Carlin West is on the defensive. As senior VP of marketing and communications for Pokémon licensing agent Leisure Concepts Inc. (a division of 4Kids Entertainment), West has been enduring rumors of Pokémon’s demise. Rumors she says are greatly exaggerated. ‘It’s not what people would classify as over,’ she says, referring to the licensing craze. ‘It’s so far from over. Certain product categories might come and go, but when you have eight of the top packaged goods companies worldwide promoting this thing, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.’
West says she’s aware that some U.S. retailers and licensees have been complaining about sluggish sales lately, but she feels retailers are making their own beds. ‘If a retailer is not refreshing its product line with the up-to-the-minute newest Pokémon licensed products, well then yeah, they will experience a slowdown in sales. And no offense to anyone, but that’s just retailing 101.’
However, retailers aren’t the only ones complaining that Pokémon is dying. In an October statement to shareholders warning that this year’s second-half results will be below expectations, master toy Hasbro cited ‘soft demand for Pokémon toys in the U.S.’ as one of the reasons for the shortfall.
Yet while toys may be soft, video games are still hot. Pokémon Gold and Silver, Nintendo’s latest Game Boy entries, sold 1.4 million units in one short week when they hit U.S. shelves in October, making them the fastest-selling Game Boy cartridges ever. The games also introduced 100 new characters to the line, 33 of which will appear in Pokémon: The Johto Journeys on Kids’ WB!, as well as being incorporated into new toys. The franchise won’t die, West says, because Nintendo will continue to add new characters and because the property will continue to enjoy more worldwide marketing support than almost any other kid property.
Most of the campaigns for 2001 are still in development, but West identified key efforts planned by promo partners Rexall Sundown, Kellogg and The Learning Company, along with new packaging and character refreshment planned by licensees Colgate and Curad. Specifically, she says that in mid-2001, Rexall Sundown-which makes licensed Pokémon vitamins for kids-will be including an in-pack offer for calendars so kids can check off the days they take their vitamins. The Learning Company is doing a big advertising push for Poké-ROM educational games this month, and Kellogg has a 2001 promo planned to push its branded cereal, Pop Tarts and Eggo Waffles.