It’s summer in Tokyo. And yes, it’s hot and humid as hell!
So everybody tries not to move too much in the sunlight, not to sweat too much and seeks as much shelter in air-conditioned places as possible. Therfore it’s really astonishing to see masses of Japanese parents with their children, rushing from train station to train station, apparently to stand in line with other exhausted parents and their children, just to rush back to the train again and start all over.
What’s going on here is one of the most successful promotions in Japan: The “JR East Pokemon Stamp Rally 2009″.
Every year the East Japan Railway Company and Nintendo hold a so called stamp rally at 95 JR (growing every year) stations in Tokyo. Each station represents one of the 92 pocket monsters, plus three secret stations. Every participant gets free stamp sheets, each for 6 stamps, and a small participation gift (e.g. Pokemon hats, stickers or batches). There are 6 special goal stations (Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno and Matsudoshi) where full sheets can be remedied for one of the 300.000 eligible original pokemon stamp sheet covers. A must have for all kids in Japan.
Everybody who collects all 92 stamps will get an ‘original Pikachu sleep room light’. Collectors of the additional 3 secret stamps who hand in their stamp sheets on August 16th between 9:30 and 16:00 will be able to participate in a prize draw. Possibility prizes are 50 original Pokemon stuffed toys and 15 pre-sales special editions of each of the new Nintendo DS games ‘Pokemonster Hard Gold’ and ‘Pokemonster Hard Silver’ , announced to be released on 12th September 2009.
That’s just a rough outline of that famous promotion event. In short: The collectible Pokemon stamps at the train stations in Tokyo and original prices to win.
But, why do families enjoy riding packed trains in the hottest time of the year on their free days and weekends?
What’s behind it? And who’s benefiting from it?
The social acceptance lies in the 10 year success of Pokemon in Japan. Everybody knows the Pokemon story and everybody loves the Pokemonsters. And the ‘JR stamp rally’ is actually a real-life simulation of the Pokemon games and movies, which take place in fantasy worlds and depict young boys or girls leaving home on a journey to collect, trade, and battle with various cutesy creatures designed by some of the most talented pop-culture craftsmen of the modern times.
While that fantasy might just be in the children’s mind, they really have the chance to come around in Japan and experience new things and places. At first glace it’s a very typical Japanese activity: everybody does it, everybody loves it and everybody has to endure the summer heat and the masses of people together to reach the goal of being a part of the big group activity. Therefore the Pokemon rally has big similarities to Japanese traditional summer festivals (Matsuri).
But actually that’s not all. For Japanese families, it’s a great chance to spend time together and have a small adventure for the kids to recession friendly prices. Compared to other family activities like theme parks, tours to hot springs or other inland travel, the stamp rally does not involve accommodation costs, has low participation costs and is “fun” for the whole family. Yes, also for the parents, who can spend time with their kids and see the auspicious expressions in their little one’s faces each time they the collect another Pokemon stamp. Many parents even fill out their own stamp sheet.
Who’s benefiting from it?
Of course, the two main sponsors, Japan Railway and Nintendo get their credit. JR because all parents have to take their children to all the stations on the Pokemon tour. All stamp areas are located outside the gate so everybody has to leave the station to get a stamp and get in again to ride to the next station. Therefore JR offers special one-day-open tickets for about 8$ for adults and 4$ for children during the race, but the masses of families bring JR an additional traffic to the already crowded trains. More customers in the train stations do not only hype ticket sales, but also bring more customers to department stores, stores, restaurants and convenience stores in and around the train stations. Therefore small and big businesses take profit from the event.
The biggest benefit lays surely on the publisher’s side. Nintendo is using every posibilities to promote new products and increase the popularity of Pokemon especially during the stamp rally. Pokemon are everywhere! In shop-windows, on trains, and mostly visible as thousands of small Japanese kids with Pokemon hats and outfits on their journey through the streets of Tokyo. The “JR East Pokemon Stamp Rally 2009″ is considered as a family event, not a promotional tool anymore. And if a product brings happiness to the families and becomes part of modern family culture, then new customers can be recruited easily for the product makers.
Nintendo established this yearly growing modern event with traditional instruments. Like traditional temple pilgrimage, where stamps were traditionally used as a memory and prove for each temple, Nintendo spins the gap between tradition and modern animations. There would be many possibilities to implement especially mobile strategies for the event. Location based services, additional information, local advertising, simultaneous GPS real-time games on mobile phones. Wifi-spots could be installed at all participating stations to download additional content like, a virtual version of the stamp sheet or even Pokemon characters to implement them in Nintendo DSi games or save to mobile phones etc. Unlimited promotion possibilities!
But would the Pokemon rally be more successful with more modern media involvement? Or is it exactly that traditional character that contributes to the generational independent success of the Pokemon rally?