‘Tis the season of consumer madness. Of people lining up for days outside Best Buy and Circuit City for the chance to spend the equivalent of some countries’ GNP on a PS3. Of people getting into scuffles. Of people getting shot. We expect that. It is, after all, almost Christmas.
But our jaws dropped when we saw a recent “South Park” episode in which Cartman, unable to stand the anticipation of the launch of the Nintendo Wii, freezes himself to, you know, make the time go by faster.
How does a PR agency buy that kind of buzz?
The answer is simple: They don’t.
“The South Park episodes happened completely unexpectedly and on their own — we had no role in that,” Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America’s VP of marketing told FBLA.
What they do have a role in is getting normal, showered, employed people to act like morons in anticipation of a toy going on sale. To explain how buzz spills from Ain’t it Cool News to Fit For Kids, Perrin agreed to illuminate the insidious world of brainwashing, er, marketing:
Q: The anticipation for the Wii is bordering on riotous. It even inspired a recent two-part episode of South Park. What was your strategy for creating buzz?
A: (South Park) was a wonderful reflection of a lot of the enthusiasm we have been seeing for Wii ever since the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in May. Wii is so different and so fun that we focused our outreach on getting it into people’s hands. We knew that once people got the chance to play it, they would tell their friends: “You’ve got to try this!” Wii was a centerpiece of our just-concluded nationwide Nintendo Fusion Tour of music and video games. We also held small-sized sampling parties for multigenerational families, hard-core gamers and modern moms, and we have just begun a 25-city mall experience, which will have six Wii systems stationed at malls across the country for the next two months. The more people who touch it, play it and understand it, the more the buzz will build.
Q: How much of your work is done for you by the hard-core fans who would be blogging/talking about it anyway?
A: There’s no question that since we started making games 20 years ago, Nintendo has had the best and most loyal fans in the business. But that same dedication sets high standards that we have to live up to. So while there will always be a hard-core fan base, we want to keep them loyal by continually offering them new and exciting experiences. That’s what Wii does. At the same time, it’s designed to be enjoyed by lapsed gamers and non-gamers, so that we can create new Nintendo fans of all stripes.
Q: How do you harness the Fan Boy hype?
A: Sometimes its with special events like the one we’re putting on at Universal CityWalk on Saturday night. Expect to see thousands of hard-core Nintendo fans psyched for the launch of Wii at midnight. But really the best thing we can do is to keep producing top-notch games and products. If our fans are happy, they let us know. If they’re not, they tell us that too. Nintendo made the systems and the games that were an integral part of the childhoods of millions of people around the world. We have the largest and best stable of characters in the industry, from Mario and Donkey Kong to The Legend of Zelda. For a lot of people, Nintendo is much more than just a brand.
Q: What metric did you use to determine who got the Wii in advance?
A: We sent out Wii systems to all of our top media folks, so that they can review them and let their readers or viewers know what they think. Nothing beats that hands-on review that lets curious consumers know what the system is all about. But it’s important to note that we sent the Wii systems out not only to our traditional gamer sites, but also to more mainstream folks you might not expect, like Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping and the Today show. That’s because we want to expand the world of video games to new audiences, to get women, moms, dads, even grandparents involved and having fun.
Q: How much, exactly, does the Wii rock?
A: How much space do you have? Wii is unlike any video game system you have ever seen or played. That’s no exaggeration. Instead of a linear upgrade to a new chip, we took a different direction from the rest of the industry and took a chance on reinventing how people interact with their games. The result is a much more immersive experience that at the same time is easy enough for novices to pick up and play. We struck out into new territory, and it looks like we’ll have a new playing field all to ourselves. I could go on and on about how you can use our new motion-sensitive controller like a baseball bat, steering wheel or sword, but try it out for yourself and let me know what you think. That’s the real test.