George Harrison, senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications for Nintendo of America, Inc., talks about how he plans to maintain the momentum and reach this new audience.
PROMO: What was your strategy when you launched the Wii?
Harrison: We had to target a different audience. The core gamers are ages nine to 24, but that was kind of limiting. We wanted to reach out to the expanded audience, particularly to people over the age of 25.
P: That wasn't an easy task, was it?
H: The first difficulty comes when you are doing something new. There is a risk involved. But we realized we had to do things differently. When we unveiled the Wii at a trade show, people in the industry thought Nintendo should get out of the hardware business and stop selling game consoles.
P: How do you reach that older group?
H:We shifted our TV advertising to talk to people ages 25 to 49. And in January, we formed a relationship with Norwegian Cruise Lines. They asked us to donate Wii systems for their ships. It gave us great PR with people over 50. We will be adding another 25 cruise ships before too long. We also put a few Wii systems in senior centers, and they were very popular. It's somewhat word-of-mouth. We have sold just a few hundred that way, but it's more about offering the belief that anyone can play.
P: What makes the Wii so popular?
H: It's very approachable in terms of its form. It's the interactivity. Video games for the last few years have centered around a 17-year old playing alone in the bedroom. But the Wii is a family game.
P: You must be pleased with the results.
H: The Wii is impossible to keep on store shelves. You see people you wouldn't expect to buy it — people in their 40s and 50s buying it for themselves. That says we have achieved our goal.
P: What is Nintendo's marketing budget, and how has spending changed?
H: We spend $400 million worldwide on marketing and about $200 million in the U.S. That includes advertisements, promotions, PR and our retail spending and merchandising in the store. The budget has stayed flat during the last five years. We deploy our resources in effective ways to talk to people under 24 online, and reach older people through our TV advertising.
P: Is Nintendo running more promotions than before?
H: The line between advertising, promotions and PR is blurring. We are doing more event marketing and sampling, and more partnership promotions, linking up with something like a Wendy's or Coke. We are trying to learn how to promote to this new audience — mothers under 35, people over 50 and young teens.
P: What role does sampling play?
H: Sampling plays a big role. People under 24 who are experienced gamers like to try before they buy. For the expanded audience, even if they see it on TV, they need more. Trials can be really important for us.
P: What's your favorite video game?
H: On the Wii, it's Mario Strikers. It's a soccer game. I am a soccer fan, not a great soccer player.
P: What challenges do you face?
H: We are in touch with the expanded audience, but we have a long way to go. We have to keep the momentum going, reach this holiday and get to the tipping point. We also have to come up with new software ideas every year.
P: What does the future hold for Nintendo?
H: The period we're in is almost a renaissance. We pursued a similar audience for the last decade, and we sort of got our foot in the door. But there is plenty of opportunity to get more people to play and buy games on a regular basis. We want to make the business larger.