The Wii U state of emergency was declared a long time ago.
A poor launch was followed by almost nine months of silence – no blockbuster titles, no huge marketing push. Pikmin 3 in July inspired a flicker of activity, but that was about it.
Asda and Morrisons dropped the console. Nintendo revealed that it has barely sold over 3.5m Wii U consoles. And an increasing number of industry commentators are ignoring the old adage that you never count out Nintendo.
But it’s not over yet. Debate over Nintendo’s strategy and whether it is developing enough new IP is for another day. Nintendo’s immediate priority must be to sell more Wii Us and sell them quickly, before more retailers cut its shelf space in favour of PS4, Xbox One or even Disney Infinity and Skylanders.
“Retailers need to start seeing Wii U sales picking up. Everyone is looking for that,” says UK marketing boss Shelly Pearce. “We haven’t had the sales we have wanted on Wii U hardware. We haven’t had the software for the beginning part of this year. But we have some quite ambitious targets, particularly as we have some of our biggest franchises coming.
“We are delivering a really strong software line-up. Retailers are feeling Wii U is in a much better place than last Christmas.”
“Retailers need to start seeing Wii U sales
picking up. Everyone is looking for that. We
haven’t had the sales we have wanted on Wii
U hardware. We haven’t had the software for
the beginning part of this year. But we have
some quite ambitious targets, particularly as
we have some of our biggest franchises coming."
Shelly Pearce - UK marketing boss, Nintendo UK
That ‘strong line-up’ features some of Nintendo’s biggest brands. Zelda, Mario, Wii Fit, Wii Sports and Wii Party, and Sega has lent the platform holder two exclusive Sonic games, too.
Pearce adds: “We are very lucky to work for a company that delivers such great things. Like everybody else, we’ve been disappointed by the sales at first. But we know what has been coming, so we’ve been quietly confident. There’s a real feeling of momentum in the office now.”
The campaign that Nintendo detailed to MCV is extensive, with separate ad plans for all of its major titles, targeting three key audiences – kids, families, and Nintendo fans. But the big effort from Nintendo is educating parents that this is a different machine to the original Wii.
“There was a big misconception at launch about what Wii U is,” admits Pearce. “And one of the big messages is to explain to mum that this is a new console and a new controller.
“In terms of the marketing work we’ve done against dads, there is now a pretty good understanding there. But many mums don’t know what this is. They’re buying what they’re advised to and going into shops, so we are relying a lot on retail to explain that this is a new piece of hardware.”
A lot of this campaign involves outdoor activity, TV spots, and plenty of online promotion (see ‘Wii will fix U’ ). But one of the more interesting elements of the campaign is a deal with Tesco, targeting customers that have bought a Wii but have not bought another console since.
It’s because, Nintendo says, not all Wii consoles are gathering dust.
“What we are seeing with our monthly tracking is that Wii remains the No.1 console for brand awareness,” says Pearce. “And we have done several studies, and there are so many families actively playing on Wii.
“Perhaps sometimes as an industry we don’t see it, because we are so focused on core fans who are obviously not the ones that are still playing. I sit in this target audience as a mum that has kids of this age, and amongst my peer group I have people that are just buying their first console and people who are still playing their original Wii sometimes.
“That has been one of our biggest barriers, but it is also a great opportunity because it means they are still with Wii. And it’s through the insight from the Tesco deal that we know families are still playing and have not bought anything else yet. So it’s a great opportunity if we can get the job right in educating people.”
Nintendo has turned around a console before. 3DS suffered a poor start, but with some big games, better marketing and a price cut, it’s now seeing some good momentum.
“There was a lot of talk last peak season about
whether price was the barrier. We don’t think it
is. I think the problem was education and giving
them desirable things. This peak, Wii U will be at
a slightly lower price than last year and
comparatively it will look a little cheaper because
of all the other consoles coming out that are more
expensive. But value is the important message.
Backwards compatibility, the fact that you don’t
have to buy more controllers – that for a mum
is a very important thing.”
Shelly Pearce - UK marketing boss, Nintendo UK
Wii U has just had a price cut, but a minor one. It will still cost over £200 a unit. But Pearce doesn’t think price is the deterrent that people think.
“There was a lot of talk last peak season about whether price was the barrier. We don’t think it is. I think the problem was education and giving them desirable things. This peak, Wii U will be at a slightly lower price than last year and comparatively it will look a little cheaper because of all the other consoles coming out that are more expensive. But value is the important message. Backwards compatibility, the fact that you don’t have to buy more controllers – that for a mum is a very important thing.”
The other major challenge for Nintendo this Christmas is shouting above Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo didn’t hold an E3 press conference this year, and its presence at TGS and Gamescom went largely unnoticed in favour of PS4 and Xbox One.
But Pearce believes Nintendo can benefit from the excitement behind its rivals this Christmas.
“Wii U is very different to these other consoles,” insists Pearce. “Our heartland is with family and kids, but we must not forget core Nintendo fans are a fundamental part of it. Yes, there’s a cross-over with the core fan and those that buy the other consoles, but generally those are quite different audiences. I imagine our marketing activity will look and feel very different.
“When you have new consoles coming out, wherever they are coming from, it gets people talking about games again. It gets games in the news. And that brings much more excitement to the category. So hopefully from a retail point-of-view it is going to be a very good Christmas.”
… AND NOT FORGETTING 3DS
The biggest concern for Nintendo may be Wii U’s struggling sales, but 3DS is just as crucial to the company.
The console was the best-selling machine over the summer and it’s already snapping at the heels of PS3 and 360 in an effort to become this year’s best-selling games console. And Nintendo feels it has the line-up to keep 3DS selling this Christmas.
“3DS has been the biggest selling console over the summer,” says UK marketing director Shelly Pearce. “We’ve seen some real momentum, which is great. It is going to be by far the biggest selling hardware this peak, really driven by those key franchises we have coming.”
Those include Pokémon X and Y, Zelda: A Link Between Two Worlds and the sixth Professor Layton title.
All three will be backed by TV, online, print and outdoor marketing. Pokémon in particular will receive Nintendo’s biggest advertising campaign of the year, with an emphasis on potential new fans.
Says Pearce: “While we know there are massive fans out there, there are a load of young boys, my son included, who do not know Pokémon, because they weren’t around when it was massive. So we’ve done an education piece explaining Pokémon to newbies.
“In terms of pre-orders we are tracking higher than we were with Black and White. But I imagine it will also be a constant build over time.”
It’s not all about the new games. Nintendo plans to re-promote some of 2013’s big titles. Luigi’s Mansion 2 will receive extra activity around Halloween, while Animal Crossing will have new TV ads aimed at tween girls.
“At launch we saw the majority of people that
bought Animal Crossing were core Nintendo
fans. And now we are moving to the next phase:
tween girls who we know bought previous
iterations. We are also looking at re-promoting
some of our other titles at this audience.”
Shelly Pearce - UK marketing boss, Nintendo UK
“At launch we saw the majority of people that bought Animal Crossing were core Nintendo fans,” adds Pearce. “And now we are moving to the next phase: tween girls who we know bought previous iterations. We are also looking at re-promoting some of our other titles at this audience.”
In terms of software, Nintendo hopes it has all key audiences covered: tween girls with Animal Crossing, young boys with Pokémon, older fans with Professor Layton and Nintendo fans with Zelda. But there’s more hardware, too, with the value-orientated 2DS.
“Retail is very excited about 2DS,” says Pearce. “We need to raise that awareness amongst mums and kids. October half-term is when we ramp it up. When talking to a mainstream audience, you don’t want to shout about something that they can’t buy.
“2DS has that magic price point, which for families and kids, makes a big difference. 2DS will be out and about wherever we have family and Pokémon activity going on.”