Nintendo's Game Boy Advance
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Nintendo's Game Boy Advance

Nintendo challenged Golin/Harris to convince millions of newly satisfied Game Boy Color users, who’d had their systems for less than three years, to graduate to the Game Boy Advance.

Paul Holmes

Since entering the portable market in 1989, it is no exaggeration to say that Nintendo has owned it.  In the 12 years since Game Boy first debuted, more than 120 million units were sold, despite few real significant advances in the basic technology.  In 2001, the company looked to build on its success and dominance in the portable video game market by launching the new 32-bit Game Boy Advance video game system in the U.S. on June 11. 
 
Nintendo challenged Golin/Harris to convince millions of newly satisfied Game Boy Color users, who’d had their systems for less than three years, to graduate to the Game Boy Advance.  Golin/Harris needed to reposition the brand among consumers, analysts and other key audiences to solidify Nintendo’s dominant market presence.
 
CHALLENGES
 
  • Many consumers who recently purchased Game Boy Color would need to be convinced to upgrade to Game Boy Advance
  • Nintendo’s new hardware and software would be more expensive
  • Opportunities
  • System’s backward-compatibility offered chance to offer value-added upgrade
  • Game Boy brand already established as leader in portable videogames
 
OBJECTIVES:
 
  • Help make Game Boy Advance the best selling video game system of 2001
  • Maximize mass media and consumer sampling before launch
  • Set stage for NINTENDO GAMECUBE launch through “one-two punch” positioning
 
STRATEGIC APPROACH
:
To ensure that editors and influencers saw the new 32-bit video game system as a demonstration of Nintendo’s dedication to game play and the Game Boy brand as an extension of that, it was important to deploy non-traditional public relations tactics to allow first-hand experience of the Game Boy Advance.  Golin/Harris developed a strategic program designed to:
  • Catapult Game Boy Advance into teen market segment through teen publications, seeding and direct-to-consumer campaigns
  • Leverage games enthusiast media to spread Game Boy Advance messaging to hardcore gamers
  • Implement regional grassroots activities to facilitate sampling and drive positive word-of-mouth
  • Make product widely available to enable first-hand, “wow” experience
 
Nintendo’s own research showed that Game Boy Color appealed to a broad range of consumers, with 34 percent of players under 13, 22 percent between 13 and 19, 23 percent from 20 to 34, and 21 percent of players 35 and over.  Additionally, the male/female split was approximately 64 percent/36 percent.  Golin/Harris would need to leverage a variety of tactics to reach such a broad audience for the launch of Game Boy Advance.
 
CAMPAIGN EXECUTION:
 
Golin/Harris’ efforts included a teen outlet editors’ trip to Japan, a summer-camp-style Game Boy Advance retreat, a nationwide media-focused van tour, a consumer sampling tour, teasers, and an extensive reviews program.  Press materials and “Did You Know?” style e-mails consistently provided measures of Game Boy Advance’s success.
 
Akihabara Safari Editors Tour
To reach key influencers, Golin/Harris took teen media straight to the source of where many new trends start – Japan.  By hosting five major teen-oriented publications (Seventeen, Teen, YM, CosmoGirl, and MH-18 - outlets that do not typically cover video games) on a three-day long “Akihabara Safari” in March, we gave editors a firsthand look at the Japanese trends that would shape the rest of 2001, while giving them enough lead-time to draft stories that would street around the date of the U.S. launch.  The Nintendo-hosted trip was designed to coincide with the launch of Game Boy Advance in Japan, which involved long-lines of hip Tokyo teens waiting to be the first to get their hands on Nintendo’s new system.  As a result, all published at least one feature story around launch time about Game Boy Advance, garnering more than 20 million print impressions in key teen outlets. 
 
While in Japan, Golin/Harris also coordinated a global b-roll feed of lines of eager Japanese consumers to illustrate the international demand for the upcoming system and build strong domestic buzz.  The b-roll feed resulted in more than 31 million U.S. broadcast impressions.
 
Game Boy Advance Gamers Summer Camp
With outreach already underway to teen media, Golin/Harris’ focus now turned to servicing the crucial games enthusiast media.  Playing up the important “Anytime, Anywhere” gameplay messaging for Game Boy Advance, Golin/Harris secured Costanoa Coastal Resort in Northern California to host Camp Game Boy Advance, where editors could play U.S. Game Boy Advance titles for the first time in such settings as at the beach, mountain-bike riding, on horseback, or at the campground.  Through close coordination with third-party publishers, a total of 17 launch titles were featured at Camp Game Boy Advance.
 
Game Boy Advance U.S. Tour
As the final piece of the pre-launch puzzle, Golin/Harris took Game Boy Advance on two nationwide tours.  First, Game Boy Advance was featured on a six-week, 17-city tour directly to local media outlets in top-ADI markets and culminating with the system’s June 11 launch.  Reporters got to see Game Boy Advance up close by playing the system.  In all, more than 74 appointments with TV, radio and print outlets added more than 8 million impressions for Game Boy Advance.  While the focus of the interviews was Game Boy Advance, most editors were teased with mentions of the upcoming NINTENDO GAMECUBE as another hot product for the holiday season.
 
For consumer sampling, Nintendo created a team of human interactives in specially designed jumpsuits with six Game Boy Advances attached via tethers.  This mobile “Advance Team” traveled across the country, from city to city, and went directly where people would want to play Game Boy Advance, providing a physical manifestation of Nintendo’s “Anytime, Anywhere” messaging and a fantastic visual for local news crews.  Golin/Harris supported the Advance Team tour with aggressive media relations efforts in all 12 top-ADI cities the tour visited, securing calendar listings and interviews for the Advance Team captain on morning shows, with local newspapers and other local outlets.
 
Direct Media Outreach
To get product in the hands of the eager media and secure ever-important product reviews to coincide with the June 11 launch date, Golin/Harris coordinated a themed product mailing, dubbed “Teaser, Advanced,” dovetailing on Nintendo’s national “Life, Advanced” ad campaign.  Specially-designed translucent purple boxes were created with custom-compartments to fit Game Boy Advance hardware, batteries, games and press materials.  In total, Game Boy Advances or specially designed press kits were delivered to nearly 600 media outlets, resulting in an unprecedented national breadth of product reviews.
 
Press materials were continuously updated detailing Nintendo successes and efforts.  Golin/Harris took every opportunity to reinforce the Game Boy franchise success story and the system’s “Anytime, Anywhere” functionality.  On the June 11 launch date, b-roll featuring highlights from the U.S. launch at FAO Schwarz in New York City, footage of Game Boy Advances being shipped from Nintendo’s North Bend distribution facility, and highlights from the Japanese system launch were distributed to news stations throughout the country, resulting in more than more than 4 million broadcast impressions.
 
Celebrity Seeding
Golin/Harris hand-delivered Game Boy Advances to select celebrities and influencers to ensure visibility and generate buzz among target teen audience.  Photos featuring Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath and pop-sensation Hoku playing Game Boy Advance were snapped and distributed to entertainment outlets.
 
RESULTS:
 
This multi-pronged approach directly resulted in Game Boy Advance becoming the fastest-selling video game system in history, with more than 1 million units sold in the first six weeks of its release.   Nearly 20 million impressions resulted from the Akihabara Safari, 8 million impressions from the van tour, more than 36 million impressions from b-roll feeds, and nearly 1,500 reviews in daily newspapers.  These combine for a total of more than 295 million impressions.  In the immediate months after Game Boy Advance’s June 11 debut, more Game Boy Advances were sold than all other video game systems combined, helping create positive feelings for Nintendo, reinvigorating the Game Boy brand and setting the stage for the launch of Nintendo’s home console, NINTENDO GAMECUBE later in the year. 
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