How Nintendo Learned to Chill Out

With the advent of user-generated content and blogs, Nintendo had to learn how to let go. We are a controlling company, said marketing boss George Harrison. This was a big deal for us.

He was at MI6 about the company’s extraordinary year bringing Wii to market. It was a year in which all the old ways and practices went out the door, including the hard-wired habit of taking charge. Nintendo has always been, unashamedly, a deeply conservative outfit, immensely protective of its reputation and good name.

“Opening up a MySpace area doesn’t sound all that innovative to you guys,” he told an audience of game marketers. “But for us it was a big deal. When people previously said bad things about Nintendo on our community areas, we deleted. Now we had to take the decision not to meddle. We had to allow consumers to say bad things about us. It turned out that our own supporters were much more articulate in supporting us than anyone in our offices at Redmond could ever be.”

Nintendo’s marketing effort also included innovations such as the Ambassador Program; parties targeted at social leading households around the country where friends and family were invited around to play Wii. The firm also embarked on a massive sampling program through 25 malls. It included 300 trained staff and yielded 1.1 million physical interactions and 90 million impressions. “It was an astronomical and immensely complex operation for us,” said Harrison.

Part of his team’s challenge was to redefine the way non-gamers saw videogames. “We identified cultural trends such as a disdain for sedentary activities and increasing social isolation. Mobile phones and friends lists are generally done in isolation under the guise of social connections. We wanted to show how Wii could drive people together and be active.”

The TV campaign, including ‘Wii Would Like to Play’, clearly found an appreciative audience, rating higher than any Nintendo ad in four years and downloaded by millions via YouTube. Continued sell-outs of the console are also testament to the strategy’s success.

Nintendo also worked on “social triggers” such as talk shows and TV comedy, winning mentions on South Park and The Colbert Report among others. And it formed partnerships with the likes of Comedy Central, Pringles and Slurpee.

Then there was the name, one of the big challenges of the past year. Harrison said, “The branding company came back to us with a lot of names and I have to say that Wii was by no means the oddest name on that list.” Nintendo changed the spelling from ‘We’ to ‘Wii’ and included the much-loved bowing animation. He said that his team were “stunned, just like everyone else” when they first saw the name.

Summing up Nintendo’s approach to marketing Wii he said, “Sometimes taking a leap of faith is more important than just following the market research.” He cautioned that the launch was only six months old and that “there is still a long way to go”.

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