Marketers at Nintendo has credited the popularity of Pokemon to its expert combination of two previous fads – the Tamagotchi and the Beanie Baby. Fair enough, but this isn’t why Pokemon has become so successful as a brand, capturing the imagination of children and adults worldwide. A great brand needs a great brand symbol, and Pokemon’s is Pikachu – in fact without Pikachu as an identification point the game would never have been a success.
There was no need for the focus on Pikachu in the Pokemon cartoon – and indeed he’s been left behind by the franchise, foolishly in my opinion, just one among many common low level Pokemon who show up in game after game. But let’s face it, Pokemon would have not become the juggernaut it is if Pidgey or Caterpie had borne the branding brunt. The idea of brands having character ‘faces’ has become hugely unfashionable in recent years – maybe Pikachu is the last of the greats, but great he is.
What are the secrets of his appeal? He is excellently proportioned – with a satisfying solidity whether forming a plastic shampoo bottle or a soft toy. But at the same time he is nimble, eager and enthusiastic. He combines a cat’s curiosity with a terrier-like loyalty to his master, the hugely boring Ash, and is therefore the perfect pet, but has an adventurous spirit of his own. Perhaps crucially, even though he is claimed as an “electric mouse”, he looks nothing like a mouse, being instead a kind of cross between a hamster and a tiger but really his own species entirely. Along with Harry Potter he’s one of the genuine childhood icons of our era and deserves nothing but celebration.