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By now, most parents of pre-teen-age children know Pokemon.

Short for Pocket Monsters, Pokemon has spun off its more than 151 cuddly animated characters into a TV show, stuffed animals, cards and a cadre of other tchotchkes.

If the kids aren't waking up early to watch the creatures, then they're swapping cards on the school bus or playing the Game Boy videogame on the playground.

But the success of Pokemon in the U.S. wasn't always a sure thing. Early last year, Nintendo, which created the phenomenon in Japan, decided to take a chance that it would catch on in the U.S. George Harrison, Nintendo of America VP-marketing and corporate communications, oversaw the $14 million marketing push behind the launch. He says the videogame effort was designed to coincide with the launch of the TV show here in fall 1998. Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, created the advertising.

Still, Mr. Harrison and Nintendo weren't spending money blindly. They were witness to the craze they started in Japan in 1996 with the debut of a Pokemon videogame for Game Boy. It was the game's popularity that later spurred the cartoon TV show. The ongoing demand for the videogame and the show really got the ball rolling for other marketing deals.

Mr. Harrison says the timing was right for another craze imported from Japan, and the chance Nintendo took in the U.S. is now paying off big.

The videogame is selling at a rate of 10,000 cartridges per day. Nintendo will introduce more characters in the U.S. A Pokemon movie already out in Japan is expected for video release later this fall. Plus, more videogames are being readied, including the first Nintendo 64 version, called Pokemon Snap, which

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