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At the end of 2004, the video games company Nintendo was facing a bleak future. Its rival console, the PlayStation 2 (PS2), was winning the console war and both parties were about to enter the handheld gaming market with a new console each.

Nintendo had planned the release of a new hand held console: the Nintendo Dual Screen (DS). Sonys product was the PlayStation Portable (PSP). The PSP was essentially a powerful multi-media unit capable of playing many of the games its older brother, the PS2, could play. The DS by contrast was technically inferior but it boasted two screens, one of which was touch sensitive. Most importantly, a stylus was included alongside the traditional buttons.

Top: Nintendo DS (Dual Screen) with Stylus Bottom: Sony PSP (PlayStation Portable) (image source: 2008)

Figures show that the DS sold 7 million units while the PSP sold a mere 2.8 million units. (Mintel 2008) This report examines why Nintendo have dominated the handheld market from a consumer behaviour perspective, and looks at Nintendos resulting actions in terms of marketing activities.

It will focus primarily on the Nintendo DS, the game Dr Kawashimas Brain Age, which is targeted at the Third Age market (consumers aged 55+) and parents with dependent children. This edutainment title is controlled entirely through touch screen and stylus, and is pitched as improving memory and keeping the user mentally fit, claiming you can train your brain in minutes a day (box cover art ). It features a Sudoku mini game.

Attitude Change Picking up on strong attributes

Prior to launch of the DS Nintendo had to combat a host of problems. Many were of the opinion that the PSP would be the winner of this console war. Sony had convincingly dominated the static console market with its PlayStation 2 outselling all its rivals nearly 4 times over in the UK. Nintendo took third place behind Microsofts Xbox. (Mintel 2008) With the PSP looking much like the PS2, Nintendo did not appear to be in a very competitive position.

The following table shows 7 ingredients that Cooper suggests will make a unique product that will succeed in the market. The middle and right hand columns identify whether or not the PSP and DS have any competitive advantages.

Coopers Seven ingredients of a unique, superior product with real value for the customer: 1. Meets customers needs better than competitive products. 2. Is a better-quality product than competitors (however the customer defines quality) 3. Has unique benefits and features for the customer.



PSP players expect the quality of games found on PS2. Quality defined by customer.

Good for edutainment titles.

Quality defined by customer.

Feature focused: only multifunction product to integrate multimedia functions with a handheld gaming device.

Benefit focused: play games with family and friends (see motivation and values) N/A

4. Solves customers problems with competitive products.

Consumers can take one product with them, rather than separate pieces of gadgetry.

5. Reduces the

Slightly higher initial outlay

Cheaper product,

customers total inuse costs (better value in use)

cost, but cheaper than a separate iPod and games device.

overall, price of Brain Age also cheaper than average DS games.

6. Has highly visible benefits for users. 7. Is innovative or novelthe first of its kind on the market.

Many features that Nintendo did not offer. First rival offering of a handheld console since the Neo-Geo Pocket Colour, released in 1999. Innovative touch screen and stylus.

(adapted from Cooper, 1999, p64)

With Sonys prior successes with the PS2, consumers followed a belief affect behaviour structure; they went to the PSP based on their previous knowledge of Sony (Solomon, 2006, p141). They knew that Sonys games were good and they knew that the technology was superior; they had a positive attitude towards the PSP. Sony had essentially analysed the market and saw a gap for a powerful multifunction product.

Nintendo, after its poor results with the GameCube, chose not to follow the same model as Sony. The DS had only one unique feature: the stylus and touch screen. Because this was a new feature that had not been applied to a video games console, Nintendo were dependent on a behavioural learning process, which followed a beliefbehaviour-affect model (Solomon, 2006, p141); people had to experience the game to recognise its potential. It was therefore highly important to promote these new features and ensure that the games purchased were not only very enjoyable, but also made excellent use of the stylus and touch screen.

Brain Age was an excellent tool for this as it is played entirely with the stylus; it never uses the buttons on the faceplate. Additionally, the concept of Brain Age as a form of mental exercise was regarded highly. Nintendo had to push two key attributes: the stylus and the mental training.

Attitude Change Strengthening attribute linkages

Nintendo then had to look outside its core gamer audience, so that as many people could try the game as possible. In his book, Videogame Marketing and PR, Scott Steinberg suggests that marketers must look at where theres a good fit in related channelsfocus on campaigns designed to raise awareness amongst everyone whose interests might overlap with the initial target audience. (Steinberg, 2007, p37)

Thus, Nintendo DS experience pods were placed in Esporta gyms across the UK, with the theory that training your brain is as important as training your body. DS pods were also placed in Borders bookstores. This time the idea was that intellectual stimulation could come from games as well as books.

Finally, Nintendo capitalised on the Sudoku craze that hit the UK. Sodoku is a logic puzzle game that shares much in common with Brain Age. They are both Japanese in origin and they both have similar theories about exercising the brain in just a few minutes. There was always one place you could guarantee a Sudoku puzzle: the newspapers. Nintendo knew this and promoted Brain Age via an interactive webpage on the Times Online website with Surprise Yourself where you could experience Brain Age online. (i-d Media). As a broadsheet national newspaper, The Times is a trusted, authoritative resource for information and news. This weight of authority suggested to site visitors that Brain Age was endorsed by the Times, reassuring consumers that the product was beneficial.

Nintendo had changed opinions on what gaming was almost overnight through effective channel distribution. No longer was gaming perceived with a negative attitude as just another way to waste time, but regarded positively as a form of mental exercise. Everyone wanted to try the new DS, and Nintendo noted that the parental and the Third Age segments could be lucrative markets.

Sony failed to recognise a potential change in audiences, producing games that failed to inspire. Consumers had enjoyed the PlayStation One and the PlayStation 2. Were they really willing to embrace yet another PlayStation that showed no genuine innovations?

Motivation identifying independence and well being as drivers amongst Third Agers

Now it had a new potential market, Nintendo had to understand what drove the mature market. Nintendos understanding of the Third Age can be seen in what is identified as one of the Brain Ages core benefits: helping to prevent Alzheimers.

When segmenting the grey market gerontographically, several common features appear. According to Moschis, healthy indulgers, healthy hermits and ailing outgoers all show signs that they desire independence. (Moschis, cited in Solomon 2006, p471) Unfortunately, mental ailments such as Alzheimers tend to affect us as we grow older. Once signs of Alzheimers begin to appear, it is often a downward spiral into dependence on others to assist in even the most mundane daily activities.

While the grey market doesnt actively seek a product that fends off Alzheimers disease, Nintendo has suggested that Brain Age can help prevent it, creating an awareness of the problem and therefore inciting a primal need in the consumer. It creates in the consumer what Maslow identifies as physiological and ego needs. It is physiological because of the necessity to be able to look after oneself, ego because of the desire to maintain independence. (Solomon 2006, p99) Although Maslows theory is crude, it does highlight that Brain Age can be presented as a product that is essential to an ideal end state.

The key response that Nintendo made knowing that Third Agers want to stay healthy was to present to the press that the game will aid memory thus indirectly creating a mild but effective fear appeal (Solomon 2006 p192). This takes advantage of psychiatrist Asahi Shimbuns suggestion that many of us are overly frightened of getting old (Shimbun A, cited in McCurry, Guardian, 2006). In knowing that they could be combating Alzheimers, consumers are fulfilling their hedonic desires and also combating their psychological fears when playing the game. Nintendos PR team appears to have pitched the game just right because the affectionately termed Silver Gamers (Robertson, Gamasutra, 2008) have fully embraced the game.

Value Identifying the family bond as a core value among parents

While Japan benefits from a culture where gaming has been socially accepted by all, many in the UK still perceive games as the red-head stepchild of the creative

industries (Boxer, Guardian, 2008). Nintendo had to present to the potential Silver Gamer that video gaming wasnt just for kids with too much time on their hands but for adults too.

Many products and services marketed towards the Third Age tend to be highly unflattering. Services such as health insurance and life insurance and seem to all imply that old age is coming, and you had better prepare yourself for tough times ahead. To follow suit and pitch the DS and Brain Age as a product to prevent dementia would have been equally damning on both the product and its target audience. Advertising Alzheimers was out of the question - Nintendo had to find a positive spin on which to advertise the product. That spin would come from within the Nintendos own history and company values: family entertainment. ( 2008)

Considering that over 50% of adults living in private households have dependent children (Eurostat, cited in Solomon, 2008, p406), it perhaps comes as no surprise that strong family bonds are appreciated by parents born in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Despite this, reports show that in fact British parents spend the least time with their children. (Garner R, the Independent, 2007). This is what Nintendo would base their message upon. The family is highly personal thing and there are many ideal states. Nintendo would tug at the desires of its market, taking advantage of one most emotional attributes of humanity. (Solomon, 2006, p104)

In one of its most recent TV adverts, pop singer Ronan Keating is seen playing on his Nintendo DS with his wife and two children. (, 2008) The video shows a highly idealised nuclear family model, something many of Nintendos Silver Gamer consumers would aspire to and associate with. The advert suggested that playing the game would allow parents to spend quality time with their children, satisfying what Schwartz identifies as the personal value of benevolence (Schwartz, cited in Solomon, 2006, 119). In this emotional appeal, Nintendo correctly identified that the product is a high involvement product and so have applied several behavioural tools that might drive non-gamers to try the game.

Firstly Nintendo created a bond with their consumers with an emotional message. When successfully implemented a bond promotes excellent perception, improves product recall and thus makes the consumers more likely to involve themselves with the product (Solomon, 2006, p186). The emotional appeal would help to push Third

Agers out of their inertia towards video games as associating the game with their values of a close family would now carry great meaning with them. (Solomon, 2006, p106)

Now that Nintendo had the Third Age and parents of all ages interested in the product, they could set about finding a way of making them believe in the product and break the stereotype that games are for children.

Reference Groups Pulling Consumers in Through Aspiration and Inspiration

Now that Nintendo had found a message that created a drive in their audience, they had to find a way to make them listen to their adverts, which they have done through the power of the celebrity. Nintendo knows that their consumers will define their attitudes and purchase behaviours by their aspirational reference groups (Solomon, 2006, p352); a list on which celebrities can sit highly. Tapping into this particular reference group has been important for Nintendo to get Third Agers and parents to accept video games and because consumers can create favourable indirect associations with the DS. (Solomon, 2006, p176) Strong reference groups are particularly important because the DS is a private luxury that often slips into becoming a public luxury due to its portable nature.

Reference Groups Authority of the Captain

One of Nintendos most recent TV advertisements features 68 year old actor Patrick Stewart. Whereas Keating was used to target the family and parent markets, Stewart was used to target the Third Age market. He commands many attributes desirable for celebrity endorsement, but in particular, he presented Nintendo with authority and expert power.

Like many celebrities, authority is a valued when it comes to endorsement because consumers will believe in those who wield authoritative power. (Solomon, 2006, p167). One of Stewarts more renowned roles was in Star Trek as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and recently, in the movie X-men he was cast as a respected intellectual leader of a mutant academy. These two roles as intelligent leaders gave Stewart expert power over consumers when they consider the DS, which his also worked in conjunction with Stewarts role as an authority figure. (Solomon, 2006, p361) More accurately, consumers perceive expert power in Stewart; he in fact has no more knowledge about brain sciences than anyone else. (Cookson, Financial Times, 2008).

Nintendo used these qualities to show that Brain Age is effective, and that all of us, no matter how famous or rich, could enjoy playing games and more importantly benefit from them.

Reference Groups the 18 million girl

In 2007, Nintendo called upon an even more famous actress, Nicole Kidman. Her international credentials wield somewhat more power than Stewart, but she also portrayed some attributes that Stewart did not.

Most obviously, Kidman was the female predecessor to Stewart meaning that she could more effectively target the female segments. However Kidman also brings the halo effect to the game (p178, 2006, Solomon) Unquestionably, at 40 years old, Kidman is a highly attractive woman, yet she is primarily noted for her many acting roles; consumers do not gloss over the core messages of the advert. In fact, her many roles in movies mean that she appeals to people who are both 25 years older and younger than her 40 years. (Stroud, 20 plus 20, 2007) Just as teen audiences aspire to those older than them, mature audiences aspire to youth.

Most importantly, Kidman wields significant referent power, again, due in part to her many starring roles. (Solomon, 2006, p359) Kidman, remember, was the glamorous icon of an 18 million Chanel advert directed by Baz Luhrmann (Lawson, Guardian, 2004). Consumers of any age admire her status and achievements. Yet oddly, rather than capitalise on the glamorous side of Kidman, Nintendo has emphasized her private, and intimate lifestyle and more importantly, they identified one of her goals as staying mentally fit. Not only are consumers driven to associate themselves with Kidman by playing the game, but they also share the same common goals. Opinions differ however on the success of the advert. Campaign magazine ranked it as one of the worst adverts of 2007, asking are we honestly expected to believe that Nicole Kidman likes to sit in front of the fire playing with a Nintendo DS? (Campaign 2007)

Whether or not the execution of the advert and the creative direction was correct, arguably the choice to cast Kidman for the advert was mostly a good choice. She carried many attributes that consumers can aspire to, although critics may argue that attaining the qualities that Kidman has may be unrealistic for those in the C1 to E social grades (NRS, year unknown) segments that play the DS. Nintendo have since used celebrities of a more national level, rather than international level such as Philip Schofield.

Evaluation Flanking the core, picking up on consumer needs

Understanding their audience essentially caused Nintendo to execute a flanking attack on Sonys brand dominance and excellent gaming reputation.

Bypass Offensive Strategy (Pillai 2008)

Recognising that Sony could easily dominate the core market with its strong reputation, Nintendo had to avoid the main target market and push with high levels of innovation at every level, including innovative product design in the stylus and touch screen, as well as a risky new game in Brain Age, and a new audience.

While Cooper suggested that 7 factors were quintessential for leading products, Nintendo proved that not all of the factors were necessary and it was possible to succeed with a clear understanding of the audience and with product innovation.


Firstly, because of the attitudinal changes caused by games like Brain Age over the last few years, the entire spectrum of potential gamers must be re-segmented based on their motivational values to play games because the old segments are inaccurate. This will allow us to see where new products can be introduced to satisfy consumer needs.

Secondly, I would re-enforce Steinbergs notion that marketers should look at where theres a good fit in related channels. With so many people from 5 to 95 (Iwata 2008) playing games, games marketers must see the wider audience and target the new influx because they will soon represent the largest portion of the market.

Finally, based on the understanding of motivation and values of the new consumers, a continuum is proposed that shows how much communications should focus on the game or on the end user. Lifestyle games, such as Brain Age should emphasise more of the product benefits, such as people enjoying the game together, whereas entertainment titles should show an emphasis on product features such as the game graphics. This is because we need to make highly visible what it is that the consumer desires.

lifestyle titles eg Brain Age, C ooking Guide

entertainment titles eg Super Mario, Far C ry

C ommunications emphasis on product benefits

Proposed Continuum entertainment/lifestyle

C ommunications emphasis on product features

Girls Aloud in DS adverts (Guardian 2008)

Far Cry 2 Screenshot (FarCry2)


Nintendo has clearly had a very successful product and campaign, their sales figures reflect this, and Brain Age has enjoyed a record breaking 80 weeks in the UK top 10 games charts. (Eurogamer 2008) However, with the games fast becoming mainstream, they will soon become lifestyle products and consoles will enjoy massive market penetration. Up to date understandings of the behavioural patterns in consumers will pay dividends as product design should always be consumer

orientated in order to succeed. Nintendo has proven this with the success of Brain Age.