Home / Entertainment / BLE 2019: Evolving the Pokémon franchise with EMEA licensing director Mathieu Galante

BLE 2019: Evolving the Pokémon franchise with EMEA licensing director Mathieu Galante

Having generated just under $3bn at retail globally last year, and with an entertainment empire that spans video games, its own Trading Card Game, mobile games and apps – a space in which it pioneered a new mode of AR gaming through Pokémon Go – and now, of course, success in movies, it’s little wonder that Pokémon is one of the most successful brands in the world right now.

Still riding a wave of Western cultures growing demand for the Japanese art form of anime and manga, while tapping into new reaches of modern day licensing with the resounding success of its digital licensing efforts – one that has redefined the mobile gaming space for good, Pokémon continues to evolve from strength to strength.

Licensing.biz talks with Mathieu Galante, licensing director EMEA, The Pokémon Company International about all things Pokémon.

Can you talk us through the plans for the Pokémon franchise for 2019 and 2020 – what is Pokémon bringing to the licensing space this year and beyond?

2019/20 will bring more exciting times for the Pokémon brand, which is constantly innovating and finding new ways to harness technology and connect with existing and new fans. It will be business as usual with ground-breaking product launches, an ever-expanding licensing programme and multiple partnerships with major global brands and retailers to be announced.

November 2019 will see the highly anticipated global launch of the latest video game Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.  Set in the fictional land of Galar – inspired by the UK – the game is the first core role playing game on Nintendo Switch. 

The launch will be supported by a typically strong and innovative marketing and advertising campaign throughout Europe.  Ahead of the launch a special Pokémon Center pop-up store selling exclusive items will open in London’s prestigious Westfield retail centre, while, for the first time, Sword and Shield character plush from Wicked Cool Toys will be promoted alongside the video game at key retail partners across Europe.

Pokémon has now become established as a true fashion icon, with a series of prestigious collaborations with leading designers and retailers, which have seen Pikachu and friends grace catwalks and boutiques and wow the high street.

In the UK, Pokémon has inspired recent capsule collections from cutting-edge designers Bobby Abley, and streetwear brand Criminal Damage, while on the high street, extended DTR relationships with leading fashion stores Zara and H&M have seen new lines in Zara Kids and expanded adults and kids ranges in H&M.  New partnerships were forged with millennial favourites Bershka and quirky Pokémon shirts presented by Original Stitch are due for launch across Europe shortly.

Looking ahead to next year, fans will now be able to manage their Pokémon collection across multiple games with the launch of new cloud service app Pokémon Home. Meanwhile, Pokémon Sleep aims to turn sleeping into entertainment, with sleep time affecting game action. And following the huge success of the Pokémon: Detective Pikachu movie, a new Detective Pikachu game for Nintendo Switch is in the pipeline.

The Pokémon Trading Card Game will include regular expansions in line with Pokemon Sword and Pokémon Shield, featuring Galar characters due for release in 2020, which will be supported by wide scale retail promotions and TV campaigns.

In other exciting news the Pokémon World Championships will be held in London in 2020. This is the first time they have left North America. Typically occurring in August of each year, the Pokémon World Championships sees the coming together of the best Pokémon TCG and video game players from around the globe.

How has business been this past year and since the launch of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu? What growth have you seen for the brand this year? 

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was not only a huge hit at the box office but achieved phenomenal exposure from its promotional programme which, in addition to advertising, included a pop up shop and promotions with Burger King, Zip Car and LGTV.  This resulted in a significant sales lift for the associated licensed products including toys, TCG and apparel.   

The halo effect from the film has also benefitted the brand as a whole, with sales of non-film related products also growing. The film provided us with a fantastic opportunity to secure significant retail promotions across a wide range of retailers including Harrods, Hamleys, Smyths, Tesco and Forbidden Planet. We also secured collaborations with a number of apparel partners including H&M, Primark and Bershka.

How is this being reflected in the toy space? Can you talk us through the success of the brand – how are the most recent toy partnerships resonating with fans?

Our partnership with Wicked Cool Toys has provided us with an expanded toy range and with Character Options as our UK distributor they are able to deliver extensive distribution and strong marketing and retail support.

This combination is delivering significant results at retail with a number of innovative new lines out this year. We are very excited about our ground-breaking product releases – including the My Partner Pikachu interactive and touch sensitive toys, and the Flame Action Charmander featuring light, sound and fiery flame action and are confident that they will rate highly on kids’ Christmas lists this year.

In addition to Wicked Cool Toys, the hugely popular Pokémon Trading Card Game, is the most popular strategic card game in the UK, with continually successful new expansions, and we have a strong partnership with Asmodée Group in the UK and beyond.

Puzzle partner Ravensburger will be releasing an extended product line across Europe in 2020 whilst video game accessory partners Hori, PDP, Power A and TCG accessories partner Ultrapro continue to create inventive tie-products.

With regard to plush, our direct to retail collaboration with Build a Bear has seen a dozen new characters launched, and we also have a strong partnership with Toy Factory for Amusement plush.

With the success of the film, continued success of the TCG and its obvious success in the video game and mobile game space – how is The Pokémon Company International sitting as a multi-faceted entertainment powerhouse?

Pokémon is one of the most successful entertainment franchises in the world, encompassing video games, the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG), mobile games and apps, animation and movies, Play! Pokémon competitive events, and licensed products the company generated just under $3.bn ($2.98bn) at retail globally last year.

Key brand highlights include more than 340 million video games sold worldwide, making Pokémon one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time; with over 27.2 billion cards shipped to 77 countries and regions in 12 languages, the Pokémon TCG is one of the best-selling trading card games in the world; mobile game sensation Pokémon GO has received more than one billion downloads globally since launching in July 2016; the Pokémon animated television series follows Ash, Pikachu, and their friends in more than 1,000 episodes spanning 22 seasons, and there are 21 animated Pokémon movies to date.

Pokémon animation is licensed for broadcast in 169 countries and regions in over 30 languages.

But the Pokémon Company International is never content to sit on its laurels and will continue to find new and enterprising ways to bring ground-breaking products to market and engage with its enormous and loyal fan base.

How have you guys seen the licensing space evolve over the past year or so – how is this shaping where you take the brand or how are you adapting to the changes we’re seeing in the space? 

With increased entertainment platforms available across all devices there has been greater audience fragmentation. In order to remain relevant, you have to look ahead and adapt. Pokémon prides itself on its innovation and we have evolved from our three enduring pillars of animation, video games and TCG and have added Live action movies and apps, further increasing our global reach.

We have a 360-degree approach which means Pokémon is available on all the main entertainment touchpoints that our fans engage with, allowing multiple opportunities to engage with the brand.

Pokémon’s constant evolution also allows us to provide refreshed content across the year. The success of elements like our apps, the Pokémon: Detective Pikachu film and the new video game provide us with suitable tent poles to create cross-category promotions across a wide range of retailers across all markets, from mass to high-end department stores and specialist retailers.

With the increasing move from bricks and mortar to online spend, we have adapted our retail strategy to include and benefit both areas.

What is Pokémon bringing to the retail space – how are you guys adapting to the changes here? What do you think the future of the retail/licensing dynamic looks like, and how will you be fuelling this from the front?

Pokémon has such broad appeal that we can work with everyone from mass market retailers to high end department stores, from small chains through to specialist retailers. We have global scope but are also nimble enough to exploit unique territory specific opportunities.

We have developed innovative in-store theatre with our collaboration with Hamleys for their Christmas events and Regent Street’s Summer Streets which included branded windows, costume character appearances, giveaways with TCG samples and Pikachu sun visors.

We also held exclusive events at Harrods and Selfridges, while innovations such as pop-up shops and unique direct to retail collaborations help us stay relevant and encourage footfall.  Partnering with Smyths toys throughout August, which we renamed the month of Mewtwo, we gave fans free activation codes to download Mewtwo in their Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! games.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent some six years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@bizmedia.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobHutchins3 if ranting is your thing...

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