This past summer the streets of cities worldwide were suddenly filled with people wandering around, phones held out in front of their faces. They weren’t seeking a bit of sun; they were playing Pokémon Go, an augmented reality mobile game based on Nintendo’s hit franchise.
Built by Google spinoff Niantic, the app overlaid its titular virtual monsters onto the real world, requiring players to search their environs for characters, then “catch” and “train” them. Fuelled by a potent mix of new (immersive gameplay!) and old (nostalgia!), Pokémon Go downloads soared. By August, it was a full-blown phenomenon with more than 50 million monthly active users.
Of course, businesses were quick to try to cash in. Companies started paying real money for virtual “lures,” which attracted Pokémon—and the players pursuing them—to their shops. Some Tim Hortons locations baked doughnuts shaped like Poké Balls. Toronto’s Abell Pest Control even tried to recruit staff using the game, likening catching onscreen monsters to trapping real-life rodents.
But Pokémon Go’s reign as pop culture champion ended as swiftly as it began. By mid-September, its active user count had halved. Much of the decline was likely unavoidable, with player retention a perennial problem for mobile games. But the flood of outsiders trying to capitalize on its popularity certainly didn’t help. When brands co-opt a trend, Marketing editor Shane Schick noted, “suddenly there’s a sense the fun has been ruined.”
Thanks to the Internet, trends are born and die faster than ever before. The viral lifespan of a meme or event may not last long enough to provide a return on the time and resources you invest in it. And sometimes it’s better to sit out than get trampled by the hordes chasing the latest fad.