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The darkest chapter in Nintendo of America's recent history came in 1995, when it sat out the holiday season and watched Sony of America's new 32-bit PlayStation videogame unit steal the show.

Nintendo had wisely decided to wait out the competition and, when last fall it finally delivered the industry's first 64-bit videogame system, N64 was an overnight hit. Consumers mobbed stores and clogged waiting lists to get an N64 before Christmas, and Nintendo stepped up production beyond all forecasts, eventually meeting demand.

"We had carefully primed the market and we knew we had something unusual but the demand was so intense we were literally left breathless," says Peter Main, VP-sales and marketing.

But success was no fluke. Nintendo actually began plotting its triumph as early as late 1995, with a $50 million integrated marketing program designed to keep gamers in suspense until the last minute.

Unveiling the product to the trade in spring 1996, Nintendo began promoting it in gaming magazines, offering sneak previews and reviews. Core videogame fans received a videotape with highlights of the system's high-power capabilities and new software.

In August, Nintendo launched an unusual sampling program with Blockbuster Entertainment, allowing kids to rent the N64 unit before it became available at the retail level in September.

A raft of summer promotions including tie-ins with Nickelodeon and Kellogg Co. whetted gamers' appetites further for the $200 unit, followed by five high-impact network and spot TV commercials from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, when the product launched in September. The theme: "Change the System."

"Sampling was probably the most powerful weapon we had, because we were able to show kids and their parents that N64 wasn't just another videogame system. Promotions helped spread the word, and by the time we advertised it, every man,

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