Pokemon Is Back On The Pop Culture Scene With Superbowl Ad, ‘Pokemon GO,’ And Other Huge Projects

Remember Pokemon? Although there are still some Pokemon fans who can remember its absolutely gargantuan blaze of popularity at the turn of the millennium, the majority of people who were around during “Pokemania,” the period between roughly 1999 and 2002, have paid Pokemon no mind in over a decade.

Those people may be surprised to learn that now, 20 years after Satoshi Tajiri conceived the phenomenon in Japan, Pokemon is going stronger than ever. Although most older Pokemon fans have dropped off, it is still a huge presence among youths, and sales of all Pokemon-related media — anime, video games, playing cards, and toys — are still through the roof. In fact, according to Business Wire, Pokemon has sold 275 million video games and 21.5 billion trading cards around the world since its inception. But Pokemon does not want to resign itself to a children’s fad: it wants to win back its place at the forefront of pop culture, and some of the Pokemon Company’s upcoming projects make anything they have produced up to this point look like small potatoes.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that Pokemon is looking for wider exposure is its upcoming Super Bowl ad. It is no secret that spots during the Super Bowl broadcast are one of the most sought-after spaces in the advertising world, as the broadcast consistently cracks 110 million viewers. The 30-second spot Pokemon has purchased, which is Pokemon’s first-ever Superbowl ad, will cost them $5 million, says CBS chief exec Leslie Moonves. You can view Pokemon’s ad below, although the version airing during the Superbowl will be an abridged version of this full version.

With the scope and tone of the ad, the company wants to show that Pokemon is not just for children, notes USA Today.

“You might think of Pokemon as kid stuff, but the video game sensation is taking on mature, inspirational themes when it comes to its first Super Bowl ad.”

Pokemon's Super Bowl Ad and Pookemon Go are part of the company's drive to appeal to an older audience
A huge congregation of older Pokemon fans at 2013's PAX East [Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Nintendo]

The ad deals with themes of courage, determination, heroism, and, as J.C. Smith, Pokemon’s Senior Director of Consumer Marketing puts it, “an infectious sense of accomplishment.” It also contains a very catchy slogan – “Train On” – that encourages fans to reenter the Pokemon world, and it will show a large percent of the 18- to 30-year-old-population, who were probably once huge Pokemon fans, that the Pokemon Company is still a force to be reckoned with.

“For 20 years, the Pokémon world has inspired fans to train hard and have fun. This ad is reflective of that passion, and I can’t think of a bigger stage to share this story than the Super Bowl.”

But the Pokemon world the ad is inviting fans to delve into is much more advanced than it was during Pokemania. Several new projects in the works make it clear that the Pokemon Company is stepping up its game.

Perhaps the most exciting of these new Pokemon projects is Pokemon GO, an augmented reality version of a traditional Pokemon title set to be released for mobile operating systems later this year. The Pokemon Company is creating Pokemon GO in partnership with Niantic, a location-based augmented reality software development company that began as an internal startup at Google.

The idea, according to press releases and interviews from Nintendo, is that instead of controlling a digital character wandering a virtual world looking for Pokemon, the users themselves can wander the real world around them looking for the digital pocket monsters. Phones with the Pokemon GO app installed will track their locations, and they can encounter certain Pokemon at certain coordinates in the real world. Pokemon that are common in the Pokemon world, like Pidgeys and Caterpies, will be easy to find, but as Nintendo has confirmed, the rarer Pokemon will be found in very few places, and users would have to actually travel the world and go to remote and hard-to-access regions to find every single Pokemon. Or maybe, John Hanke, chief executive of Niantic points out, a very sought-after Pokemon will make an appearance in “a rural town in Mississippi” for a few days, and that small town “all of the sudden has a global spotlight on it.” The possibilities are endless. Users will also be able to trade wirelessly with others around the globe, so you won’t necessarily need to go on a world tour in order to catch ’em all.

After the user “captures” a Pokemon, he or she can add it to a team to battle with others – again, via the internet. There will even be Pokemon gyms, areas where users can earn “badges,” in designated areas on the map.

And if that’s not cool enough, the more familiar aspects of the Pokemon gaming experience, such as trainer battling mechanics, have improved to become much more deep and refined over the years. Whereas battles used to be more unbalanced, relying heavily on a combination of luck and the pre-programmed stats of each player’s Pokemon, they are now more mature, complex games of planning and wits comparable to chess.

Pokemon fans agree that Pokemon GO has absolutely huge potential. If it is as cool as Nintendo has made it out to be in the descriptions of it they have let slip in press releases and interviews, it will be a mindblowing digital experience and a landmark technological feat that transcends the realms of just another Pokemon game installment. However, the Pokemon Company has released very few screenshots of what the game will actually look like and, because of that, one should regard the concept with cautious optimism.

The Pokemon Company has more in the works for its 20th anniversary, which falls on February 27 of this year, including the re-release of the original Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow games on the Nintendo 3DS and the upcoming Detective Pikachu video game that, if Pokemon fans have the final say, will star the voice of Danny Devito as Pikachu.

[Photo via YouTube]