. . . and Pokemon Yellow

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Peter Main, the 6-foot-plus Canadian who presides over Nintendo of America's Pokemon franchise, is still surprised by the phenomenal popularity of the quirky little monster.

When Pokemon launched in Japan in 1996, the exec VP-sales and marketing could not have predicted the Nintendo franchise's success. Much to the pleasure of his marketing team, the Pokemon franchise, which has grown into a $4 billion industry in Japan, has ended up a runaway hit in the U.S.

Mr. Main says that acceptance of an earlier TV show, movie, video as well as videogames all foreshadowed the sales of Yellow. Pokemon Yellow has sold more than 3.8 million copies since its U.S. debut in October 1999, contributing significantly to the more than 17 million Pokemon-related games sold to date.

"In 1999, the secret behind Pokemon is a real basic thing: It's about finding, collecting and trading characters," Mr. Main says. "The characters evolve to take on different personalities, and the objective is to put together your ideal team."

Kids need Yellow to complete the team and fulfill the journey. Kids went for Yellow in a big, big way. Mr. Main kicked off a pre-sell program on Yellow in early September 1999.

With the help of Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, Nintendo had extraordinary presence at retail with point-of-sale materials and in-store displays. A torrent of TV and print advertising would soon follow. In the pre-sell period leading up to the Oct. 18 launch of Yellow, retailers sold close to 300,000 units.

"Typically, a pre-sell is about 100,000 to 150,000," Mr. Main says. "Yellow absolutely exploded out of the starting gate." Yellow, he says, continues to sell between 40,000 and 50,000 units per week. Nintendo spent less than $10 million on marketing and advertising for the Yellow pre-sell and launch programs.

The campaign included Internet, TV and print placement. The TV campaign ran Oct. 25 through Nov. 28, targeted to kids 6-11. Consumer print ads were placed in youth-oriented publications such as Disney Adventures, Girl's Life, Nickelodeon, SI for Kids and Teen People.

Mr. Main attributes the success to timing: "The name of the game is the game. It's not about bits and bytes, it's about great entertainment value and fun."

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