Advertisements sell you more than just a product: they also sell you an image and a lifestyle. In some cases, associating the appropriate lifestyle with your product can make a large difference in sales. Today, I want to analyze Nintendo’s advertisements for both the Switch and the Wii U and compare the two in hopes of finding a clue as to why their sales are so vastly different.
The Switch ad sets the tone by showing a man playing games on his TV when his dog whimpers, signaling that he needs to go outside. This immediately signals that the product is for adults – not children. This message is further reinforced throughout the trailer as it displays people in adult situations with their consoles. The initial Wii U trailer mostly focuses on kids playing the console. When it does show adults playing it, they are usually playing with their kids. There is one instance in which two adults are shown using it, but they are using Netflix which isn’t at all the main draw of the console.
Another important aspect of the Switch commercial is what type of people show up in it. Yes, they are all adults, but they are also successful adults who are living a comfortable, well-off life. They are affluent, they fly on planes, party with their friends and own their own place. With this, Nintendo is selling a lifestyle and saying: cool people buy this console. For the Wii U, there is not much rule of cool associated with buying a console that is marketed towards children.
The Wii U was in part a failure because it pandered too heavily towards the casual crowd, an idea that had worked for its predecessor. The lack of “hardcore” games on the console was a constant source of criticism, and this translated to a lack of sales. Reggie Fils-Aime stated that the failures of the Wii U informed many decisions for the Switch, and this is apparent in the advertisement. For example, the concluding section of the Switch ad is catered specifically towards the esports market which is traditionally synonymous with the hardcore audience. They do this by focusing on two esports teams preparing for a match and then walking down towards the stage in a show that seems practically stolen from traditional sports media. This scene is meant to show that the console will have features for those who wish to focus on esports.
Within these two advertisements, there is also an issue of gender that is important to keep in mind in terms of target audiences. The Wii U ad does feature girls playing the console, but they do not receive the same amount of screentime or focus that their boy counterparts do. When women do receive the spotlight from the camera, they are portrayed playing games that in the gamer world have traditionally not been associated with “real” gaming such as singing or dancing games. The Switch ad, meanwhile, dedicated most of its second half to a female protagonist who then proceeds to bring the console to a party with her female friends. One of the aforementioned esports teams has two female members, which further solidifies the idea that the Switch ad attempts to cater to women more.
Finally, there is a remarkable difference between the Switch branding and the Wii U branding that potentially impacted their respective sales. The Switch has very unique branding that Nintendo takes advantage of whenever they use it. One of the main selling points of the Switch is that the controllers can be detached from the console to make it either handheld or playable on the TV – which can be done at any point in time. In the Switch’s logo screen, the two controllers on the logo snap down and make an audible click. This sound, this very simple click, has become synonymous with the console and makes you think of it when you hear it. Most ingenious though, it also makes you think of the selling point of the console at the same time. Moreover, the sound is so recognizable that it needs no visual companion to it.
What’s more, the slogan of the two are vastly different, with the Switch’s being much more explanatory of the main selling point. Its slogan is “Play together, wherever, whenever,” which perfectly encapsulates the portability of the Switch plus the high-octane party-game nature of Nintendo’s games. All together, the branding of the Switch very much revolves around its portability. This can be seen throughout the advertisement, where people undock the console and take it elsewhere to continue playing. The Wii U slogan, on the other hand, does not have this same holisticness and thus the marketing for the console suffers. The slogan is “How U Will Play Next,” which is more like an ambiguous promise of changing the manner of play than an actual selling point. All new consoles are expected to bring something new to the table as a baseline assumption, so this slogan did not capture the uniqueness of the Wii U – if there was any to begin with.
The music choice of the two advertisements is also important to note. The Wii U ad uses a sort of electronic, dubstep track that is suited more towards the younger crowd (especially in 2011). The Switch trailer, however, uses an alternative rock that appeals to the younger crowd but also a wider spectrum of people. The biggest difference in the two is that the music in the Switch ad has lyrics — “Tryin’ to have a good time” – which work in tandem with the visuals towards selling the fun that the console will bring to you as a consumer.
Overall, the Switch advertisement is a stellar example of how to properly encapsulate the branding of your console with the ideas that you’re trying to sell to your consumer. The target audience for the Switch ad is quite wide: it targets gamers, women, casual players, and even esports fans. Furthermore, the situations that are represented in the advertisement trend toward an older crowd. The console being played on an airplane, for example, is specifically targeted towards those who are constantly traveling either due to business or leisure. In comparison to the Wii U advertisement, which mainly targets kids, the Switch’s wide spectrums help widen its potential customer base. The branding is also very important, as the logo of the Switch reinforces its main selling point while also creating a sound that will stick in the consumer’s mind and be instantly recognizable. It is no surprise that the Switch managed to outsell the Wii U in such a short period of time due to how much better its marketing is.