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Dissecting the First Wii U Commercial

2nd November 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Before, we merely had glances and glimpses into what was to be a new brand of experiences unique to the Wii U. Now, we're getting awfully close to seeing these take more realistic shape on an international scale. With only a few weeks till launch, Nintendo revealed, several hours ago, the first component in a developing advertising front with the goal of generating hype in what has, quite frankly, been doubted since its reveal. Part of this reaction stems from the lack of concrete translation of their vision to the less-informed audiences they're catering to, which makes this campaign all the more essential to address ongoing concerns and unexplained specs.

In an ideal world, what we were shown yesterday should leave little doubt as to the strength and draws of the soon-available system; and regardless of the narrow spectrum we've been exposed to, seeing as this isn't a concept-driven execution, individuals should also have a safe understanding of the direction Nintendo is moving towards with the remaining pieces of this campaign. But as often is the case, neither of these points measure up with reality. While it would be premature to trivialize the entire campaign when we've only been shown the first portion, there are elements worth addressing in the interim as we await their next move. As such, it would be good to stop for a moment, see where we are in the scheme of things, and analyze whether or not Nintendo is on the right track.

I won't get too much into the make-up of the minute-long commercial, as I'm much more interested in the finer details as they relate to the business. But the gist of it involves groups of people using the Wii U under both a gaming and entertainment capacity in room-like spaces. Towards the end, you see that these spaces have been positioned to form the shape of a "U", with a product shot being shown thereafter. In case you haven't seen it and would like to get a closer look, you can view it here:

Campaigns are meant to be cohesive across the board; thus, what we've seen should give us an adequate taste of what to expect in the future. Whether they continue the segmented approach of closed-off rooms connected in one larger space remains to be seen. But aside from conveying that they have poor taste in music, what exactly does this commercial say about Nintendo and their aspirations for what they hope the Wii U will accomplish? What and to whom does it speak to as far as Nintendo's long-term strategy and audience?

Advertising campaigns are designed to meet certain objectives from the standpoint of a defined audience, so let's actually tackle the latter point first. As far as consumer-to-business relationships and singled-out targets, what can be gathered from this first instance of their campaign? Well, one thing has been made clear -- and has already led to a bit of backlash. For the purposes of what Nintendo is trying to achieve, the goal is not to build reason for confidence within those already posed to give it support.

They know the loyalty that characterizes their fanbase is one of the biggest highlights to their brand equity, and individuals who fall under that category don't need to be sold any further than what is required as a buy-in. To engage in either of these approaches might be construed as a waste of time and money. And rather than establish a new relationship -- as in, revisiting the target of hardcore gamers -- they've instead gone the (right) way of trying to convince would-be buyers who have a passing-to-mild interest in games that this is a worthy investment for their household. To do anything else would amount to casting aside the bulk of their core consumer base and saying, "Thanks for the laughs, but we've got to win back gamers we lost as a result of keeping you well-fed -- which, by the way, we now feel was a mistake. But we still love you!" Mind you, that same question of neglect is still being presented anyway -- namely, by individuals who have disassociated themselves from Nintendo. So at the end of the day, they can't be all things to all people. But that really is for the best of the advertising focus.

In this particular instance, though, could it be argued that they got it backwards? No, while I do have concerns with the actual execution of the commercial, I really don't think so. Purely from a financial point of view, you have to remember that the upgrade from what is now roughly $120 (as of current Wii pricing models) to $300 or $350 is a huge jump, and given the heftier price tag of the two units, some may feel that that jump isn't justified when their participation is going to be similar to what was enjoyed on the Wii. Now, I don't have a solid idea as to whether or not they'll end up adapting successive portions of the campaign to hardcore gamers (though the likelihood of that happening is quite high), but had they gone the other route and decided to focus on that group exclusively, could it have been assumed that families would flock to the Wii U anyway? Nuh-uh. Not with those prices.

Really, it should come as no surprise that they decided to stick to their brand values and continue their brand image as it related specifically to the Wii. Before, it was a case of ease and accessibility, and while I don't doubt Nintendo's capabilities of pushing beyond barriers, I don't think in the initial stages that this is something they can still leverage with the Wii U, not in light of the confusion that still exists. At the same time, though, they've made sure not to neglect another not-as-big-but-still-relevant corner of their demographic: seniors. This is in keeping with their belief that gaming need not create boundaries but can be all-inclusive while still retaining a sense of innovation and intuitiveness. It's a bit of an angle in the field of next-gen technology, but it is one that Nintendo might be able to pull off, if anyone. 

In line with these established foundations, how does the shape of the commercial reflect (if at all) a desire to address concerns held by those audiences? One of the key points that they really have to watch out for (especially now) is making it clear that the Wii U GamePad is not an add-on to existing Wii's, but the controller for an entirely new console. I will say they did do a good job of teasing the new structure and how it will impact gameplay experiences. On at least three occasions, the television screen was visible in the same close-up shot where the controller was in use. Brief as it was, I was happy to see Nintendo saw the importance of making that real-time feedback clear. While I knew the emphasis throughout wasn't going to be on asynchronous gameplay, I was curious to see how they would've made this clear, perhaps by having the player "in charge" of the GamePad stand up. Getting into the mind of casual gamers, the idea of five-person interaction might've been glossed over had it not been for those five, angled frames during the second Nintendo Land inset. Finally, I don't think they did a good job of making it clearly discernible that the Wii U is an all-new console. I'm aware that the console was present in the different settings, but to the untrained eye seeing it for the first time, it would be fairly easy to mistake it as the same Wii model they're already familiar with. Failing to show the two in harmonious relationship beyond the concluding product shot is only going to further the mistaken, yet somewhat understandable view that the GamePad is an add-on.

Let's talk about their slogan for the campaign, because it really is quite interesting when you think about the consumer benefits they're trying to connect back to it. "How U Will Play Next" is what was chosen for their advertising push, and I find it to be an affirmation on Nintendo's part to adopt this slogan, albeit a slightly puzzling one in the way it differs from previous taglines. You may feel as I originally did that this needs to be rephrased slightly to sound less awkward, but now that I've thought about it for some time, I see now that there are good reasons why they've stuck to this wording. The suggested connotation has some interesting properties to it that are worth extracting. Putting it in a more conversational way, what they're essentially saying is, "We're telling you how you're going to play games differently." What this does is confirm some definitive, yet loose boundaries as far as the (proposed) changes in the gaming landscape and how this will come about, whilst also emphasizing that they -- as a brand -- feel they have a large measure of control over gaming's growth and that they believe themselves to be the catalyst for meaningful change. In some ways, this is an extension of their existing strategy with the Wii, but compare this with, say, the slogan of the 3DS campaign ("Take a Look Inside") where it was presented as an invitation, and you'll see this is a much bolder stance to take.

It's really quite interesting, because on the one hand they're saying the kinds of experiences that will be available on the Wii U are going to affect perceptions on gaming as a whole. But they're also saying that, in line with the Miiverse pillar, players will be able to freely customize these experiences to make them their own. On a more emotional level, I happen to find it interesting that by the terms of the slogan, they're undercutting imaginative play and leaving less to the discretion of the player to explore as far as envisioning future potential; rather that the potential has been realized and the "future" is here in the present for ready consumption. Much of this ties into an unstated element of trust, which is likely why they stuck to the main Wii audience, who've known Nintendo to provide highly entertaining experiences and are now being encouraged to believe that they will once again be a force for change. They're being dictatorial while at the same time attempting to empower the average player.

Just looking at how each of the featured titles (New Super Mario Bros. U, SiNG Party, LEGO City: Undercover, Nintendo Land) are represented at least twice, would the commercial have been better served by replacing the duplicate vignettes with games like The Wonderful 101 and ZombiU? That remains to be seen, and the only reason why I say that is because we haven't seen the full stretch of the campaign. I wouldn't be surprised to see the latter appear in a commercial focused more towards the hardcore audience. However, in terms of what was selected, I feel Nintendo Land would've served as a better closer than SiNG Party. I'd go so far as to say it wasn't a good idea to have SiNG Party at the very end, not because I don't appreciate the party appeal they were gunning for, nor is it because I don't personally get why they're pushing this title so much. Rather, it is liable to be remembered the most, just by nature of it being the last to be featured (and the second), and when the game's not exactly the highlight of innovation and is most likely to create confusion of all the featured games, it feels like they were aiming for a low common denominator with its questionable placement.

It is hoped that by the final showing, we'll have a comprehensive look at the persons Nintendo hopes to reach with their new system, discover whether or not this meshes with the consumer profile they've already projected through their conferences and information sessions, and round out all the loose ends currently left up for debate. Meanwhile, as we prepare for that full picture to come into view, it can be said that this initial stage in their ad campaign services a few needs adequately and is in keeping with their brand messaging, while other parts demonstrate that it still needs to educate and spark more meaningful thought.

Feature by KnucklesSonic8