One emerging opportunity in AR is to position it as a local discovery engine. Similar to Google Lens, the idea is to evoke informational overlays for storefronts. When done organically, it can boost local commerce, as examined in ARtillery Intelligence’s recent geo-local AR report.

Another way this can be done is in tandem with location-based gaming. And the model there is Niantic’s Sponsorship Platform. In short, it positions sponsors’ real-world locations as in-game waypoints, which results in measurable foot traffic and ringing cash registers.

The way this works is that businesses buy sponsored placement within the game to designate their locations as Gyms and Pokéstops. Players can then descend in large numbers when Pokémon hatch. Businesses can even choose dayparts (think: slow hours) for in-game raids.

So far, Niantic has worked with multi-location brands such as McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. And its self-serve program opens up the program to small businesses. But the latest development in Niantic’s Sponsorship Platform is a new campaign for convenience chain Circle-K.

Geolocal AR: The Metavearth Materializes


Drilling down on Circle-K’s Pokémon Go sponsorship, it marks a few potentially-important trends in geo-local AR. First, convenience stores could be a fitting business category for this flavor of geo-local AR marketing, given that their products are naturally aligned with gameplay.

In other words, convenience-store fare (think: snacks & energy drinks) can fuel players for Pokémon Go’s signature migratory play. This is similar to the natural & organic alignment in some of Pokémon Go’s other brand sponsors including McDonald’s and 7-Eleven, as noted above.

The other notable factor in Circle K’s campaign is that it brings redeemable rewards to Pokémon Go for the first time. Specifically, in-game activity not only drives foot traffic, but players can rack up points that are redeemable for Circle-K coffee, candy, hot dogs, and K-Freeze drinks.

This all means that Niantic’s ad program is getting more action-oriented. The appeal for sponsors so far has been attracting hordes of hungry players. Rewards now provide an additional hook for customer visits, as well as an attribution mechanism through tracked conversions.

The key word in all of the above is organic, as sponsorship is aligned with gameplay. Niantic reports that 73 percent of players deviate from regular walking routes to achieve in-game milestones. Moreover, 84 percent interact with commercial locations and 58 percent transact.

The AR Space Race, Part V: Niantic

Long Tail

So how does Niantic achieve this organic alignment? Its primary guiding principle is to put player experience first. If followed, this can keep priorities straight and ensure that sponsored elements are always natural to gameplay, rather than interruptive or commercial-feeling.

Looking forward, the opportunity in geo-local AR sponsorship could be the long tail of small businesses (SMBs). Though larger brands are the biggest adopters so far, Niantic’s target for the program is SMBs. In fact, self-serve and low-cost ads are explicit hooks for SMBs.

Furthermore, foot-traffic surges resonate with SMBs. And this generally happens in a tangible way with immediate gratification, given the timed raids noted above. Now, adding rewards and deals to the mix could elevate the program in terms of tangible and measurable consumer action.

Back to Circle K’s campaign, its customer rewards will change each month for seasonal or weather-related factors over its 12-month activation. As this plays out, it could serve as a model for SMB adoption to come, and the broader evolution of geo-local AR monetization.

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