I wasn't too thrilled with Nintendo's approach to marketing the Wii U when it first landed in European shores last November, but now we've slipped outside the launch period, has the situation changed at all? The company's approach to pushing the new hardware has certainly been dismal, at best.
The Wii U launch weeks were a success, fueling the living room with HD platforming, asymmetric gameplay and zombie outbreaks, but since the dawn of 2013 it's been unusually quiet in the Nintendo camp. Wii U sales reached a low across all the major markets, eclipsed by the increasingly popular Xbox 360, a console seven years its senior.
With the release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Lego City Undercover last month, the latter making more of an impact in the UK, and steep price cuts, sales for the Nintendo Wii U have since ignited - rising by as much as 125% according to retailers. There are concerns though that by simply reducing the price and releasing more big names, it wouldn't make a significant impact as it comes down to marketing. The hardware can be affordable and have a new 3D Super Mario game but simply won't sell if potential consumers know nothing about it, and those who do might be confused about what it does. I hate to say it, but it's very much like that age old and overused saying - "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
It seems Nintendo has become complacent when it comes to marketing, a strange feat given the decades of experience and success with both the Wii and DS. The Wii was and still is a very easy concept to convey - it's a controller that's shaped like a TV remote that players use to point, wave and waggle. These actions mimic what you can do in reality: bowl a ball, aim a bow and swing a baseball bat. Coupled with right place, right time, the Wii simply sold itself to a near endless market of both hardcore and casual players wanting to give it a go.
As for the Nintendo DS, it was a far trickier idea to put across to the consumer - initially seen as a new Game Boy with two screens, one of which you could touch. How do you make it appeal to those who really haven't got a clue about video games? Through clever and targeted advertising on TV, cinema and public transport, the company pulled it off and the portable went onto being the most successful Nintendo console of all time, using more accessible software like Brain Training, Nintendogs and All-Time Classics to appeal to the masses.
Now Nintendo in 2013 can't simply churn these adverts and sorts of games to a market that has evolved over the last five years. The success of the DS, and to an extent the Wii, has given Nintendo a bucket full of shiny gold coins but also inadvertently acted as a taster for the smartphones and tablets that consume households today. The general public is now more open to playing games; using apps and interactive software on a touch screen that makes it a challenge to rival that with dedicated hardware.
What needs to be done is better explain what the Nintendo Wii U can do for the living room environment. The original adverts, particularly those that aired in the UK, were perplexing. I wasn't the campaign's biggest fan when the advert aired during a Sunday night drama, and since then Nintendo UK came under fire for misleading consumers with mixed messages on off TV play. Across the pond, the North American Wii U advertising had better pace and a far clearer stab at the Wii U concept, but still didn't quite explain what was so different about the console.
Now several months on sales have risen fractionally with new software, but big releases can't be the sole source of new Wii U adopters. The message needs to get out there and be relevant to the demographic, not plonked aimlessly in-between airings of Loose Women or The X-Factor. When you settle down to watch TV, your mind enters a mind-set related to the program on offer, so advertising should follow that pattern of thinking, or at least be relevant to the audience.
When promoting the Wii U during an episode of The Walking Dead or True Blood, why not focus mainly on ZombiU and perhaps some more mature titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops II or Batman: Arkham City? Perhaps the more accessible Nintendo Land or Super Mario Bros. U during prime time comedy or Saturday Night TV could highlight the diverse selection of games on offer. There are a decent collection of Wii U releases on the market, but with practically zero marketing, only the dedicated fans seem to be tapping into the Nintendo Wii U pot.
Oddly during a football match during the Easter weekend an advert for Luigi's Mansion 2 hit the airwaves. Now there surely are a great deal of football fans who would also like a slice of the green plumber, but how about using the advertising budget on some perhaps more relevant titles? The spot could have been used to highlight the different ways of playing FIFA 13 on Wii U or Sports Connection, potentially connecting better with the types of programming on offer.
Nintendo 3DS adverts are too few and far between and there appears to be absolutely no Wii U marketing in sight. Nintendo UK are promising retailers that more promotional incentives are coming, but after four months on the market it seems ridiculous that there isn't a single means of promoting the console to the masses. Nintendo Direct videos, email marketing and Facebook are a growing sphere of persuasion, but again it's only relevant to those who actually seek Nintendo games and products, not to the clueless shopper.
With UK electronics retail in disarray, it's made physically promoting the Wii U in the retail space a far trickier feat than Nintendo had with the original Wii and DS. With this in mind, television and magazine advertising is absolutely critical in getting the message out there, but it has to be clear and effective. Showing a hand swiping a Wii U GamePad and blabbering on about Miiverse and "off TV" play can sound completely alien to those who haven't encountered the machine before. Instead of spouting all these specific terms out there, why not take a step back in time and literally spell it out? Interesting and informing.
A leaflet emerged during PAX East last month, comparing the original Wii to the Wii U in a series of tick boxes. Whilst it covered all the bases, the terminology used was far too specific, again becoming convoluted with terms like "Miiverse" and "off TV" play.
"Introducing the successor to the Wii, the new Wii U plays all your existing software and brand new Wii U games. Stream the latest TV and movies, surf the internet and chat to other Nintendo players using the new 6 inch GamePad tablet controller. Fun, innovative for all the family!"
Something like the above could work on paper. Not the words of a marketing guru certainly, but clearer than the confusing messages from Nintendo's marketing; much like the classic TV game-show Catchphrase, "just say what you see".
Reputation and Chinese whispers won't sell a system, quality games and proper advertising will.
What do you think Nintendo can do to better market the Wii U?