (Mac ).
In realizing that Niantic’s previous endeavors did not give consumers something to grasp in terms of branding, Hanke sought out the missing piece to his location based games. This missing piece was not only something familiar to a large amount of people but also an intellectual property treasured in the hearts of many. This missing piece was Pokémon. With this fresh face, Niantic went from making a game that the average person was unaware of to creating a global phenomenon. Niantic had created what we now know as Pokémon Go, which is largely the same exact game as Ingress with a fresh coat of paint. But how did this change not just improve success, but shatter records? An article from Time gives excellent reason to why Pokémon Go preformed the way it did. Alex Fitzpatrick writes, “The Pokémon skin is going a long way towards fueling this fire. Millenials around my age—27—feel considerable nostalgia for Pokémon, which had its heyday while we were middle schoolers. Younger kids, meanwhile, are still discovering (and loving, it seems) the franchise for the first time. It remains the third-best selling game series ever, behind Mario’s many iterations and Tetris. Had this been anything other than a Pokémon game, there’s little chance it would’ve caught fire the way it has. (Indeed, Niantic’s previous and similar game, Ingress, has a dedicated but relatively small player community of amateur cartographers)” (Fitzpatrick).
It is almost unquestionable that if Niantic had used any other intellectual property than Pokémon, they would not have seen the same results. Although this may be true, it does not mean that rebranding is only successful when transitioning to a household name such as Pokémon. Rather, marketers should learn from this viral success that whatever they are trying to sell a consumer on must have tangible and relatable branding on some level. There are many lessons to learn from this year’s success in mobile gaming. One of the lessons is how hungry consumers are for something to feed their nostalgia. In today’s day and age, people often have fond recollections of things they grew attached to as a child. But one of the most vital things we can take away from Pokémon Go is that when executed correctly, a revolutionary idea paired with something familiar goes a long, long way.
Fitzpatrick, Alex. “How Pokemon Go Took Over the World.” Time. Time, 11 July 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Mac, Ryan. “The Inside Story Of ‘Pokémon GO’s’ Evolution From Google Castoff To Global Phenomenon.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 26 July 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.