While we await a potential increase in hardware sales, even Nintendo would admit that the Wii U has underperformed in its debut year. With poor sales to date and a year’s head start over its next-gen competition arguably squandered, the Wii U is in the unenviable position of heading into its first anniversary with yearly sales below that of the console it has succeeded. That’s not to say there haven’t been success stories; New Super Mario Bros U, LEGO City Undercover and Pikmin 3 all sold well to a small install base, but with Nintendo constantly downgrading its forecasts in the last financial year, the system’s not currently in a healthy position.
The biggest cause of all this? The games, or lack thereof. It’s no secret that the Wii U has had an absence of big hitting software since March, and has only recently started seeing some notable titles, with Pikmin 3 heralding what should be a great end of year for the console. Games sell games consoles, and that is an area where it’s been lacking. But marketing sells games, and if the Wii U has been short of games, it has also arguably been short of marketing that can overcome that issue.
Marketing can make or break any product, and while the Wii brand remains strong thanks to the last generation, people need to know that these new games exist, and for a brand new console. With a big autumn of games on the horizon, the marketing message needs to be strong, so what can Nintendo do to get the Wii U idea out to the masses?
With a price cut of $50 launching in North America on 20th September, and a similar drop in Europe following on 4th October, we consider some areas where that cut can align with positive messaging and, hopefully, deliver a strong close to 2013.
Get the name out there
It’s likely that half of you believe that Wii U is a terrible name, and half of you think its fine. Whatever your stance on the naming convention Nintendo adopted with the Wii U, one thing is set in stone – that’s what it’s called. And like the 3DS before it, Nintendo needs to ensure that the public are aware of the differences in hardware. Nintendo’s answer during the 3DS launch period was to run a campaign with the slogan “this is not Nintendo DS, this is Nintendo 3DS”; a blunt message to be sure, but an effective one nonetheless.
With Wii U, something similar needs to happen; there have been some attempts to emphasize the “new console” message, and Nintendo needs to establish a consistent, coherent strategy. Much of its early advertising was focused on the GamePad, and how Wii U could function as a 5 player console using Wii remotes. At no point, arguably, did it emphasise the new hardware to its full degree, leading to a lot of confusion as to whether the GamePad was in fact a peripheral for Wii.
To remove confusion, perhaps it’s time to show off the GamePad in isolation a little more (without distracting Wii Remotes in the shot) while emphasising that it is for a new console, and show it doing things no other platform can do. Of course, that requires software, but a campaign that uses material similar to the sizzle reel from E3 2012, where games such as Art Academy: SketchPad and GamePad-only mini-games from Wii Party U take centre stage, might not be such a bad idea. Show them what’s unique, and people will understand the Wii U difference.
Be creative, be memorable
When the Wii launched back in 2006, it proved to be very divisive. A motion controlled console was seen by some as ridiculous at the time, and the big hurdle Nintendo had to overcome was to show the average consumer just why it was worth investing in. Word of mouth, coupled with the instant accessibility of Wii Sports, proved to be the big system seller, but there was also a large amount of goodwill generated by an effective marketing campaign in the US.
Using the catchphrase “Wii Would Like To Play”, Nintendo created a memorable and brilliant marketing campaign which effectively conveyed the message of Wii. Featuring two Japanese salesmen, the adverts saw them travelling around the country and arriving at people’s homes with the system. The adverts would then show them playing whatever game it was being advertised in the house with the family, not only promoting a new game, but showing off the local multiplayer that became Wii’s hallmark. Everything from Wii Sports to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption got this treatment, and it surely helped to get the word out.
For the Wii U, it’s taken time to try and establish a similar message. Initial advertising in the UK was curtailed due to a misrepresentation of the off-screen TV functionality, while the US campaign was fairly ineffective at conveying what Wii U was, especially when showing New Super Mario Bros U, a game that from a distance looks very similar to its Wii predecessor. Recently there has been a renewed focus on Wii U software rather than hardware in advertising, much like the 3DS, and perhaps this is a good tactic alongside establishing the console’s brand as hardware. Show the games, and let them do the talking. Whatever it ultimately decides to it, Nintendo needs to create something memorable, and get the word out there.
What’s new, what’s coming soon?
One of the potential issues with Nintendo’s approach to consumer awareness over the years has been the concept of timescales. As we saw with the recent EarthBound release, Nintendo sometimes forgoes the traditional hype building period and goes instead for impact releases – EarthBound itself was released mere hours after a date was set for it, prompting many to question why a bigger promotional campaign wasn’t in place.
This is an area that is more of a tradition for Nintendo than an active ploy, and is arguably something to be reassessed. Nintendo’s policy has always been one of “when it’s ready, it’ll be shown”, and while that’s great for impact, the reveal of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and its subsequent release this year is good news that’s steadily grown; there’s an argument for getting people excited early, and building up over time. Take Super Smash Bros. for instance, a game we’ve known about since 2011. It’s still in progress, but does that make it any less exciting?
That sort of build-up also needs to be replicated to a wider audience. All too often, games will be released with very little fanfare, only for advertising to try and gain momentum post-launch. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team was particularly caught out by this, with little mainstream promotion pre-launch, and then a short burst in the following weeks. The general public need to know what’s coming soon, and for Wii U, advertising that showcases Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 could go a long way to convincing people they should invest in a new system. After all, those series are what kick-started the 3DS, so the audience is certainly there.
Nintendo Direct, and a wider audience
Of all Nintendo’s innovations this last generation, it’s widely accepted that Nintendo Direct is one of the best of the lot. Offering fans regular news and reveals, these spontaneous broadcasts have provided us with countless memorable moments, and even more big game reveals. But they’re by no means perfect, and are another area that Nintendo could use more efficiently to promote the Wii U message.
Firstly, the show itself. Every time a new Nintendo Direct is announced there is one common theme in the Nintendo Life comments – “why are we just hearing about this when it’s happening tomorrow?”. One of E3’s big strengths is its ability to gain excitement as the date approaches, and that’s something the sudden arrivals of Nintendo Direct simply cannot do at such short notice. The spontaneous appearance of a new Nintendo Direct, usually in just a day’s time, means that some fans either miss the show through other commitments, or simply never find out about it as the news passes them by. While the news is still broadcast through various outlets, a little more notice would provide Nintendo with a bigger event, even if it was just a week in advance. No-one likes to miss big gaming reveals, but that’s precisely what happens when Nintendo Direct is announced within 24 hours of its broadcast.
On the other side, Nintendo Direct is aimed at a core audience, and while Direct’s such as the Wonderful 101 showcase certainly drum up support for new releases, they remain inherently aimed at Wii U owners, and not prospective ones. If you’re watching Nintendo Direct you’re most likely a Nintendo fan, and if you’re a Nintendo fan you either already have a Wii U, or have a date in mind when you’ll possibly get one. Nintendo Direct gets the message out there, but it’s to an already attentive audience.
The solution to this isn’t straightforward. The internet does a good job of disseminating this information, but the impact of a live broadcast often has more effect than a news article – a picture says a thousand words after all, so a series of pictures must say millions. Perhaps Nintendo needs to find a way of getting the information to a wider audience by broadcasting it across more platforms – sites like GameTrailers and IGN were denied broadcasting rights to the E3 Nintendo Direct, potentially withholding key information from a certain percentage of the audience. It’s all about striking a balance between existing gamers and potential buyers, and it’s a balance that isn’t quite right just yet.
In the end though, the cure for Wii U’s woes are the games; without them, it’ll struggle. With a healthy roster of titles on the way, Wii U has something to sell itself with. But an equal part of that is in the promotion and marketing of those titles, and making the public aware of what is on the horizon. Wii U launched, arguably, with one of the strongest gaming line-ups for any Nintendo platform, but failed to gain any medium-term traction nevertheless.
Nintendo needs to get the Wii U out there, and it needs to make it a brand synonymous with new experiences, just like the Wii was. And no amount of good will from existing owners will achieve that – creating a brand is down to Nintendo. As we saw with the 3DS, anything is possible. With a big Christmas ahead, this could be the beginning of the turning point for Wii U, and perhaps this time next year we’ll all be singing its praises.