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Pokemania: Nintendo versus Obesity 2.0

There was a time when admen would entertain their clients by taking them out for a night at a casino or strip club, but sadly we left those kinds of antics behind four decades ago. Last Tuesday we found ourselves wining and dining some representatives from an esteemed Southern Dutch beer company at an upscale restaurant. So you can imagine how perplexed we were when one of our guests suddenly shot up from her seat – as if she’d just been bitten by a snake – and shrieked that she’d just “spotted one” right there in the room. Clutching her phone and practically frothing at the mouth, she bounded past the stunned waiters and crisp linen-topped tables. Coming to a halt in front of a distinguished-looking elderly couple, she squealed in what can only be described as pure ecstasy: “Yeah! I finally got him, the Poison Pokémon!” Barely 15 minutes later, we watched as she was carted off in a straitjacket to the nearest exorcist.

It turns out our guest was under the spell of Pokémon Go, an addictive game where players use their smartphones to track down, catch and train virtual creatures in random GPS locations. The game was released in the US, Australia and New Zealand ten days ago and has been taking the world by storm ever since. Just one week later, the game already had more users than Snapchat, Tinder, Instagram and Facebook, making it the biggest mobile game ever released in the United States. The game’s success had added 6 billion euro’s to Nintendo’s market value in a matter of days.

With tons of players of all ages venturing out into the world to hunt down the elusive Pokémons, police departments worldwide are working overtime: they have been receiving reports from tens of thousands of locations of suspicious loitering and cars getting backed up on the motorways. A large university hospital in Amsterdam found itself overrun with avid players storming into rooms reserved for rectal examinations in search of a Pokémon called Clefairy. And in the leafy town of Baarn, five young players looking to catch Magikarp in a duck pond got a little more than they bargained for when they stumbled on a dead body instead.

This is the second time Nintendo has managed to pull off something that governments and nutrition centres haven’t been able to do in all their years of fighting obesity: getting young gamers out of their bedrooms and into the world. The first exercise games were introduced by Nintendo Wii (with over 100 million consoles sold to date), and now in just two weeks the same company has managed to persuade millions of kids to head out onto the streets and into the great outdoors. No longer lethargic and pasty-faced, these former couch potatoes are coming home like in the olden days with their cheeks flushed red with excitement. “How was the football?” “No, Dad, I spent all day hunting for Pokémons. Sorry, gotta run!”

Pokémon Go serves as incontestable proof that creativity can change the world. I suggest that you get into your car right now and drive to the nearest Nintendo office to bow down before Pikachu in a saikeirei, Japan’s ultimate sign of respect.

Dick van der Lecq

Dick van der Lecq is the Managing Director at DDB Unlimited. He was previously the Managing Partner at Etcetera.