Nintendo’s digital comms key to Wii U success

Difficult times lay ahead for Nintendo unless its marketers can harness the influence and reach of social media and online marketing to educate gamers on the functionality of its innovative Wii U console.

Seb Joseph

The first games console in six years hit UK stores today (30 November) and it will need to maintain the initial momentum of predicted widespread retail sell-outs if it is to follow in the footsteps of its successful predecessor the Wii.

The Japanese firm has lofty ambitions for the Wii U, which sports a new tablet controller and high definition graphics, as it aims to reshape the way consumers not only play games but also enjoy entertainment.

The problem facing Nintendo is how to emulate the runaway success of the Wii’s launch when so much of the market share it sold was outside any other console’s target demographic.

The Wii sold more than 97 million units worldwide because there was no confusion about what it was, you could explain it in one sentence: It’s a video games console that allows you to play by moving your hands and your arms, making it accessible to a wide variety of gamers.

The Wii U is a system that’s like the Wii but uses a tablet controller that is either a separate screen or the main screen and you can add a second tablet-style controller but not at launch. Also some games will use a combination of the tablet, Wii controllers or the upcoming Pro controller.

Good luck with that.

It is a point that has not gone unnoticed by the business and the recent promotion of former European communications chief Shelly Pearce to become its UK marketing and PR director reflects this.

Combined with the fact that Nintendo is ramping up its social media and marketing activity around the Wii U’s launch – far more than it did for the Wii – it shows a realisation that word-of-mouth from the fans and press is going to be key to the console’s long-term success.

Nintendo’s digital marketing for the console so far has been targeted to core fans who are likely to buy it at launch. Indeed, the company’s UK division has invested heavily in its YouTube channel and other social media channels so far this year to build demand ahead of the launch. It’s a strategy that’s worked to some extent, but at some point this will have to change and the Wii will have to take it’s branding to a broader, older audience.

Key to this strategy will be attracting the hardcore gamer, which the Wii was never able to do due to a lack of third-party support from the big developers such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. Now that the Wii U has this support and a launch line-up of triple-A titles including Call of Duty and Assassins Creed, the console’s marketing activity will need to convince consumers they offer an enhanced experience you cannot get on any other console.

Gareth Kane, analyst at gaming marketing agency Frontroom, says Facebook and other online platforms will play a key role in spreading this message “beyond Nintendo’s core audience” to others who may otherwise be out of reach.

If Nintendo wants to win the gratitude of hardcore gamers then online PR across blogs, gaming sites and magazines needs to be their number one priority. Unless you have the ground swell in any of those channels, just relying on advertising campaigns to try and change that perception will not work and the brand will come across as shallow.

The pressure is mounting on Nintendo to repeat the success of the Wii, after the 3DS handheld player failed to meet expectations, prompting the company to cut its profit goal by 70 per cent last month. The sharp rise in gaming on social networks and smartphones has taken away much of the casual crowd. In addition, the console’s £299 price tag in comparison to the cheaper but similarly powerful Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles means that it will be difficult to get cut-through among the gaming crowd initially.

It is a challenge, but with the company aligning its marketing and communications closer than ever before, betting against Nintendo does not seem like the wisest move.

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