-Z- (z@gundam.com)
Mon, 18 Sep 2000 10:31:04 -0700


The argument has been made that the Pokemon TV series isn't an advertisement for
the card game and other merchandise, because the show doesn't have the
characters playing the card game. I don't buy this for a number of reasons,
dating back 20-odd years to the He-Man and G.I. Joe cartoons that instigated
regulations (since abandoned) against shows that were, in and of themselves,
advertisments for products targeted at children.

It's a matter of which is the tail and which is the dog. In acceptable
marketing, the dog wags the tail; in targeted marketing, the tail wags the dog.

Franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Babylon 5 have heavy marketing, but
the merchandising is kept separate from the TV or film presentation, which also
generally establishes its story and characterd well in advance of the
merchandising. They also don't advertise the merchandise during the
presentation -- the ad campaign in in a separate venue, with commercials run
during other programs. (I've seen ads for Star Trek conventions during Star
Trek, but they were local, not national, ads. Even the Sci-Fi Channel avoids
advertising related merchandise in the actual run of the episode or movie,
although they did do a QVC/HSN type memorabilia sale during the run of the Star
Wars movie trilogy and the "restored" Star Trek epsiode marathon. Still, with
the possible exception of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, the shows clearly
came first and the merchandising second.)

Targeted marketing is the other way around. The line of merchandise is
established first, then a presentation is made using the characters from the
line of merchandise, which are advertised very heavily before, during, and after
the presentation. Pokemon is the most egregious offender of late -- I saw ads
for the new line of cards appended to the trailer for the movie and I see them
all through the Kids WB cartoon block (I follow the Batman-Superman cartoons,
which were recently interleaved with Pokemon, such that you got a half hour of
one, then the other--ptui!) And, just today, I saw the end of a segement of
Pokemon containing the following exchange:

ASH: Wow, Professor! You've got every Pokemon in the world!

PROF: No, Ash. No one really knows how many Pokemon there are. We used to
think there were only 150, but then me found <whatchamacallit>. We may never
know how many there are. The search for new Pokemon is a never-ending quest.

Ash then remembers seeing an unknown Pokemon (Gold, I think) and vows that he
won't quit until he's found and captured them all.

Could we possibly be any more blatantly obvious? "Gotta catch 'em all!"
followed by "We'll never know how many there are ... we'll just have to keep on
looking!"

And the Bandai/Saban Power Rangers are arguably even worse, since every prop in
the TV shows and movies is available as a toy.

Which brings me to Gundam. Although it broke the mold and redefined the Giant
Robot genre, it was merchandise driven from the start. Mobile suits lined up to
fight and be defeated by the all-powerful Gundam and all of them became part of
the "Plamodel" line, which was advertised before, during, and after the actual
show.

Sound familiar?

Now, it can be argued that the glue-and-paint models require and are thus aimed
at a more mature audience than, say, a line of collectible cards, toys,
keychains, and such. One could even argue that the snap-together system
injection kits require a somewhat less but still more mature audience than the
traditional action figures and playsets. But I submit that Gundam was as much
an extended advertisment for its merchandising line as was He-Man or G.I. Joe
over here.

Insofar as I've seen, Cartoon Network has shown Gundam Wing without reference to
the action figures that are now becoming available, but that could change. I'd
really hate to see that, because it woul make Cartoon Network no different from
Kids WB in regard to targeted marketing.

-Z-

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