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Brands at Play: Pokémon on Fan Service and Brand Extension

License Global’s Ben Roberts speaks with The Pokémon Company International to learn how to stay true to fans while building countless new opportunities to engage with the brand.

Ben Roberts

February 9, 2024

7 Min Read
Pokémon TCG: Scarlet & Violet
Pokémon TCG: Scarlet & VioletThe Pokémon Company International

From sports to trading cards, tabletop gaming to preschool, one concept drives the rise and fall of brands in the business of play: fandom. 

In 2024, Kids Industries identified that 76% of children worldwide (rising to 90% in India) now consider themselves fans of something. The study also highlighted a big shift from passive to active consumption, the revealing 41% of children want to be more creative, play and have fun with their favourite brands. Fans are also looking to take a more active role - with 22% looking to create fan art about their brand, 19% wanting to engage with fandom communities more actively (26% for 12–14-year-olds) and 19% are hoping to shape and influence the very trajectory of the brands they love. 

Looking at the top ways fandom manifests itself, Kids Industries findings in 2023 highlighted that 39% share moments with others, 31% buy or receive products and 30% engage with as many touchpoints as possible – for example, books, music, gaming, TV and film, sports and lifestyle. Yet, due to the sheer number of platforms, devices, intellectual properties and choices available to the modern household, building and keeping a brand alive in fans’ minds is more complex than ever. 

One brand that has maintained an authentic relationship with its fans and continuously engages them in new states of play is Pokémon. Speaking with Amy Sachtleben, senior director, licensing and promotions, The Pokémon Company International, License Global’s Ben Roberts learns more about how this globally renowned brand has stayed true to its fans while building new touchpoints across countless mediums. 

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Ben Roberts: How has Pokémon built engagement with fans worldwide since its gaming inception? 

Amy Sachtleben: Since the original Pokémon video games launched in Japan in 1996, Pokémon has evolved into one of the world’s most popular and successful entertainment franchises. With various product offerings and experiences, including the globally popular Pokémon video games, mobile apps, the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG), animation and movies, Play! Pokémon competitive events and more, fans have endless opportunities to engage with the brand. Many Pokémon products come to life through the brand’s robust licensing program, spanning gaming, toys, apparel and accessories, designer collaborations, home décor, publishing and more. One of our priorities is working with premium partners that resonate with all types of Trainers so they can express their fandom in ways that best suit their interests. 

The Pokémon brand celebrated an eventful year in 2023, including the launch of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero DLC expansions for the best-selling “Pokémon Scarlet” and “Pokémon Violet” video games, the introduction of the Scarlet & Violet Series to the Pokémon TCG, the conclusion of the 25-season long original Pokémon animated series featuring Ash Ketchum and more. Stemming from this momentum, Pokémon continued to be the No. 1 brand in the industry for most of the year, primarily driven by a strong licensing portfolio as well as popular Pokémon TCG launches – including the Scarlet & Violet – 151 expansion featuring the beloved original 151 Pokémon and innovations like My First Battle that make it easy for young Trainers to learn the game. 

Now in its 28th year, Pokémon is more committed than ever to delighting fans through exciting products and experiences. In particular, the Pokémon franchise is ushering in a new era with the highly anticipated U.S. launch of “Pokémon Horizons: The Series,” an all-new animated series coming to Netflix on March 7, which is expected to propel the brand and its licensing initiatives forward as it introduces new adventures and characters for fans to explore. With our trusted licensing partners by our side, we’re primed to identify new ways to integrate the Pokémon brand into our fans’ lives in a meaningful and exciting way. 

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How do you continue to take that engagement further through entertainment and animation? 

2023 was a historic year for the Pokémon brand, with Ash Ketchum and his Pikachu achieving their goal of becoming the top Trainer in the Pokémon world after a 25-season-long journey. Not only was the beloved duo’s monumental achievement a significant popular culture milestone, but it also celebrated 25 years’ worth of Pokémon animation, which became a symbol of adventure, perseverance and friendship over the course of Ash and his Pikachu’s journey. With the launch of “Pokémon Horizons: The Series” around the corner, we’re eager to show Pokémon fans how the new series will embody the same spirit that Pokémon animation has become synonymous with while inviting them to discover what else the Pokémon world has to offer – both within and outside the upcoming animated series. 

As the first new Pokémon animated series released in 25 years, “Pokémon Horizons: The Series” will introduce a never-before-seen storyline and characters, which marks the start of a new adventure for both Pokémon fans and the Pokémon brand. As Trainers worldwide begin to immerse themselves in the new series, we’re forging ahead on our own adventure, building off the brand’s strong momentum to deliver an extensive slate of offerings and experiences that will capture the magic of the Pokémon world.  

In addition, the recently released stop-motion animated series, “Pokémon Concierge,” received an overwhelmingly positive response, with characters and themes that resonated with both kids and adults. The success of “Pokémon Concierge” is a testament to the brand’s continued strength in reaching various demographics and attracting new fans. Our award-winning licensing programs and products are driven by the passion of Pokémon fans around the world, and with Pokémon animation being licensed for broadcast and streaming in 177 countries and regions in over 30 languages, we’re excitedly exploring a growing licensing portfolio that will engage this global community. 

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How is multigenerational engagement essential for brand growth given the rise of the kidult and the mass appeal of brands like Pokémon? 

Driving our expansive range of product offerings and experiences are dedicated Trainers whose unwavering passion for Pokémon has created a global community that has evolved Pokémon into an iconic cross-generational brand. The Pokémon brand has broad appeal to fans of all ages. While the brand welcomes younger fans, much of the Pokémon fan community consists of adults who grew up with Pokémon and now share their love for the brand with their children. We always consider this when considering potential partnerships and merchandise that appeal to fans of all ages and interests while creating opportunities for families to bond through Pokémon.  

For example, the popular Pokémon Squishmallows Plush line, created in partnership with our master toy licensee, Jazwares, has proven to be a hit product among both kids and adults, earning it the Collectible of the Year accolade as part of the 2023 Toy of the Year Awards. 2023 also brought about more innovative partnerships that engage different types of audiences, including the Tiffany x Arsham Studio x Pokémon capsule collection of contemporary jewelry designs, as well as a one-of-a-kind Pokémon art exhibition featuring Japanese craftwork as part of the POKÉMON x KOGEI exhibit in Los Angeles. In addition, the brand partnered with Santa Cruz Skateboards to release an incredibly popular and highly collectible line of apparel and assorted Pokémon blind bag skateboards. 

With 2024 in full swing, we’re hard at work with other long-standing partners, including Mattel’s MEGA construction brand, Funko, Build-A-Bear Workshop, The Wand Company, Ravensburger and more, to grow our offerings for both kids and adults, further fueling their enthusiasm for Pokémon. 

Pokémon’s journey from a 1997 Game Boy game to a global character and entertainment brand excelling in all forms of play patterns and engaging countless communities has been a 27-year odyssey, crossing countless borders, platforms, ages and iterations. What drove this brand to become one of the world’s leading brand owners in License Global’s Top Global Licensor report is not just the brand’s dedication to authenticity but its devotion to its fans. 

The Global Licensing Group will celebrate the concept of Brands at Play across Licensing Expo, License Global and Brand Licensing Europe in 2024, delving deeper into the brands driving fan engagement and play throughout sports, video games, toys, preschool and more.   

About the Author(s)

Ben Roberts

Content Director (EMEA), License Global

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