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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK

Business: The Economy

Christmas monster invasion

High-powered marketing creates a monster hit

The UK is bracing itself for an invasion of monsters guaranteed to scare the living daylights out of parents in the run up to Christmas.

Pokemon are set to be the latest must-have item on children's lists for Santa this year - taking over the mantle from Furbies last year and Teletubbies the Christmas before.

The little creatures appear in computer games, cuddly toys and trading cards, and have already proved a huge hit in their native Japan and the US.

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Despite their cute appearance, Pokemon are less cuddly than their predecessors - the raison d'etre of these virtual pets being to fight each other.

And the company behind them is being just as aggressive in its marketing.

The pocket monsters (poke-mon) feature in a game for the Nintendo Game Boy - and they have all the ingredients to ensure parents will find their own little monsters trying to get into their pockets for some time to come.

Nintendo has not been slow to catch on to the trend, exemplified by the phenomenally successful Beanie Babies, to produce a range of different creatures which children will want to collect.

Monster profits

The Pokemon's slogan - "Gotta catch 'em all" sums up the marketing philosophy - and with 150 to catch, it is proving a huge money-spinner.

The success of the range in Japan has already spawned a cartoon series - which will hit UK screens soon - a movie, and a theme park.

Even the Japanese military has caught on, with pilots painting Pokemon on to the side of fighter aircraft.

More than 12m copies of the Game Boy game have been sold in Japan, and 4m more in the US.

In the game - spread over two £24.99 cartridges - players have to catch the creatures and train them to fight.

By linking two Game Boys together, the trained monsters can then fight another player's beasts with the winner keeping all the Pokemon.

Cuddly toy

Players can also trade or swap Pokemon, which include a mutant cat called Meowth and a trance-inducing blob called Jigglypuff.

There are also, inevitably, cuddly toy version of the monsters - led by Pokemon-in-chief Pikachu - an irredeemably cute yellow creature with rosy red cheeks and a fixed grin.

Soft toy version of Pikachu will cost £9.99.

But Christmas is just the start of the Pokemon invasion, with hundreds more related products planned for release over the next year, including virtual pet tamagotchi versions, bed linen, tents, kites, and advanced video games for the Nintendo 64 games console.

However, it may not be only parents who are sick of the sight of Pokemon over Christmas - in Japan, more than 600 children are reported to have been taken to hospital after feeling unwell while watching Pokemon cartoons on the television.

Japanese newspapers said schoolchildren suffered vomiting and convulsions after seeing Pokemon flashing their eyes on screen.

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