Super Bowl 50 is almost upon us, and we’ve already got a snazzy list of potential commercials we’ll see during the big game. It’s always interesting to see what kind of brands are willing to shell out the money for thirty seconds of airtime. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Pokémon has published it’s first Super Bowl ad on YouTube. I’m confused on why The Pokémon Company thinks that Super Bowl viewers are a key demographic, but, hey, at least the commercial looks intense.
First off: love the nods to the anime. Although we don’t see any major Pokémon symbolism until about forty seconds in, a good eye will catch the ‘Like No One Ever Was’ phrase in the football locker room. This infamous line is from the first opening of the English dub of the Pokémon anime. (Also, on a second viewing of the ad, I just noticed that the main football player’s jersey number is 20. Nice sly way of bringing the anniversary in.)
This theme song was a stable in elementary schools across America. Even kids who didn’t like Pokémon knew the words. There’s a few more references before the big reveal-the guy towards the end of the ad sports a similar hat and jacket as a reference to Ash Ketchem, the main character of the anime. Gotta catch ’em all, right?
But, man, I feel like I’m watching a hype video. The suspenseful music and cinematic shots made me check the video player to see if this was the ad or if I was watching a pre-roll for a different product. And it’s no wonder that I got confused. This just doesn’t seem like what a Pokémon ad would be. Usually they’re your clique bubblegum pop commercial with bright colors and fast-paced narrator that runs during your Saturday morning cartoons (or long-running anime–cross promotion much?). Also, others who aren’t into the franchise probably wouldn’t realize it was a Pokémon commercial either until the animated species appear at the end. It reminds me more of a hype video UGA releases to get fans excited before a major SEC game.
The ad will be edited down to thirty seconds for the live airing, which is a real bummer. I’ve edited enough news clips to know that anytime editing has to be done, you have to sacrifice some meaning. But the spot’s just repetitive enough that I think it will retain most of the same emotions it evokes in the full version.
It’s an interesting strategy to hold off on showing any Pokémon before the last few seconds of the spot. Maybe to keep the audience engaged? I know many adults who, the moment they see anything cartoonish, will tune it out because they assume bright colors and animations are for children. But the commercial mostly only shows children. So, yes, the focus of the ad is on children. It has to be. The idea of becoming a Pokémon master works best when you have the combination of unbreakable determination and constant wonder that a child has.
And I’m sure children will be watching the Super Bowl with their parents. But I’m not sure if children will be adamantly watching commercials for a video game franchise that they may not even know exists. So, yes, the focus of the ad is on children. That’s who the ad shows. It’s not who the ad is for. This ad isn’t for the adults that can’t dream, or even the children who may be half asleep on the couch by the time this ad airs -no- this ad is for the Pokemon masters. The ones that we see a quick glimpse of on the couch. The ones who have grown up with this franchise and have now introduced their own children to it aswell. The ones who have fought the struggle, who have beaten the Final Four, who have IV and EV trained into the whee hours, who always stand by that first starter they picked years ago, who have seen Pokémon change and evolve from 151 to 721. This is for them- the ones that have lived and breathed Pokémon, who may still be fans, (or maybe not), but will all feel the same sense of nostalgia when they see Charizard fly across that field.
This is purely a celebration of the Pokémon brand and the powerful emotions it stirs. There’s no upcoming game (besides the soon-to-be-released mobile app which… they don’t actually promo here? Not sure why) being shown, just a mention of how a beloved franchise has grown over the years. An expensive celebration, but one all the same.
I just hope they get their money’s worth. The Kate Upton commercial that ran for the “Game of War” app during last year’s Super Bowl still gets blasted to this day. But that’s a blog post for another time. Happy 20th, Pokémon.