>> Overview target group 6/7-13 years
What fascinates children about Pokémon?
Anyone who currently has anything to do with children will certainly have come across them, the "pocket monsters". Pokémon is at present the most popular series among the 6- to 13-year-old boys and girls. The programme on RTL 2 scores top viewing ratings, the Gameboy games are found everywhere and school playgrounds at times resemble a bazaar for Pokémon trading cards. There are not a few teachers who would like the children to be able to learn irregular words just as quickly as they can say "Bulbasaur – Ivysaur– Venussaur" or "Charmander – Cone – Charizard". Pokémania has proliferated.
GfK rates for Pokémon
In order to first categorise the use quantitatively here is a GfK ratings data sheet for Germany. In the first half of 2000 over one million watched the programme that was transmitted at 2.45pm every day. The age structure, ie the age groups over which the viewers are distributed, shows that it is chiefly children who watch the programme. Pokémon appeals to boys and girls, rather more boys watching it.
The market share, ie the figure that indicates what percentage of the respective age groups had their television sets switched on for this programme, indicates the enormous success of the programme, especially in the group of the 6-9-year-olds. (AGF/GfK PC#TV; IP Deutschland)
So what is it that fascinates children about the pocket monsters? In group discussions and morning circle conversations with 392 primary school children (March and May 2000) this was one of the questions that was looked into. Below the results are briefly summarised.
The principal motive: A boy experiences adventures with his animal and human friends
This is the principal motive: a 10-year-old boy and his best friends enter a world and experience adventures with their little "monsters". On their journey they meet many different Pokémon and learn how they have to be cared for and trained.
Knowing about connections
The children in front of the television set or their Gameboy learn together with Ash, the hero, as it were and knowledge can be fun. Within a very short time they know the names and various developments - and not only school boys and girls who are good pupils manage to do this. Otherwise less successful children in particular can shine and prove themselves with their special knowledge.
Of course, Pokémon cannot offer much help for coping with everyday problems or knowledge of and understanding for a world that is becoming increasingly complex. If it does, then it tends to promote the children in areas of consideration and friendship or calls for a certain strategic way of thinking.
Pokémon: creatures that have to be taken seriously but can be controlled with many character features
Pokémon is a fantasy world with the Pokémon figures at its centre. There are many different ones, something for all tastes.
In their undeveloped form the many monsters are a good half a metre tall, like a fairly large dog or E.T. It is a size that has to be taken seriously, but which nevertheless children can still control. Once they have been caught, the Pokémon are the most loyal friends that have to be looked after and which stand in and also fight for you.
This basic motive is already to be found in classic children's television, for example, in the case of Lassie, Flipper or Fury. Animals are the most reliable friends. They multiply their own potential, thus creating room for fantasies of size and giving them the feeling of being loved and needed.
A children's world – without adults
And what is particularly important in the case of Pokémon is that it is a children's world. Adults only appear on its fringe, since children solve the problems alone. This opens up fantasies and offers the children a world into which they can direct their thoughts.
Media and events arrangement
So, of course, it is opportune that Pokémon offers a whole media and events arrangement. There are not only the usual merchandising articles on the series, but more importantly the trading cards and Gameboy games, and Pokémon is also to be found on the internet. In addition there are organised events, such as the German Championship, which took place in Munich on 4th September 2000.
Pokémon creates occasion for communication and swapping scenarios in the peer group
The interplay of different products naturally creates chances of interaction. Pokémon is not merely a subject of conversation, it can also be swapped, and the tricks for the new Gameboy edition are welcome everywhere.
Pokémon offers a whole world, a world with which a lot of money is being made.
Get all of them
And that is, of course, the principal intention behind it all. What has always been successful with children and implemented in history and the media arrangement is adopted. In particular the collecting mania of children is exploited, since collecting is an important way of appropriating the world for primary school girls. There is nothing new in that; earlier on it was wafers or colourful pieces of broken glass. The difference between pieces of broken glass and Pokémon is the money they cost, and in the case of Pokémon it is quite a lot more.
Knowledge and possession is necessary and obligatory in the peer group
The proportions that Pokémania has assumed are resulting in pressure on children and parents alike that should not be underestimated.
For children it is not just a matter of enhancing their image with knowledge, but in the meantime it has become a question of anyone who does not know all about Pokémon or is not even interested in them losing respect, and that calls for a high degree of self-esteem.
The pressure on the parents is especially strong, since it is they who have to finance this passion for collecting. The proportionality of little presents is very quickly lost. It becomes extremely difficult, of course, for families who simply do not have this kind of money.
Children as customers
Pokémon is not over-demanding as far as content is concerned (cf Flimmo). But nor does it offer many perspectives or much support. It is a perfectly constructed arrangement built up around a theme: the Pokémon. In the feature film the 151st figure followed the first 150, and shortly another 99 are to be added to these, so that there is always something new to buy. The follow-up product Digimon, which is meant to increase and secure the success to date, is already being broadcast.
The success of Pokémon shows, on the one hand, how much children enjoy these fantasy worlds, worlds full of mythical creatures that are to be taken seriously but are controllable, worlds to which adults really have no access. But above all Pokémon shows how deliberately a trend is set, a trend which simply wants to turn children into customers.