The 3DS arrives just in time.
For retailers and publishers, a new launch and all the associated excitement is much needed. For Nintendo, still riding a six-year wave of DS, it’s an expansion for its most successful platform.
And for consumers, it’s quite the cultural touch-point.
3D has blossomed into something credible over the last 12 months, but, it hasn’t pushed fully into the mass market yet. There are some powerful stats in its favour – 50 per cent of the UK have apparently seen a 3D movie, and Sky is expecting 150,000 subscribers to its 3D channel – but it’s still ripe for a defining moment.
Something like a handheld games device that makes 3D more than a two-hour Box Office thrill, doesn’t need cumbersome glasses, and £1,000+ needed for a 3DTV.
“After a few false dawns, 3D is finally about to come of age,” says Dawn Paine, marketing director at Nintendo UK.
“We feel there are strong indicators around 3D moving towards a tipping point. Movies are a major force – six of the top ten 2010 films were in 3D – through to TV, where manufacturers are pushing new sets and Sky is very active with 3D content. But by taking a brand as mainstream as DS into an exciting technology area like 3D, we think that it is 3DS that can really make 3D mainstream globally.”
How is Nintendo ensuring its innovative device captures imaginations? By employing some equally innovative tactics when it comes to its marketing push.
The platform-holder is running concurrent grassroots sampling and high-level TV campaigns to drive awareness. Consumer tours and television ads are staples of Nintendo’s approach year-round, but here the two are combined.
“The creative shows consumers, real people, getting their first hands-on with the product at one of the events – and that in turn drives the people who see the ads to the sampling push,” says Paine. “It’s a virtuous circle. It’s very fresh and different. It’s all about genuine reactions, there is nothing fake or over-stated, it’s all real.”
The TV push began earlier this week, with 60-second ads during big shows. This will continue up to launch then beyond, running all-year for the format. As usual Nintendo is focusing on the big banner shows, and reckons 85 per cent of people in the UK will have seen the ad three times by the time the console launches on March 25th.
Meanwhile, the sampling is going very mainstream after a set of select events in February, with pods and demo areas rolling out nationally across many cities. The goal is to have had 400,000 consumers go hands-on with 3DS by launch. Sampling is also extended into stores.
With the 3DS now released in Japan, units have rolled out to key High Street locations. 1,500 will be installed between now and launch.
“This campaign is a real celebration of the 3DS experience. The last time you saw a launch like this was the Wii. It’s a once-in-a-cycle moment,” says Paine.
Nintendo’s expecting a Wii-like level of appeal, too.
“I think there will be a balance of early adopters, but we have such a critical mass on the main DS brand, there will be a big mainstream contingent quickly,” says Paine of the potential 3DS audience. “The only issue might be what availability will be like for that wave when they flock in. But a big mainstream group is what we’re expecting.”
Availability certainly won’t be an issue on launch day, her counterpart UK sales director Andy Yates says. “The message to retail right now is very positive – availability is strong and retailers can plan with confidence and keep the accelerator on in terms of securing pre-orders.”
Certainly pre-ordering has been at fever pitch – a retail celebration mirroring the work Nintendo has put in place amongst consumers. And to support the general excitement around pre-orders since the launch date was unveiled in January, Nintendo last month ran a number of trade events underlining the device’s potential.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by retail’s response,” says Yates. “Our bespoke training in the UK for store managers proved very successful. Store staff have been clamouring to try it, but had been a bit sceptical about what it would be like. The events allowed us to reach out to 2,000 managers across our customer base, from London up to Birmingham, Newcastle and Dublin, and never before have I seen so much passion for a product.
We’ve really got to congratulate retail for the speed with which it has shown its commitment to the platform, which will show through in the sales line. Pre-orders are beyond my expectations, and the opportunity for more is out there.”
Nintendo will also soon launch an e-learning tool for retail staff that takes them through what the 3DS has to offer. “Retail finds that kind of thing really useful because it’s us engaging with them in a totally new way – not about hard sales, or hard numbers, but about simple understanding,” says Yates.
Retail has also been very active when it comes to pricing. Nintendo has some well-used answers when it comes to RRPs; specifically, it has no influence on them.
But Yates isn’t surprised by the fervour with which retailers have cut sale prices from the expected £230 down to around £197 for many pre-order deals.
“It is a tough market place and retailers have to be competitive and do what they can to be strong,” he says.
But Yates isn’t convinced that the deals were to stimulate demand: “The pre-order progress we are making is down to the fact people want the device – there’s no correlation. Because the 3DS experience is so special, whatever retail would have done we would be in this position.”
Retailers keeping the price at an attractive sub-£200 won’t hurt the launch one bit as excitement continues to build, but Nintendo is resolute. Demand comes because this is a high-end device, it says. In some ways, it’s hard to disagree: 3DS has already beaten Wii in the pre-order stakes, with scope for much bigger pre-order numbers, proving the hunger is there.
“The retailers I’m talking to say they are very comfortable with our strategy and it has given them confidence,” says Yates.
“We’re very encouraged that it’s going to be a big launch. Our target was to get over 100,000 pre-orders – and we’re in line with that. So far, we’ve already beat our personal best for a console launch. With three weeks to go, we’re in a great position, as pre-orders are still building. Retailers tell us that things are good, and they’re pretty relieved to have a big launch in March; they need something of that magnitude.”
Adds Paine: “I don’t think you can under-estimate people’s hunger for new technology – the performance we’re expecting comes from the quality of the product.
The pre-order numbers are a testament to that. We are building towards Wii-style launch proportions. That has been our ambition all along: to get the UK into a ‘feeding frenzy’ situation. We feel we’ve picked the perfect time to launch the 3DS.”