Share fight is no game for Nintendo marketing chief

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Nintendo of America marketing chief Reggie Fils-Aime's favorite video-game character is Link from The Legend of Zelda, a fair-haired boy with aggressive passion who, in one game, must learn some new tunes to travel from the past to the present.

No wonder he relates: In some ways, Mr. Fils-Aime faces the same challenge in real life. Nintendo, the runaway leader in hand-helds, is fending off some of the most formidable competition-in consoles and hand-helds-that the videogame category has ever seen.

"I'm here to reignite growth for Nintendo's hand-helds, consoles and games," said Mr. Fils-Aime, Nintendo's exec VP-sales and marketing. It's a task he calls "pretty daunting," despite video games' position as the fastest-growing segment of the $1 trillion global entertainment industry.

According to NPD Group figures provided by Nintendo, Nintendo is No. 2 in the category (including consoles, hand-helds and software) with a 31.6% dollar share, sandwiched between Sony, with 46.7%, and Microsoft with 20.9%.

Nintendo has faced its share of disappointment in recent years at the hands of giants Sony and Microsoft, each a major technology player and with the luxury of absorbing losses while they build the gaming business. Both plan to unveil new consoles in March 2005, in tandem with Nintendo's launch of a replacement for the GameCube, codenamed Nintendo Revolution.

Sony will also parlay its console success into the hand-held market, long dominated by Nintendo's Game Boy line, with the PSP, or PlayStation Portable. Even telecom Nokia is on the attack, hoping to get its N-Gage phone/game player device right for the target teen audience already accustomed to using cellphones for game play.


Mr. Fils-Aime comes to the Nintendo fight battle tested. The son of Haitian immigrants, he earned a degree with distinction in applied economics from Cornell University in 1983, which landed him a plum training post at Procter & Gamble Co. During his eight years there, he rose to marketing director of the food and beverage sector.

At each career stop along the way, Mr. Fils-Aime said the secret to success was the same: giving the consumers what they want. At Tricon's Pizza Hut unit, he answered Little Caesar Pizza's value position with Pizza by the Foot; while at Guinness Import Co., he faced a challenge from microbrews with a St. Patrick `s Day promotion giving away a real Irish pub. And when he worked at Viacom's VH1, he brought back ratings for "Behind the Music" with 1980s-driven programming that grew ratings by 25%.

To his Nintendo colleagues, he's a bit like Super Mario. Perrin Kaplan, VP-marketing and corporate affairs for Nintendo of America, noted that, in Mr. Fils-Aime's first meetings with the marketing staff, he made clear that a "can-do" attitude would prevail.

"His energy is very contagious," she said. His inclusive management style is marked by an open-door policy and a willingness to share Thai takeout during late nights. He keeps a bowl of fruit for sharing in his office and is known for passing around his stack of sugarless gum-he buys in bulk-at staff meetings.

Mr. Fils-Aime strikes the first blow this fall with the premium-priced Nintendo DS (Dual Screen), a device with a touch-screen display, voice recognition and wireless connectivity, not only via the Internet, but also by detecting nearby DS devices. But analysts question whether consumers will balk at the $200 price tag.

Nintendo's strategy is to focus on quality game play, he said. Competitors are "hard pressed to find one consumer-electronic product that does multiple things at once well," said Mr. Fils-Aime.

To woo the savvy teen audience-"these consumers understand marketing and want to be entertained," he said-Mr. Fils-Aime will execute a $25 million-plus marketing blitz, one he described as "a big deal" and one of the biggest in Nintendo's history. He declined to give details, but Nintendo will be sticking with its "Who are you?" tagline and agency Leo Burnett, Chicago. He is also interested in the growing product-placement deals with video games.

Still, industry watchers such as Michael Gartenberg, VP-research director, Jupiter Research, noted "It's hardly a slam-dunk victory." Mr. Fils-Aime would be "wise to keep an eye in the rear-view mirror."


Name: Reggie Fils-Aime

Age: 42

Who: Exec VP-sales and marketing, Nintendo

Career: The son of a mother who sold jewelry at retail and a mechanic father, the high energy, aggressive Mr. Fils-Aime became a protege of some of the top names in marketing while working at Procter & Gamble Co. His career already has included stints at some of the nation's biggest brands.

Challenge: To reignite growth for Nintendo's hand-helds, consoles and games.

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