The ‘90s Pokémon Bus Ad Was Incredibly Genius

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90s Pokémon Bus Ad

The ad in question reflects the typical style of ’90s video game marketing, characterized by its exaggerated, crude, and edgy nature. However, comparing the tone of Pokémon marketing during that era to its current state, as depicted in the video of a bus driver collecting Pocket Monsters under the pretense of public transit, reveals a significant contrast.

Modern Pokémon marketing tends to emphasize the “wholesome” aspects of the franchise, emphasizing themes of friendship and the idea that journeys are best experienced together. Recent live-action ads, such as the original Scarlet and Violet reveal trailer, focus more on capturing the wonder of the Pokémon world rather than solely emphasizing the collectathon aspect.

The iconic slogan “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” has been retired from the franchise for about a decade now, last appearing as part of a defunct website promotion for Pokémon X and Y. Consequently, the notion that Pokémon are objects to be tricked and captured is no longer a prominent aspect of how The Pokémon Company presents the franchise. This shift in approach starkly contrasts with the current emphasis on the “power of friendship” in the franchise’s messaging. Mechanically, the concept of catching Pokémon remains unchanged; however, The Pokémon Company seems to prioritize highlighting other aspects of the franchise.

Considering this context, watching the ’90s ad is somewhat disconcerting, although it still manages to be amusing and effectively communicates its message. It appears that Nintendo acknowledged the uneasiness surrounding the ad, as there are two different versions available online. These alternate versions feature different takes and strategic edits that make the bus driver appear less menacing, despite his unchanged malicious intent. There is less maniacal laughter, he treats Pikachu more kindly when the creature enters the bus, and the destructive scenes involving the bus are largely omitted. Evidently, there was a conscious effort to avoid traumatizing young viewers by witnessing their beloved Pokémon being violently squished.

Nevertheless, the conclusion of the commercial remains the same. When the hydraulic press opens, all that remains of the bus is a Game Boy with Pikachu and its companions struggling to escape through the screen. It is apparent that the Pokémon are frightened by what has transpired. I, too, am unsettled because this is not the Pokémon League-approved method of capturing these creatures, Mr. Bus Driver. Traditionally, trainers would weaken Pokémon in battles and then catch them with Pokéballs, unlike the unconventional method depicted in the ad.

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