We talk to senior market development manager, Mathieu Galante, about the ambitious plans for the brand this year.
First, can you tell us the history behind the brand?
The worldwide phenomenon of Pokémon was first launched in Japan in 1996, for the Game Boy. This role-playing game, which reached the United States and Europe in 1998–99, was inspired by the experiences of the creators at GAME FREAK inc., whose leading lights spent summer holidays in Japan collecting insects with their grandparents. They wanted something that would capture the childhood wonder of discovering new creatures, collecting them, and sharing the experience with friends.
Thus was born the first generation of Pokémon games, which introduced the original 151 Pokémon—plus the core gameplay elements of collecting, battling, and trading—experiences which characterise all Pokémon pillar products to this day.
Pokémon has grown into one of the most popular and successful children’s entertainment properties in the world. The family of products includes video games, the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG), the Pokémon animated TV series, movies, toys, and much more. It is the second-best-selling video game franchise of all time with more than 260 million units sold worldwide, a market leader in trading card games worldwide, and a top-rated global TV show.
How did the brand performed to date in 2014?
2014 was a fantastic year for Pokémon. The Pokémon X and Pokémon Y video games (more than 2.6 million copies sold in Europe)were a huge success, fuelling a major uplift in trading card sales, with an impressive 50% increase (NPD figures for UK market) over the prior year.
The Pokémon animated series was viewed in ever greater numbers across a variety of content platforms, including CiTV, Netflix, Disney XD, Amazon Prime, iTunes and is also available via the Pokémon TV app. Later in the year, the new games—Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire—were launched across Europe with a massive marketing campaign supported by exciting interactive consumer and media events, an innovative social media campaign, strong press coverage, and huge levels of positive consumer engagement.
How many licensees does the brand have to date, and in which categories?
The renewed strength of interest in Pokémon has been cemented by the recent signing of ten new European licensees across a variety of categories including apparel, back-to-school supplies, footwear, confectionery and video game accessories. They complement the existing licensees, including master toy partner TOMY, Sun City for apparel, CTI for bedding, and CyP for back-to-school products.
What are some of the best-performing products?
The video games and TCG products continue to be extremely popular, and the trading cards have enjoyed exceptional sales this year. Other categories that have performed well include the evergreen toy ranges from TOMY.
Are you looking to expand the consumer products programme further this year—for example, into new categories or new territories?
The Pokémon Company International aims to build on the hugely successful pre-Christmas launch of its new games—Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire for Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo 2DS systems—with a comprehensive consumer product rollout in 2015. This will be spearheaded by the recently established European Market Development team, headed up by Mathieu Galante, Senior Manager of Marketing Development, who, alongside his team of Samantha Mortimore and Romina Ialongo, will manage licensing across Europe.
What has the reaction from retail been like?
The retail reaction to Pokémon has been incredibly positive this year, with a growing number of retailers stocking the product range inspired by the Pokémon X and Pokémon Y video games. The Entertainer recently ran a hugely successful in-store promotion for the Pokémon TCG: XY—Phantom Forces expansion.
Also in support of the launch of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, TOMY International rolled out an all-new line-up of toys inspired by the video games. Figures, plush, and role-play items arrived at major retail outlets in North America and Australia in mid-October 2013, and in Europe in early November 2013. The line refreshed in spring 2014. November’s launch of the Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire video games was supported by UK GAME stores with a high-profile marketing campaign, a major ‘relay’ activation that encourages consumers to participate in sharing a digital in-game item, and other themed in-store activities.
The boys’ sector can traditionally be quite tricky—how does your brand stand out?
For more than 15 years, kids all over the world have discovered and come to love the enchanting world of Pokémon. The games encourage strategic thinking and tactical planning, and they put a strong emphasis on fair play and respect. They encourage children to have adventures, make friends, discover new worlds, and battle and trade Pokémon with others. Children like the incredibly appealing characters and their immense collectability. The distinctive and iconic brand continues to evolve with fresh technology, characters (there are now over 700 Pokémon), and settings, and this helps to maintain fan engagement.
What would you most like to achieve with the brand in 2015?
We would like to build on the success of the Pokémon X and Pokémon Y video games and the new games—Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire—and continue to grow consumer awareness in 2015. The brand is hugely popular at the moment, and we look forward to maintaining and expanding on this momentum in 2015, to create a standout global franchise in gaming that reaches children across multiple consumer touch-points.