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Pokemon Company on the Super Bowl commercial, Detective Pikachu film, Pokemon GO, more

Posted on August 10, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

GamesBeat was recently given the opportunity to speak with The Pokemon Company consumer marketing director J.C. Smith. Smith had plenty to say about the Super Bowl commercial which aired earlier in the year, the Detective Pikachu film (we’ll hear more “soon”), Pokemon GO, and more.

Per usual, we’ve rounded up some of the important responses below. You can read the full interview on GamesBeat here.

On the Pokemon Super Bowl commercial…

We’ll dive in with the 20th anniversary. For us, 2016 was the 20th anniversary of when the video games first came out in Japan. We were talking through how we wanted to approach — I think it was 2014. Basically, what we sat down and said is, we want to celebrate 20 years of our fans, all the things that people have experienced together. And really, how can we do that?

We came back with some ideas and one of them was, if we want to talk to everyone that’s been touched by this game, and by the Pokémon brand, let’s do a Super Bowl ad. The response wasn’t even hemming and hawing. It was a yes. Yeah, that sounds awesome, let’s do that. We were incredibly lucky to be able to do an ad that — maybe one of the few ads that was just about a brand. Not about a product that was for sale. For us it was really fun to be able to just celebrate the fandom, celebrate trainers and the nature of the Pokémon universe. For us it was a lot of fun to work on.

A lot of people are aware of the brand. There’s a — obviously people see Pikachu, they say, oh, yeah, I know that character. But I think the general consumer is like, yeah, what is that?

People that grew up with it, the 30-somethings and 40-somethings and 20-somethings, it’s been a part of their lives forever. There’s a level of — there’s a generational divide in some ways. It’s a lot older than you might think. But it’s one of those things where we’re constantly looking at how we can get our fans to understand. It’s not, we target this group or that group. It’s our fans. How do we stay true to that?

For us it’s really, what’s the best way to present this to our fans so they all hear about it? One thing we tackled starting in 2013 was that games used to come out at different times, months apart. The marketing would happen in Japan. Everyone would find out about it in Japan and play it in Japan. Then all the fans here would have heard about it. It’s fun still, but what we decided, what the creators said was, we want the games to come out at the same time worldwide.

That sounds easy, but that’s a lot of languages that need to tell the story the right way. That’s a lot of work on the marketing side to make sure the fans are learning about new characters, new features, new fun things they’ll be able to experience in this video game, at the same time. We want them all to be celebrating this at the same moment in time. Things like that that we do, we didn’t need to do it, but we thought it would be cool. We thought it would be a fun way for the fans to unify around Pokémon instead of unifying around the country that learned about Pokémon. No country is more important than the other when it comes to their fandom.

On the possibility of a Pokemon conference, something equivalent to a Minecraft conference…

We’re open to all kinds of things. We want to touch as many people as possible. Events are somewhat limited by geography. The number of people that can get there. We like to do a lot more online, celebrate things on the internet, so that people around the world can experience that. Part of the reason for the international rollout of information is based in that. We don’t want to have small events, small considering that the world can’t all come to it. We try to focus first on how we get our message out most broadly to our fan base.

On whether there were long-term discussions going on about the Pokemon films and Detective Pikachu rather than being rushed because of Pokemon GO’s success…

Yeah, the unfortunate thing about the timing was it did seem like that was the reason. Obviously Hollywood doesn’t work like that. Deals don’t work like that. It’s been in discussion for a long time. For us, I’m glad we were able to announce it. We got a lot of great coverage about it. But it was one of those where there was so much Go news — normally this would be a much bigger piece of the news cycle, but in the end, we’re excited that we’re able to do this. People will learn a lot more soon.

On whether Pokemon’s owners (Nintendo, Creatures, Game Freak) ensure that the brand is treated well…

Yeah. Let us do that? Yes! But we’re definitely in conversation with them all the time. That’s what the relationship is based on. Understanding their philosophy in the game features, why they wanted to make it work this way. How they want people to feel when this is happening. We have to bring that across in the marketing. For us it’s a lot of conversation, but that’s what we’re built for, to have those conversations.

On whether all partners wanted to be involved from the beginning with Pokemon GO…

J.C. Smith: The conversation started with Mr. Ishihara, our president and CEO of the Pokémon Company in Japan. He’s also the president of Creatures, which is one of the three companies that owns the Pokémon Company. He’s the one who introduced Game Freak, the developer of the core series of video games, to Nintendo originally, to say these guys have a cool game concept, check it out. He is the bridge. He’s the guy that brings the parties in. So yeah, there were plenty of conversations amongst that group. It was a no-brainer, that this group of people would be involved in making that happen. We’re involved in all things Pokémon.

On the marketing relationship with Niantic for Pokemon GO…

Our main role is the brand expression. It’s how the Pokémon are treated. There’s all sorts of Pokémon brand rules, right? 20 years comes with a lot of: these characters should be this way and that way. We spend time with them on that, helping navigate those paths. That’s our focus. They’re managing the game marketing specifically. Obviously we talk to them a lot. It’s not a vacuum. They’re in San Francisco, we’re in Seattle. It’s an easy conversation to have on a regular basis. It’s really focused on the Pokémon, for us. This is what our fans like. There’s a little bit of a community discussion, when talking about Pokémon. That’s how we’ve drawn the line.

On whether the success of Pokemon GO has given new ideas about how to take the franchise forward…

I don’t know about that. Certainly it emboldens us to — when we see a good idea, we take a shot, right? And see what happens. It’s not like this is a super risky venture in any way.

But it just proves to us that you can find multiple ways to express the Pokémon world. We’ve always had that, but now let’s look for more. The TCG, the TCG online, the movies, the live action movie that was announced a couple weeks ago amidst all this. There’s a live action Detective Pikachu movie being made with Legendary Pictures. It’s a lot of opportunity. We have a strong brand. It’s continuing to look for the right way to do it. We’ve been doing that for 20 years. As technology continues to change, we continue to evolve.

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