It all started with a black-and-white RPG on Nintendo's Game Boy. A young trainer is given a friendly baby monster he can fit inside his pocket as he sets off on adventure to 'catch 'em all'. Since its video game debut 20 years ago, Pokémon has expanded into all kinds of different mediums from trading cards and toys to movies and an animé TV show that's still running - and yes, Ash Ketchum is still 10 years old! What with the franchise giant having grossed over $37 billion worldwide to date, it's not showing any sign of stopping.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary we've heard some nostalgia-appetite-wetting announcements like the re-releases of the original trading card game and Game Boy games - not to mention the crossover with Tekken for Pokkén Tournament on the Wii U and a Photo Booth app out later this year. But the latest celebration news is that Pokémon Company International have unveiled a TV commercial that will air during Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, February 7 - the first of its kind in the franchise's history.
A press release has revealed that it was shot in Rio de Janeiro, depicting a diverse group of young people from all around the world as they explore "ambition, drive, and training, concepts that every Pokémon Trainer is familiar with." Celebrating its millions of fans around the world, the short ends with the words 'Train On' - inspiring fans to "strive to achieve their dreams." It was also confirmed that a 30-second version of the ad will be aired at the beginning of the third quarter of Super Bowl 50, whilst an extended version can be viewed on the official site.
“For 20 years, the Pokémon world has inspired fans to train hard and have fun,” said J.C. Smith, senior director of Consumer Marketing at The Pokémon Company International. “This ad is reflective of that passion, and I can’t think of a bigger stage to share this story than the Super Bowl.”
It is staggering to see how successful the Pokémon franchise has been over the last two decades, not to mention its global appeal and constant durability. No other popular group of monsters comes close to such widespread popularity, other than dinosaurs - and they were real! It really does seem that this well shot commercial puts the franchise's success down to being able to inspire tenacity in a generation of young people. But it's also clear that 'Train On' also means 'keep going with Pokémon'; twenty years is just the beginning, so keep playing because it's just as relevant as it's always been.
Yet with a year that mainly sees re-releases and a crossover, it will be interesting to see if the appeal and durability of the pocket monsters continues. Will the company think creatively and take risks to keep it fresh, or will it stay in the comfort zone with safe bet sequels? Either will make money, but whether the die-hard and next generation of fans will stay interested for the next decade (at least) is another matter.
A 30-second version of the commercial will air during Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, February 7.