Will Pokemon Go Evolve Into Customer Confusion?

I’ve written at length about the potential for customer confusion arising from the association of digital advertisements with physical billboards and other commercial properties via augmented reality.

It occurs to me, though, that the Pokemon Go phenomenon that began in July 2016 planted the seeds of a similar issue, albeit in a slightly different form factor. By popularizing the concept of location-based mobile gaming, Pokemon Go demonstrated to brick-and-mortar retailers a new method of driving foot traffic to their locations. Therefore, it was not long after the game took off that chains such as Starbucks and Sprint inked deals with Niantic, the game’s publisher, to locate Pokestops and Gyms (the in-game terminology for geo-located, interactive digital content) at their physical stores.

Those deals were well-publicized and above-board. With that precedent now established, however, will players of the next popular location-based game be acculturated to assume that geo-located content associated with the same or other retail locations is likewise sponsored by those retailers? If so, the potential could exist for confusion as to whether commercial digital content is sponsored by or affiliated with the retail establishment.

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