How to market professional services like Pokemon

My wife and I sleep with the TV on. (I know, it is a waste of energy…) She seems to sleep better with the background noise. We usually leave the Cartoon Network on, because at night, Adult Swim (Cartoon Network’s programming for adults) is on and is some of the funniest stuff on TV. But in the morning, kids television programming resumes.

Nearly every morning I wake up to an interesting block of cartoons. There is Pokemon, Bakugan, and Beyblade. These shows, primarily produced and animated in Japan with re-dubbed English voices, have a common thread. The plot typically revolves around various kids that compete with one another in games that are based on real toys. For example, most people are familiar with the Pokemon franchise, which involves toys and apparel, but the actual “game” is a type of card game with a point-based system. In the show, the stories blend aspects of the actual game play with imaginative and fanciful elements. Bakugan is based on small orb-shaped toys that transform into action figures, and also involves cards and a point system. Beyblade is based on spinning metal tops launched from a hand-held launcher. Players compete to knock the opponents top out of the ring or stop it spinning – similar in some ways to Sumo.

In all honesty, these shows are some of the worst cartoons I’ve ever seen in my life. Right up there with My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake – both of which, ironically enough, are also associated with vast lines of toys. While I hate watching these shows (they are a great motivator to get me out of bed), I’m also intrigued. Instead of paying for expensive commercial spots, these companies are selling shows to the networks that amount to 24 minute long commercials. And they are really effective.

By featuring the products, terminology, game play, and common elements of the Hero’s Journey, kids are drawn in. By combining the fanciful elements, it primes the imagination of the kids, giving them a jump start in their play activities. But as the shows are careful to demonstrate, imaginative play is not enough – you still need to buy the toys. The subtitle or catch-phrase of Pokemon is, “Gotta catch them all.” Brilliant!

What’s the Point?

The take-away here, for me, is that these fairly successful cartoons with product tie-ins are excellent at demonstrating the impact of showing versus telling. A toy commercial tells a kid that they need their parents to buy them a toy. Pokemon, Beyblade, Bakugan and My Little Pony immerse children in a fantasy world showing them that life is much better with certain toys. If you see these toys in their packages in the store, they look kind of stupid and it would be difficult to differentiate them from all the other toys, especially the ones with electronic sounds, lights and movement.

Marketing a consulting firm is no different. If you look at a typical consultant’s business card, brochure, website, etc., they tend to seem boring. But when a consultant can provide a story that serves as inspiration for a potential client’s imagination, the effect is magical.

My advice – try to find different ways to tell your story that capture the imagination of potential clients. Help them to imagine how much better their situation will be with your involvement. And if you can pitch a cartoon to a major network showcasing your innovative approach, even better. (Though not likely!)