• Pranav Patvardhan

How Pokemon became the most valuable media franchise of all time (estimated $92 Billion)



Most Generation Y, Z and millennials might know the brand as an integral part of their childhood, when the franchise made its first forays into the lives of consumers through a multi-channel approach starting with video games, trading cards and anime.

Here is a brief summary of the different pieces of the Pokemon puzzle that made it the brand behemoth it is today -


Video Games (Nintendo Consoles):

Pokemon was born with the launch of Pokemon Red and Blue (Red and Green in Japan) - "Pokemon" is in fact an abbreviation of “Pokemon Monsters”, animal-like creatures that could be caught and "trained" to battle other players. Regions in the game have been based off real-world counterparts, including Japan, Manhattan, France, Hawaii and the UK, adding an element of relatable history and folklore unique to each region/game.

Their success comes from their unique story-like experience, along with the chance to interact with and trade Pokemon with other players from all over the world. Remakes of older versions (generations) on newer consoles continue to attract gamers driven by nostalgia. Graphics and experiences are expected to get better and more immersive in future releases.

The biggest selling point remains allowing the player, YOU, to remain the hero of the story.

Trading Cards:

The trading card game followed the video game and anime, becoming an integral part of the brand. Crazed collectors have shelled out eye-popping sums for rare cards, reaching as high as $399,750! Global card game tournaments continue to draw players from all over the world each year in annual championships.

Other record valuations can be found here: https://gamerant.com/most-expensive-pokemon-cards-ever-sold/

Anime & Film:

Anime, or Japanese animation, saw the Pokemon series go beyond the console and reinforced interest in the games, with its release in 1997. The series has complemented the games with near perfect timing, being an advert for the games - each new season is based off the upcoming game releases.

Spinning off the anime, anime films have been periodically released to add the novelty of excitement to the anime and spur sales of merchandise while cultivating a family movie-going experience. Detective Pikachu (2019) became the first live action film, starring the likes of Ryan Reynolds.

It was the anime that coined the world famous “Gotta catch ‘em all!” slogan (encouraging fans to catch all Pokemon in the video games, collect all trading cards etc. and drive the revenue machine)


Retail:

Retail stores selling merchandise for all ages opened in Japan in 1998, slowly expanding throughout the country selling toys, food, snacks, games, cutlery, merchandise etc. An online store was launched later, selling products for all ages including business shirts and clothing in the United States, Canada and Japan under the Pokemon Shirts sub-brand. The physical stores have become tourist havens in themselves, serving as a pilgrimage for foreign fans.

Mobile Gaming:

With the launch of the 2016 mobile game on iOS and Android in collaboration with Niantic and Nintendo, "Pokemon Go" brought Pokemon into the real world by allowing players to “catch” Pokemon in their surroundings through Augmented Reality. The app was the fastest ever to hit 50 Million downloads in just 19 days, a billion by early 2019 and over $6 Billion in revenue in 2020.

Another mobile game, Pokémon Masters EX was launched in 2019.

Future Avenues:

  1. As other Japanese franchises continue to open theme parks to bring their characters to life quite literally (Studio Ghibli, Nintendo), it would not be unreasonable to expect a post-pandemic Pokemon park to open and take the brand’s offerings to another tangible arena

  2. Mobile will be a big focus, where the franchise can attract massive user bases on strength of its indigenous characters and IP

Key Takeaways:

  1. The most successful brands (and countries seeking to exercise their soft power) are not just products/services, they are experiences that go above and beyond the confines of one area or aspect of life

  2. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool to capture customer attention since it allows the spotlight to remain on them

  3. Consistency across channels in branding and feel is critical to success, with each channel reinforcing the other to create a single brand universe

  4. Converting brand followers early in their life spans might create life-long customers if the brand manages to hold its relevancy. Good experiences rarely fade, even with age

  5. Copying other brands' strategies might not yield the desired result - Harry Potter launched its own exact version of Pokemon Go (Wizards Unite) in 2019, but saw only 1/30th of the revenue (since the story focused on distinct characters rather than on you, the player)

Pokemon continues to captivate the minds and wallets of generations new and old as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Gotta cash 'em all?


Further details on the franchise can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFBxFMep3kQ

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2021-03-02-gotta-cash-em-all-how-pok-mon-became-the-worlds-biggest-games-franchise

https://www.titlemax.com/discovery-center/money-finance/the-25-highest-grossing-media-franchises-of-all-time/

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