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Fresh Off a Super Bowl Spot, Pokémon May Be Entering Sports Events

10 Feb, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

With e-sports gaining a foothold in the travel sports market (hey, even ESPN is covering them now), the time was right for Pikachu to make a move.

Pokémon turns 20 this year, and it celebrated that anniversary with everyone who was sitting at home, watching the Super Bowl.

According to an article in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily, the part anime-part entertainment  brand — which includes video games, trading cards, cartoons and other properties — began a year of celebration with its first commercial on the Super Bowl broadcast on Feb. 7.

And that year just might include a move into the sports event market, since Pokémon seems determined to create a campaign that brings users together.

In fact, notes The Verge, the ad is channeling every great Nike and Adidas commercial out there. Sports and Pokémon have been linked unofficially for years, from Ronda Rousey to up-and-coming tennis pros, but this commercial makes a pretty strong case for defining sportslike competition more broadly.

That commercial, says J.C. Smith, senior director of consumer marketing for the Pokémon Company International, is a “celebration of our fans and the impact we’ve had on one another for the last 20 years.”

But don’t look for Ash and Pikachu (or anyone else) to make an immediate appearance in the commercial. Instead, look for runners, football players, competitive chess players and more, each being inspired by the other and each using the phrase, “I can do that.” Toward the end, there’s a glimpse of the yellow character along with a segment showing a boy entering an arena (and watched by a huge crowd), getting ready to face off against a legion of Pokémon foes. The tagline for the commercial: “Train on.”

The juxtaposition of a brand that is far from new with the image of athletes and competitors, is, says Smith, only a natural combination.

“Sports and Pokémon have been intertwined for a long time in a variety of ways — both can be inspirational drivers for people both young and old where hard work and training in pursuit of dreams can lead to great accomplishment. Pokémon —especially the trading card game [which] attracts a global audience — is similar from a competitive standpoint as a chess match or high-stakes sporting event.”

The commercial, an extended version of which can be found on the brand’s 20th anniversary-dedicated Web site, is part of a build-up to a February 27 worldwide Pokémon Day” which include asking fans to submit their favorite Pokemon moments through various social channels, special events on “Pokémon Day” (Feb. 27) and re-releases of the “Red,” “Blue,” and Yellow” versions of the video game as digital downloads for the Nintendo 3DS systems. Entertainment Weekly also notes there will be a new mobile game called Pokémon Go, which will let players hunt Pokémon out in the real world via their phones. A new fighting game, Pokkén Tournament, is also coming in March.

Gotta admire the marketing smarts here. According to MediaPosts's Marketing Daily, the National Retail Federation had predicted 189 million Americans would tune in to Super Bowl 50, and that they planned to spend more to enjoy the Big Game — about $82 per celebrant, with a total spectator spend  expected to top $15.5 billion, the highest in survey history.

That's a lot of eyeballs on Pikachu, and a lot of attention being garnered, including prospective new fans and those who had thought they'd outgrown the game, but will most likely now be hit with a surge of nostalgia. It's likely the sports planning industry will feel the reverberations.

“We’ve reached a point where Pokémon fans now span multiple generations, yet the key pillars of Pokémon remain relevant for all age groups,” Smith says.  “With Pokémon, we encourage all to be the best they can be and that message is applicable for all audiences.”

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