Super Bowl Ad Review: Pokemon As Athletic Feat? It’s A Stretch

Pokemon Superbowl Ad
Courtesy of Youtube

Athletes often fare well at the Super Bowl, but not always so in Super Bowl commercials.

For every champ on the gridiron, there’s a terrible mishap in the ad breaks. Take the example of the African long-distance runner who took to the Super Bowl ad races in 1999. In a commercial for shoe-retailer Just For Feet, a group of white men in a Humvee tracked him and gave him water laced with a sedative. While he was unconscious, they “shoed” him with Nike gear. The ad was viewed as being horribly racist, and the company ended up filing for bankruptcy within just a few months’ time.

Or consider the plight of 1992 Olympic hopefuls Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. They were touted in a Super Bowl ad from Reebok that hoped to stoke a rivalry between the duo as they made their way to the Games. O’Brien failed to qualify, negating hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment. And then there’s that runner in Apple’s iconic “1984” ad from the game of the same year. We have to presume that, after disrupting the hegemony of a totalitarian world order,  she was set upon by thought police in riot gear and beaten within an inch of her life.

If you’re looking for another case in which athletes are not used to their fullest potential, check out a new Super Bowl spot from Pokemon,  taking to the event to celebrate its 20th anniversary with an attempt to link playing a round of the popular video game to taking part in grand competition.

In an extra-long version of an ad set to be shown a week from Sunday and now posted on YouTube, a series of youngsters take on big challenges  – a football game, a massive multi-player chess match – inspiring one another in the process. “I can do that!” they all proclaim.

In the end, a young man is motivated to take on Magneton and Charizard and other characters from the Pokemon universe in a stadium.  Peppered throughout the commercial are subtle references to all things Pokemon, sure to delight diehards who can use a DVR or YouTube to watch the ad again and again (and to be ignored by fans guzzling suds interested in live play).

Cut to a young kid viewing at home, with an adult by his side (not to mention little Pikachu, perhaps the game’s best known character). ‘’You can do that,” the man urges the boy. Viewers are urged to “Train on.”

One of the flaws in the commercial is that it equates actual accomplishments – running, mastering chess, playing football – with sitting on a couch and getting your game on. There’s nothing wrong with playing Pokemon, of course, and the company behind the game is preparing some new video games for debut. But to suggest winning a game of Pokemon is as rousing as, well, anything that involves using one’s body to burn calories and achieve something physically or mentally demanding is a little silly.

Gaming has become a hot new category at the Super Bowl. Last year, NBC broadcast three different ads for mobile game apps from first-time sponsors of the game. In 2014, Fox ran two.  Who can cite details from any of them?

Pokemon has been around for two decades, but this is its first time advertising in the Super Bowl. And it’s doing what people expect of a Super Bowl advertiser, creating an ad chock full of spectacular, cinematic images and attempting to link its product to an idea greater than “Game Over.” In doing so, however, it forgot to tell us about any specific product that might be on sale at local stores or Amazon and omitted to give us a reason to spend any money on its wares. Next time Pokemon gears up for a Super Bowl workout, it ought to have a goal in mind.

Grade: C+

 

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  1. Allissoon Lockhart says:

    As a video game designer, I am offended by Steinberg’s view of videogames. Steinberg draws a distinction between video games and sports, when they truly are the same thing. Also, he condemns the Pokemon Company for not marketing a game or product. Absent from this article is the widely available information on why the ad was created and a mindset that shows how important games are to our culture and youth, much like sports. Steinberg is dismissive of the fact that Pokemon and video games are legitimate activities, and uses this prejudice to wrongly put down the point of the Super Bowl commercial to celebrate twenty years of Pokemon.

    The article boldly states that “…to suggest winning a game of Pokemon is as rousing as, well, anything that involves using one’s body to burn calories and achieve something physically or mentally demanding is a little silly” (Steinberg). Rousing means to find enjoyment and pleasure, and while I can simply say this person has never been locked in a Pokemon battle with Lance of the Elite Four, the article disregards the meaning of a game. A game does not have to burn calories physically to be worthwhile. There also is a very strong lack of understanding towards Pokemon games themselves, since video games are mentally demanding. There are leagues where not just children, but grown men and women strategize with stats and algorithms to make their pokemon team better at the game. These leagues stretch from national to international play (“Pokemon Tournaments”). Now what does that in sound like? It sounds like a sport, which is why E-Sports were invented.

    Another part of this article that does not add up is the assertion that the Pokemon Company was not advertising a product and missed its mark. However, for the past month Pokemon has not been marketing a game, but celebrating the 20 year milestone they hit this year in 2016. The commercial was crafted to thank the fans around the globe for supporting and playing the games, watching the shows, and collecting the merchandise, while also encouraging kids to keep pursuing their dreams in and out of the game. Steinberg states, “…it forgot to tell us about any specific product that might be on sale at local stores or Amazon and omitted to give us a reason to spend any money on its wares. Next time Pokemon gears up for a Super Bowl workout, it ought to have a goal in mind” (Steinberg). However, the goal is clearly stated on the youtube channel, twitter feed, and website for the Pokemon Company’s ad that is was to “Celebrate 20 years of Pokémon by watching the 2016 Pokémon Super Bowl spot!” (Found here: http://www.pokemon20.com/en-us/). Pokemon is much more than a game bought at GameStop or Walmart: it’s iconic. I would even go as far to say that if similar big franchises like Disney or a beer company celebrated by made a commercial it would not be questioned. However, Steinberg writes this article to say a product or monetary purpose should be the sole reason for a video game company to make an advertisement. If celebrating two decades of them creating a huge marketable franchise is not enough to warrant a Super Bowl ad to continue fans to keep playing or “training”, which is the action done in the game, I do not know what is.

    Video games are games, just like any other sport. Yes, there is a dictionary difference between an athlete and a gamer, but that does not change that all games are games. They are meant for entertainment, to teach skills, to be competitive, and to escape the real world. Football, Pokemon, chess, baseball, Call of Duty; all games do this. The point of the commercial was to emphasize the main theme taught in Pokemon that any kid or individual can be the very best if they train hard and are determined. Is this not the true spirit of football players as well? Maybe pro athletes need to learn a few things from Pokemon to see the true spirit of sports.

  2. Zach says:

    Clash of Clans commercial with Liam Neeson was great, couldn’t miss the Game of War ads with Kate Upton and other celebs the way they were always on. I’d bet the new ads with Gronk for Mobile Strike will probably make the Super Bowl. Some people who are interested in that sort of thing do remember. And to say a commercial is “silly” because it compares games to sports or chess is foolish, try watching their extended commercial for the mobile pokemon game, it’s obviously tied to the way their marketing that new game, the commercials are very similar, the other one got me really pumped so I looked this one too.

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