Winning strategy: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Marketer: Nintendo of America-Peter Main, executive VP of sales and marketing...
April 1, 2000

Marketer: Nintendo of America-Peter Main, executive VP of sales and marketing

Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago-Dominick Maiolo, copy writer; Jeff Abbott, art director; Tom Keramidas, producer; Rob Morrison, account supervisor; Kim Sowers, account executive; Julia Klaczak, account manager; Rhonda Senase, print production manager

Animation: Shopro, Tokyo

Spot Shop: Atherton Films, Los Angeles-Vadim Perlman

Print Studio: CAPPS, Chicago-Jim Wood

Markets: U.S. and Australia

The idea: To introduce kids ages six to 11 to the Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy. The electronic game is positioned as a Pokémon tutor kids can use to master the Wizards of the Coast card game.

The campaign: One 30-second spot (Thunderpunch) begins airing April 3 on all major U.S. kid outlets including Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Kids’ WB!, Fox Kids, Disney’s One Saturday Morning and in syndication. One full-page print ad (Next Evolution) will appear in the April issue of SI for Kids, Teen People, Nickelodeon Magazine, Disney Adventures, Crayola Kids and other kid-targeting mags. The combined print and TV media budget is US$4 million.

The strategy:

These days, marketing Pokémon anything might seem like a pretty cushy assignment. Given that Pokémon is currently one of the top three entertainment-based toy properties in the U.S. and still growing, one could be forgiven for assuming the franchise sells itself. But like any winning property, it wasn’t a sure bet in the early days, and picking out the now-obvious key selling points of collectibility, variety of characters and competition wasn’t so obvious almost two years ago when Leo Burnett first began developing the strategy.

‘Our communication goal back then was just to introduce the Pokémon franchise to American kids,’ says Kim Sowers, Nintendo account executive at Leo Burnett. ‘It was a huge phenomenon in Japan, and Nintendo wanted to release it here in the U.S., but I would say that expectations were not necessarily extremely high.’

The latest spot in the Nintendo Pokémon campaign very much falls in line with the five previous spots, says Dominick Maiolo, creative director, and thus helps to illustrate the approach taken from day one. Like the preceding spots, it uses the ubiquitous Pokémon tag line ‘Gotta Catch `Em All,’ it mixes live-action kids with a variety of vibrant animated Pokémon characters and, most importantly, the spot focuses more on the general franchise than the particular game being flogged.

Thus, the Thunderpunch spot doesn’t follow the traditional formula of just mixing

video game ‘footage’ with shots of kids having a blast while they play. Instead, the spot follows a ‘little guy triumphs thanks to the product’ story line to position the game as a must-have accessory to the Wizards of the Coast card game every Pokémon aficionado already knows and loves.

Like the previous ads, Maiolo says the spot focuses on the collectibility and variety of characters in the franchise by simply showing as many characters as possible and rotating the stable of characters shown in each ad. ‘The characters are what the kids are really going to respond to,’ says Sowers. ‘If a kid is flipping through the channels and just sees someone playing a Game Boy, he may flip past it a lot faster than if he sees a Pokémon floating through the air hanging on to a trading card, which is what you’re going to see in this spot.’

Both Sowers and Maiolo say that for the time being, they’re going to stick to the strategic formula used to date. Sowers says that while the overall campaign’s emphasis has switched from introducing a whole franchise to introducing new products in a franchise kids already know, the agency is still building rather than maintaining the Pokémon empire, and will thus stay the course. Maiolo adds that if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. ‘When we started with the campaign, things began to work so well that we thought, boy, we better stick to what we’re doing,’ he says, ‘because maybe it is the advertising.’

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