By Donna Rovins, The Mercury
The Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board has jumped on this summer’s Pokémon Go phenomenon with the launch of a marketing campaign geared for fans of the Pokémon hunting experience.
“As the tourism organization for Montgomery County, we wanted to make it easier for fans to navigate our region, discover our attractions, and catch Pokémon,” said Edward Harris, vice president of marketing and communications at the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board.
The “PokéMontco”campaign features a website (www.pokemontco.com), Instagram contest and several billboards along major roadways. Four billboards went live Wednesday, located on Interstate 95, Interstate 76 and in both the eastbound and westbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Montgomery County.
Harris said the idea for the PokéMontco campaign came about after some staff brainstorming sessions and after hearing that some Montgomery County attractions are seeing an increase in visitors because of the app. A check Tuesday of the iTunes listing of top free apps shows the Pokémon Go app holding the top spot.
The agency launched the micro site — http://www.pokemontco.com — in July, and has seen a spike in interest around Pokémon on its Facebook page. An initial Pokémon related Facebook post on July 22 resulted in 292 comments and 998 shares.
“Typically we may see 15-20 shares and we thought that was pretty good. To see over 900 shares for a post was eye opening for us. That is sort of what lit the fire around this,” Harris said. “We’re hoping it’s attracting a new generation of visitors to Montgomery County.”
In an effort to drive more engagement, the tourism board has launched an Instagram contest that will award one lucky player a new iPhone.
Any player who captures and posts their best catches and gym victories using #PokéMontco will be eligible to win.
To participate, Pokémon Go players need to play in Montgomery County, grab a picture of their finds and post the picture to Instagram using #Pokémontco. One winner will be chosen at random on Monday, Aug. 22, and announced on the @VisitValleyForge Instagram account. All participants must be 18 years of age or older.
The website takes visitors to a series of location guides that share insider tips on rare finds, gyms (battlegrounds) and Pokéstops throughout Montgomery County, all with an eye to driving visitation. Players can explore four different location guides: Montco Hotspots, Valley Forge Park, Norristown and Shopping Malls.
Clicking into the Montco Hotspots guide for example, provides hunters with a variety of stops and what they might find.
Some of the sites mentioned include Valley Forge National Historical Park, Valley Forge Casino Resort, Ambler’s Main Street, Highlands Mansion and Gardens in Fort Washington, Merrymead Farm in Lansdale, the Colebrookdale Railroad in Boyertown and Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown.
“Millennials are flocking to our family zoo in large numbers for the first time and have contributed to our big increase in tickets sold so far this summer,” said Al Zone, executive director of Elmwood Park Zoo, in a release.
The zoo responded to the phenomenon by hosting Pokémon Days this summer. This month, Pokémon Days are scheduled every Sunday and Monday. In addition, a new video produced by the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board’s staff and shot at Norristown’s Elmwood Park Zoo is also making a splash on social media.
According to Jennifer Galle, chief marketing officer for the Valley Forge Casino Resorts, Pokémon Go has been bringing Pokémon players to the Valley Beach Poolside Club this summer.
“It’s challenging to quantify how much business was driven by Pokémon Go versus how much was generated from the events, entertainment and activities we programmed at Valley Beach,” Galle said. “Anecdotally, we know from our servers and bartenders that we did have a lot of folks playing the game. We are a Pokémon stop and we do have a gym.”
Jonathan Parker is Valley Forge National Park’s chief of interpretation and education. He said it’s difficult to single out a particular group to determine the impact.
“But in talking with staff and volunteers there is plenty of anecdotal evidence — I have seen it myself — people participating in Pokémon when they are in the park. And among the Pokémon community it is an attractive destination,” he said. “We can attribute some new and returning park visitors to the game.”
Parker added that all 411 of the country’s national parks have welcomed Pokémon Go.
“One of the great things about Pokémon Go is that it dovetails with our focus on finding new ways to engage with the next generation of visitors,” he said. “Our primary concern is to make sure people do it (play) safely.”
Harris said his agency will be tracking the PokéMontco campaign closely.
“It’s going to be fun to see if the campaign resonates. Between the hashtag game, the website and the billboards, we’re hoping people have fun with the campaign,” he added.
Harris added that the use of virtual reality by the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board began last October when the agency launched Montco 360, which provides interactive virtual tours of Valley Forge and Montgomery County attractions.
The PokéMontco campaign makes use of augmented reality. As leader of the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board’s marketing and communications team — Harris said he is having fun exploring new ideas for reaching out.
“To be able to go into this world these new marketing ideas is great. I credit our president Mike Bowman for giving us the creative freedom to take on these promotions,” Harris said.
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