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Kidscreen West

 

 

PE2K was at the Kidscreen West conference. One of the sessions was a case study discussion on Pokemon, titled "Pokemon Takes the Driver's Seat". The speakers include: Holly Rawlinson from Pokemon USA (Vice President of Licensing and Entertainment), Greg Fountain from Cartoon Network (Senior Director of Consumer Marketing), and Eddie Hayden from JAKKS Pacific (Director of Male Action).

 

The presentation was over 45 minutes long, so if you want to read more about what was discussed during that session you can read on below. It's an interesting look at the challenges and success of Pokemon from the business perspective. I know this is long article, but this is actually a shortened version of what was said at the presentation.

 

Pokemon Takes the Driver's Seat

 

 

Holly Rawlinson (Pokemon USA, Vice President of Licensing and Entertainment)

Holly Rawlinson began the presentation by discussing some of the challenges at Pokemon during 2005. The company decided to bring the brand in-house to Pokemon USA (instead of being represented by 4Kids). Kids WB changed their focus, so Pokemon was on Saturday mornings only. There were no new toys introduced in several years. And the most important elements of Pokemon (the video games, trading card game, and TV/movies) were working independently and not working with each other. Those were the challenges, but of course Pokemon had a lot of good things going for it as well. Pokemon Emerald was the 2nd best selling video game of the year in 2005 on all platforms (Rawlinson said it was 3rd, but it should be 2nd according to NPD Group). Television ratings were strong and Pokemon sales online were strong as well. And the Pokemon events were very well-attended.

 

Rawlinson mentioned how Pokemon is still a great success in Japan and how Pokemon "never died there" because how well Pokemon was coordinated there with the Pokemon video games and the Pokemon TV show. That wasn't happening in the US yet in the past, so now one of the main objectives is to model what Japan has done so successfully. Another main objective is to build relationships with key partners (that would include JAKKS Pacific and Cartoon Network). Rawlinson mentioned that a lot toy companies bided for Pokemon, and although many of them had interesting things to say about it, it was clear to her that most of those companies didn't truly understand Pokemon. However, she mentioned that Eddie Hayden from JAKKS Pacific spent six weeks doing nothing but playing the Pokemon game and Pokemon trading card game. She said that she would get phone calls from Hayden asking various questions about Pokemon while he was learning, such as what a certain Pokemon evolved into what. It was clear to her that JAKKS Pacific "really understood Pokemon, and really knew not just to exploit it as a toy, but to really keep it in their stable for the next 10 years, and to be able to live with it for many many years because that's the potential of Pokemon." She also mentioned that Cartoon Network also had the same kind of enthusiasm for Pokemon.

 

Rawlinson said that bringing back key aspects of Pokemon in-house to Pokemon USA, such as buying back the Pokemon TCG from Nintendo, was important so that they'll able to really control that and integrate that into with the rest of the brand. Also brought in-house was the Pokemon DVD and movie business which allowed them to do all the advertising, artwork, and localization. Rawlinson then went on to talk about some early results for 2007. Of course, the Pokemon Diamond and Pearl video games are doing very well with over 1 million copies sold in the first week. Sales of the TCG in the past two years are up 400% (from 2005 to 2006 sales has tripled, and from 2006 to 2007 it's on pace to double that from the previous year). Sales of toys in 2007 are on pace to be up 900%, but Rawlinson mentioned that due to the minimal amount of toys available in the market the previous year, she joked that it was easy to be up 900% (still quite impressive). Aside from some Pokemon toys at Target, Pokemon toys was pretty much nowhere in 2006. But in 2007, Pokemon suddenly became one of the top properties at retailers (5th through 7th, somewhere around there depending on the retailer). Which is impressive considering the tough competition in the toys category right now. Rawlinson talked about the challenges of talking to some retailers because many of them thought Pokemon was dead already. So it took a lot of convincing to get them to try it, but they soon realized Pokemon is still a powerful brand.

 

 

Greg Fountain (Cartoon Network, Sensior Director of Consumer Marketing)

Greg Fountain said that Cartoon Network were really happy to be the exclusive broadcaster for Pokemon. He said it was a "very easy decision for us to make, but there were some decisions that we had to make going into it." Cartoon Network liked the action in Pokemon, but also the comedy elements in the show as well. So this allowed Cartoon Network to be able to broadcast it during their action programming during Meguzi, and also their comedy programming during prime time. Once they made the deal, they obviously had to make a lot of decisions because it included all nine seasons and the upcoming tenth season with Pokemon: Diamond and Pearl.

 

They decided they wanted to focus on the launch of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl by using the previous content they had, which resulted in the Gotta Know 'Em All Trivia Test. They put out a Pokemon Diamond and Pearl "movie" two days before the launch of the video game by using the first three episodes of Pokemon: Diamond and Pearl season, which did very well. On the 23rd, the sweepstakes began online. Working with the Pokemon USA team, they worked on adding hints to the trivia test questions on the episodes. Another big promotion for Pokemon is the Pokemon Master Marathon which will lead into the premiere for the Pokemon: Diamond and Pearl season. So a lot of energy was spent to generate enthusiasm for the Pokemon TV series. Once the season starts, Fountain said they will continue generate enthusiasm over the summer by having several sweepstakes opportunities. One of them includes a sweepstakes with JAKKS Pacific, in which Fountain said "will be one of the more extensive sweepstakes that we've ever done on our air," though this is not a done deal yet at the time he was speaking, so he didn't speak too much in detail about that (although Hayden did later speak more in detail about this).

 

 

Eddie Hayden (JAKKS Pacific, Director of Male Action)

The first main point Eddie Hayden mentioned was the importance of getting in-sync with Pokemon. He plays the Pokemon games on his Nintendo DS, so he spends a lot of time immersing himself into Pokemon. I actually talked to another fan about this before I attended event. I wondered if someone like Hayden, who's in charge of the toys, would need to play the Pokemon games. The fan I was talking to said "one can only hope" that he and the rest of the speakers for Pokemon there, actually played Pokemon. I already knew Rawlinson played the Pokemon games from an article I read, but how about Hayden? The fan I talked to said he can't expect the JAKKS Pacific people to play. I had that feeling too, but of course I would have preferred that all these major people controlling the future of Pokemon to really understand Pokemon (by playing the video games, watching the show, etc) so they can be, in Hayden's case, more passionate about the toys they make. So I was partly surprised and relieved that Hayden did play as much of the Pokemon video games as he did.

 

They also spent a lot of time learning about the different Pokemon characters. They did this in 10 to 12 different waves, for 10 to 12 different characters, for a total 150 to 200 different characters across a six to eight month period, so there's a massive amount of information he had to learn. He made a point that having licensee summits were very important so that the different companies can communicate and work with each other. One example was a promotion with Nintendo during the launch celebration of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl at the Nintendo World Store where JAKKS Pacific products were given out. And then Hayden talks about another promotion where they are currently organizing a promotion on Cartoon Network this summer (which Fountain mentioned a bit earlier). It will be a toy giveaway from during the summer from July through August. Fans can call in or go online and to compete in contests and win JAKKS Pacific Pokemon products. He says this is a great opportunity to build awareness that new Pokemon toy products are available, and that Pokemon toy products are back in the market.

 

Pokemon toy products boomed in 2001, but they have been falling since. Although toy sales were down, other aspects of Pokemon (video games, TCG, TV show) were still very strong. In 2007, things changed for the better for Pokemon toy sales. Now there's full distribution (not just at Target), and the results have been good (again, Pokemon in the top 5 through 7 for the retailers, up 900% compared to the previous year). The performance in 2007 so far: 20,000 units of the mini-plush sold in one week at Target alone and 1 million figures sold in less than 4 months. So what to expect further in 2007 and 2008? In the fall of 2007, the packaging will be themed around Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. Another new theme would be the next Pokemon movie. The point is to keep things fresh, so every 6 months you'll see a new look and a new theme.

 

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Questions

The entire presentation clocked in at about 40 minutes, with another 5 minutes available for questions. If given more time, I think the attendees would have more questions to ask (I sure did). But one of the most interesting questions was one that asked whether Pokemon had plans to take Pokemon to the online world. Rawlinson said she would love to do something like that, but explained that it's not exactly her call since that's Nintendo's side of things. But as for her personal opinion on the matter, she said "We have all of these characters, they should be living online in every variation."

 

Overall Impressions

Overall it was a great conference, the speakers were very knowledgeable about what they were talking about and communicated that knowledge very well. I'm sure not all of you would enjoy listening to the nitty-gritty business side of things, but it's definitely right up my alley (I definitely learned a lot). It's more of a chance for the industry to learn from each other and to network. But nonetheless, it's a fascinating look at the business strategy behind Pokemon.