Pokémon Sword and Shield’s “hype” season has garnered the attention of many with its unique presentation. Fans harshly criticized and greatly praised these stunts, with the recent live stream reveal of Galarian Ponyta being the cause of controversy amongst the community.
Generations before all had unique events promoting the games but Generation I needed to push the hardest. It needed to introduce an alien concept to a western audience. To promote the release of Pokémon Red and Blue in the U.S, Nintendo of America used unique tactics to gain attraction. Fortunately for them, Nintendo had two years of learning experience, and they would use every bit of it to ensure success.
The Pokémon are Coming!
Pokémon Red and Blue’s success wasn’t guaranteed overseas and as a result, relied on the coattails of its success in Japan. To gain attention, Nintendo used its magazine, Nintendo Power, to get the word out on Pokémon. The first mention of Pokémon was in the January 1998 issue, where the magazine discussed the games revealed at the 1997 Nintendo Spaceworld event in Japan. Pokémon would not get a proper introduction until the May 1998 issue. A large amount of attention went into detail about its success in Japan. The magazine featured a five-page article focusing on the TCG, anime, and games that were to release in the Fall.
Starting in August 1998, Nintendo Power introduced Pokémon Power, a mini-magazine all about Pokémon. The magazine spanned six issues, ending in January 1998. The first issue focused on the introduction of the franchise along with an ani-manga of the first anime episode, “I-Choose-You”. The following five issues would serve as a guide for the games and cover the next five episodes of the anime. The guides took the form of in-world news briefings called “The Pokémon Times”, which featured advertisements for Rare Candy, the Pewter City Museum, and even the infamous one million Pokédollar bike!
“A Sneak Preview at Pokémon” – VHS Tape
During the Summer of 1998, a VHS tape titled, “A Sneak Preview of Pokémon” was included in select issues of Nintendo Power. The video introduced the viewer to the anime with a series of mock-interviews featuring Ash’s relatives and a teacher. These relatives took the form of Ash’s aunt Hillary and cousins, Trey and Troy, characters solely canon to the tape. The tape screamed 90s era and is surprisingly still entertaining to view. The video featured shameless propaganda-like messages and at one point seemed almost cult-like with the Giovanni section (3:40). The Collectible Card Game, toys, manga, and even the Pocket Pikachu were promoted in the video. A few errors can be found in the video such as the pronunciation of Rapidash and arguably Pikachu too. (Pick-uh-choo or Peek-uh-choo?) Finally, the end of the tape mentioned the “PokéCars”, which would be yet another one of Nintendo’s marketing stunts. (Full video available below)
The Voltswagons Charge the Nation
To promote the series Nintendo ordered ten custom 1998 Volkswagon Beetles which would travel around the U.S to ten cities. The Beetle resembled a Pikachu, including every detail of the yellow mouse from its red cheeks to its striped tail. The vehicle even included a custom horn that made a “Pika-Pika” sound when pressed. It included a built-in Nintendo 64 connected to audio and monitor. Currently, not much information exists on the promotion such as what the giveaways were. Nintendo later hosted a sweepstakes with one of the vehicles being the grand prize. A few of the custom buggies still roam around to this day.
Pokémon Red and Blue Release
Volkswagons, VHS tapes, magazines, anime, toys, Nintendo did its best to market Pokémon to American audiences. Some say that the anime and word of mouth is to blame for the success of Pokémon Red and Blue. Information trickled down at a snails pace with few sources of official information available. Despite this, it would take but a few months for Pokémania to sweep the nation and make a name for itself in gaming history.