Nintendo Readies $200 Million Push for Wii Game System

Broad TV Ad Buy, Along With Mall Tours, Aimed at Both Gamers and Families

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Nintendo's marketing launch for Wii will be anything but wee, with the company set to drop $200 million to push its next-generation video-game console that goes on sale Nov. 19. Consumers will see the first TV ads tonight on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." That's right, the $249 video-game console's first TV spot will bow on the finals of the soapy middle-aged female-skewing fan favorite.

'Very different approach'
"Nintendo isn't marketing Wii at a traditional gamer audience, they're going after a family audience ... and they're trying a very different approach. So it's not a surprise we'll see it first on 'Dancing with the Stars' vs. an MTV special," said analyst Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research. (Microsoft debuted its Xbox 360 last year on an MTV special hosted by actor Elijah Wood to court traditional young male gamers.)

The Wii TV spot -- directed by Stephen Gaghan, who also wrote and directed "Syriana" and wrote "Traffic" -- features two Japanese men knocking on doors across the U.S., carrying a Wii console and announcing "We would like to play." There are four spots in all. The TV buy hits a wide mix of networks, both broadcast and cable, from the youth-skewing MTV, MTV2, MTVU, Comedy Central and Fuse to the family-skewing ABC Family, Nick at Nite, Black Family Channel, Discovery and Animal Planet. Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett is the agency.

But it's just the tip of the Wii marketing machine, which includes co-marketing deals with Pringles and 7-11, sponsored music tours and Wii mall play-a-thons.

The marketing strategy is based not only on reaching non-gaming family members but also on making sure potential customers understand that the new system is a departure from traditional game play. The so-called Wii-mote is movement sensitive, meaning it can act as an extension of the user's motions when doing things such as bowling, fishing or swinging a sword or bat.

"The key difference here, and the challenge, is that Nintendo has to get the Wii into people's hands," Mr. Gartenberg said.

Marketing the hands-on experience
Nintendo of America's senior VP of marketing, George Harrison, agreed. "Our plan to market Wii broadly with hands-on experiences continues to pay off," he said in a statement. "Wii introduces new ways to play to expand both the appeal of games and the audience of gamers, and our marketing campaign is central to that."

Nintendo is not only battling the second year of Xbox 360, but also the debut of Sony's much-anticipated PlayStation 3 console two days earlier on Nov. 17. Both include powerful graphics and high-definition capabilities, which the Wii does not have, but are priced higher at $399 and $599 for premium models.

Nintendo has said it plans to ship 4 million Wii consoles by year's end; Sony's PS3, meanwhile, hampered by manufacturing delays, may only have 1 million available before January. (PS3 took another hit today when it admitted the PS3 won't be able to play all the old PS2 games at launch, and will require a software patch that's not ready yet.) Microsoft has already sold 6 million Xbox 360 since November 2005 and plans to sell another 4 million by the end of the year.

Evolving systems
Analysts do agree, though, that a winner or loser will not likely be decided on this single selling season. "The latest generation of game consoles needs to be about much more than just being faster and prettier," wrote Forrester Research analyst Paul Jackson, although he noted that advanced possibilities for online marketing in games, or watching other media on gaming consoles, are evolving propositions.

Yankee Group research projects that the PS3 will ultimately grab the most market share by 2011 with 44%, but will lose share to both Xbox 360, which will have 40% share, and Wii, with 16%. (Sony currently has a 65% share in the gaming-console market.) "It's going to be a lot closer this generation," said Yankee analyst Josh Martin.
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