Pokemon grows up with its demographic

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Nintendo of America today kicks off a multimedia campaign to launch Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, the latest versions of the popular game designed for its hand-held Game Boy Advance.

The $7 million effort, which runs through mid-May, targets kids ages 6 to 14, with a primary target of 6 to 11. While Nintendo wants to keep its core kid audience involved in the franchise, it is also eager to come up with offerings that will engage tweens and young adults. Six-year-olds that embraced Pokemon Game Boy Advance games when they were introduced in 1998 are now 11. Sapphire and Ruby offer more complex game scenarios, and allow up to four gamers to play simultaneously.

"We took a broad-based approach and positioned Pokemon as a phenomenon for all different ages," Rob Matthews, Nintendo's director-advertising and promotions said, adding that the TV spots showcase "that Pokemon is an evergreen franchise that's here to stay."

Billion-dollar franchise

Since Nintendo launched Pokemon, worldwide software sales and licensed merchandise have hit $1 billion. Pokemon software sales in North America stand at 37 million units with more than 110 million globally. Nintendo counts 12 million Game Boy Advance owners in North America; the gaming device launched in June 2001. When it was first introduced, Nintendo targeted Game Boy Advance sales also to adults and business travelers but that group remains a much smaller slice of its customers.

A quirky TV spot titled "Faces" breaks tonight in prime-time network, cable and syndicated programming featuring real people paired with Pokemon characters they resemble. The pairs include a boy in a yellow raincoat with a Pokemon who is also yellow, and an old woman wearing black-rimmed glasses and a furry brown scarf with a brown-and-furry Pokemon character whose eyes are rimmed in black. "The idea is that if you love these characters as much as these people do, you begin to look like them," Mr. Matthews said.

In a different spot, "Names," people shout out the names of Pokemon characters including Pikachu, Kyogre and Corphish. The spot highlights the fact that Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, on sale March 17, feature more than 100 new Pokemon characters. Nintendo said more than 100,000 Ruby and Sapphire units have been pre-sold since Feb. 10. The company estimates it will sell 3 million Ruby and Sapphire units in three months.

Created by Nintendo's long-time agency, Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, Chicago, the campaign includes print, radio and online advertising, along with extensive retail promotion. Public relations, events and school marketing were developed by Golin-Harris, Los Angeles and Seattle. Nintendo spent $68.9 million in the U.S. from January to November 2002, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

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