Can a new advertising campaign save the Wii U?

The Wii U is struggling, but Nintendo isn't about to give up, and has released a new ad to iron out any confusion, but is it enough?

According to many critics and analysts, one of the main reasons Nintendo’s Wii U hasn’t sold well is down to poor marketing and customer confusion. Apparently, many people are still under the impression that the Wii U is a controller add-on for the Wii rather than a new console, and sales are low as people aren’t all that concerned about the benefits of what they consider to be nothing more than an optional, touch screen controller.

In an effort to combat this, Nintendo has enlisted the services of UK comedian, Rufus Hound, in order to better explain the benefits of the Wii U gamepad, and also highlight the fact that this is a new platform, and not just a glorified add-on to the Wii.

In the ad (the first in a series), Rufus Hound focuses on the Wii U gamepad, admitting that the pad doesn’t make good games on its own, but that it can help enhance the entire experience, eliminating the need for unwieldy menu systems for such things as game maps and inventory. Oddly, it focuses on spoof, cartoon depictions of menus, rather than showing the actual gamepad in action, but we get the idea. The screen sharing is also mentioned.

But there are problems. The ad highlights the fact that the Wii U is a brand new console, albeit minimally. There’s no explanation of it being a more powerful, graphically impressive unit, or the enhanced online capabilities and so on, just arrows pointing to the unit stating its freshness. Despite Hound’s best efforts, the ad fails on so many levels, and can’t help but add to the suggestion that the Wii U is losing its battle.

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I personally think that the majority of the general public is well aware of the fact that the Wii U is a new console. The bigger question is, do they care? This potential lack of interest is partly due to the original Wii becoming stale, thanks to a mountain of shovelware, the motion control gimmick appeal wearing off and the Wii U’s launch line up of titles. Even now the Wii U has little in the way of must have games, and certainly no killer app.

Then there’s the underwhelming technical specifications. Although I fully understand and agree with Nintendo that good games come from design not graphics (it’s proven this several times, from the Game Boy to the Wii), this isn’t, unfortunately, a belief held by a lot of gamers. All you need to do is look on gaming forums for a short time to see that people these days care a huge deal about visuals and presentation, and if a game dares to have visuals that aren’t cutting edge, it’s instantly labelled as last gen, or even PS2-level visuals. This is often an exaggeration, of course, but it’s a clear sign that people want power. Nintendo desperately needs to realise and embrace this, and needs to release a console that can keep up with its competitors. As it stands, it can just about keep up with the ageing Xbox 360 and PS3, but when the Xbox One and PS4 arrive, it’ll be facing an even bigger uphill challenge.

Even Nintendo’s belief that good design outweighs the need for technical prowess isn’t even being shown with the Wii U. Whereas the Wii had excellent and exclusive must-have titles like Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart, Zelda, Smash Bros., Metroid and more, what’s the Wii U got? Aside from some great cross-platform releases (which have been out on other platforms for months in many cases) there’s little to write home about. Super Mario Bros. U is hardly a killer app when it’s so similar to the Wii’s own New Super Mario Bros.. Pikmin III is strong, but other Nintendo big-hitters like Mario Kart 8 and Zelda have still to arrive, nearly a year after the console’s release. It’s a poor showing, and blaming customer awareness is simply wrong, arguably brushing the true problems under the rug.

However, let’s just say that Nintendo is correct, and the major problems is lack of marketing and customer awareness. Will a new ad campaign help matters? No, not really. It might boost sales a little, sure, but now that the Xbox One and PS4 are around the corner, Nintendo may have missed the boat this generation, and the Wii U simply doesn’t have a chance to repeat the Wii’s stellar sales performance.

For one, many Wii owners bought the console for the gimmick. The ability for anyone, even their gran, to play games on it. Many were far from serious gamers, and so, when the novelty wore off, they stopped buying games and moved onto the next fad. They certainly didn’t place the Wii U on their shopping lists.

This left Nintendo with a huge support base on paper, but in truth, they had a much smaller group of hardcore fans who were feeling more than a little alienated by Nintendo’s apparent move from supporting its loyal, long time fans to shifting their platform to as many people as possible.

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This means that even some of the Nintendo faithful who may have stuck with the company from the heady days of the NES may have skipped on the Wii U. Nintendo is seemingly shedding loyal fans left and right, and it’s due to the company losing touch, in my view. Innovation can only go so far, and the Wii U’s gamepad, regardless of whether you like the premise or not, simply isn’t enough.

The fact is that many gamers would kill for a true, next-gen Zelda, Metroid or Mario. It’s simply indisputable that Nintendo has access to some of the best game designers and programmers in the business. No other development team, on any platform, can match the spotless design of the Zelda series, or the sheer fun factor of the Mario and Mario Kart series. They can craft titles that can truly be classed as timeless and classics, and if only this obsession with gimmicky controllers could be put aside for a focus on games, Nintendo could dominate once more.

This generation, however, is almost certainly going to slip from Nintendo’s grasp, and a third place in the home console market is the best it can hope for. It doesn’t help matters that major publishers have abandoned the platform, with EA most famously ditching the unit, and Bethesda recently announcing no support due to hardware limitations. Such issues as that lack of support for the new Frostbite engine on Wii U further complicate matters, and although the Wii U may well truthfully be able to handle the tech, the whole débâcle is enough to cause concern for other developers and publishers.

Of course, the biggest problem Nintendo has makes for a perfect Catch 22 situation. Publishers are shying away from the unit as it’s simply not selling enough to warrant their interest, but it’s not selling enough because there aren’t enough good games for it. It’s a bad situation to be in, which is usually helped by Nintendo’s strong exclusives, but even this doesn’t apply at the moment.

So, what can Nintendo do? Well, a new console isn’t going to happen for a few years, so there’s going to be no next-gen unit for a while. A focus on bigging up the touch screen gamepad isn’t going to help, as the tech is hardly new or unique. All smart phones are touch screen, both the 3DS and Vita have the tech and the upcoming PS4 has a touchpad on the controller. Yes, the Wii U’s screen sharing is interesting, but it’s not system seller, so ultimately, the tech, which is the current major focus of the unit, isn’t worth it. Motion controls are pretty much dead in the water where sales points are concerned now, the Wii saw to that, as did the arrival of Kinect and PS Move.

The social and multimedia element is totally owned by Sony and Microsoft. Their existing consoles handle the area far better than Nintendo’s unit, and the Xbox One and PS4 are taking this to a whole new level. That’s another area where Nintendo has lost ground.

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That leaves the games, and it’s here where Nintendo needs to focus. It’s not rocket science, and hardly a revelation, but Nintendo needs to push out some quality, must-own games. After all, a console is only as good as the games it runs, and due to the focus on all things entertainment with Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, people are only going to buy the Wii U for games, pure and simple. At the moment it has few worth owning, and that’s why the console is failing.

For me, this is the bottom line: aside from further pricing reductions, release some good games and look after your loyal fanbase Nintendo, and leave the experimentation alone for a while.

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