Editorial – What’s in a Name?

After finishing Mass Effect 3 today something popped in my head.  What exactly is in a name, or a brand?  Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about Nintendo’s current branding strategy.  Before we jump into Nintendo, let’s look at Apple’s strategy.  Ever since the introduction of the iMac Apple has slowly molded their entire line of software (iTunes to iOS) and hardware (iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad) to reflect the “i.”  It now appears that Nintendo wants to do the same thing, except separate their portable line into “DS” and their console line into “Wii.”

All i-something, yet all great, and all Apple.

This is nothing new, the company has kept the “Nintendo” brand for many years.  First there was the Nintendo Entertainment System, which everyone referred to as the NES.  Then there was the SNES, a direct continuation of the brand, before moving on to the N64, yet another continuation.  They mixed things up for the first time with the GameCube, but technically it was the Nintendo GameCube, although the Nintendo moniker was much less pronounced.  Then the Wii hit the scene and everything changed.

It may have been called the Super Nintendo, but we all knew it was "Nintendo."

It wasn’t just their console line that kept the same strong brand.  Nintendo’s portable line of systems used the Game Boy brand for almost 20 years.  From 1989’s original Game Boy to 2005’s Game Boy Micro.  The company took a real risk in changing the brand of both their portable and home console brand to something else, as is always the case when brands are so identifiable. With the release of the DS, and Wii, Nintendo hit international gold.  Both platforms exploded into the marketplace and it’s only natural Nintendo would want to keep their branding moving forward.  They’d be foolish not to right?

From this brand....
...to this brand. Different name, but clearly still a Wii, right?

After thinking about this for a while I’m no longer convinced this is the right course of action for the Wii brand.  Let’s back peddle a bit before moving on.  You can’t really confuse an iPhone for an iPad, and yet both are clearly made by the same company and feature the same branding.  With the DS and Wii though it’s not quite as simple.  Initially many parents thought the 3DS and DS were one and the same, with the 3DS being possibly another remodel to the existing DS much like the DS Lite was.  The names were just a bit too close.  People didn’t have that problem when moving from the Game Boy to the Game Boy Color.  Nintendo themselves must realize the exact same thing will happen with the Wii U.  Anyone remember the system’s official unveiling last year?  Oh that’s right, the system never had an official unveiling.  I watched the conference and was so confused because I thought their next platform was either a peripheral for the Wii or a new handheld device.  It was only after the conference did we learn that no, there’s a new box to purchase as well.  So that single letter does make a difference after all. So I ask again, what’s in a name?  The answer is, everything.  A strong brand can change a company’s fortunes.  While Nintendo has been smart to try and keep the branding of the DS, I’m not sure they should do the same for the Wii, and here’s why.  A brand tells people right away what they’re getting.  If I go to the store and see an i-device I know I’m getting a quality product from Apple, if I go into McDonalds I know I’m getting a Mc-something or other that just might have some Soylent Green in there.  These are all names people associate with certain products and or services.

The original Game Boy started a craze.

The Wii brand is associated with casual gaming and motion controls.  It’s also unfortunately associated with gimmicks and shovel-ware.  When Nintendo first announced the Wii U they specifically said it’s not only about everyone, it’s also about you, referring to the core gamer.  So does it really make sense to keep the Wii brand if you’re trying to attract an entirely different kind of user?  If anything the name might put off hardcore gamers who don’t really pay attention to gaming sites, because they’ll walk into a store and see the Wii U sitting there and say to themselves “oh just another motion system for grandma.”  Would they be wrong to think so either?  Not really.  After all, this generation’s hardcore gamers all but ignored the Wii, so why wouldn’t these people think the exact same thing about the Wii U?  Even those that did initially enjoy the platform have given up on it earlier than Nintendo anticipated.  So will these people really want to invest in a brand that essentially means fun for a while, but doesn’t have a wide assortment of hardcore games I enjoy and will be replaced before my other consoles?

The Micro ended the craze, but it remained a Game Boy thanks to its branding.

This is just one brief example to show the power of a brand, and it’s one of the reasons Microsoft and Sony have kept their brands for so long.  Don’t think the next Microsoft system won’t use the Xbox name because it will.  Everyone saying Sony is moving away from the PlayStation name is crazy.  The company spent billions establishing that brand; they will not stop using it no matter what.  They simply might not call their next console the PS4, but it will be PlayStation something. So what do you all think?  Should Nintendo keep the Wii brand, or move on to usher in a new era of hardcore and casual gaming?  I think the answer is clear, if you’re trying to attract a new type of gamer, you don’t want to associate yourself with a brand that attracted tens of millions of casuals, do you?

4 thoughts on “Editorial – What’s in a Name?”

  1. You really put things into perspective for me. Because out of the remaining competitors in the console market, Nintendo is the only one which hasn’t stuck with a brand name unless you count the word “Nintendo” as one. Their biggest and longest one, as you’ve mentioned, is the Game Boy line which has been retired for years. Other than that, they’ve practically changed the name of every console they’ve rolled out until the Wii. So in essence, I actually do agree with you on the fact that they should retire the Wii brand name. Nintendo U sounds a lot more catchy on its own and makes a fine statement on their commitment to attract the hardcore back. The same goes for the 3DS. While the brand name is incredibly smart and catchy, it may have hurt them indirectly as many casual buyers may have not looked at it as a true successor to the DS line, only a new version ala Apple’s strategy of their product cycles. Maybe they’ll rethink things once they roll out the remodel.

  2. I personally think the Wii U is a case of bad branding for a number of reasons. For one, the market conditions now are very different than they were six years ago. How are people who have shelved their Wiis or moved on to Kinect or Move going to react to a product that’s so closely tied to old tricks? Furthermore, it’s kind of a “fool me once, fool me twice” kind of deal in that how many casual gamers who got excited about the Wii, played it a few times, and then let it collect dust are going to buy into a $300 extension of the same brand that panned out to be a gimmick for most. My final concern is in the visual design of the brand. Why is there so little emphasis on the U? The fact that it’s so small really does make the system seem like a peripheral, add-on, or remodel more than anything. Honestly, it reminds me of “DSi” which clearly rang out as the name of a DS reiteration. Maybe Nintendo’s faith in the continuation of the Wii brand is more well-founded than we credit them, but the Wii U’s success will be largely hinged on how they can market the system as something fundamentally new and exciting — something that they did a pretty horrendous job of at last year’s E3.

  3. Great comments guys. I was really surprised Nintendo decided to go down this road, and then say the Wii U is directly geared towards the hardcore crowd, because that seems to go against everything this brand stands for. I also understand why they want to keep it, they sold 90 million + systems and obviously don’t want people to forget about that. I think you’re right though Charles, my mother isn’t going to buy the Wii U that’s for sure. She used the system once…and that was it. I know of many people who bought it on a whim, played it a handful of times and never touched it again. Convincing these people to buy another one will be exceedingly hard to do, but perhaps this is why Nintendo kept the brand in the first place.

    Ahmed, we can count “Nintendo” as a brand name for the first three consoles, but then they really moved on. I think they did this because N64 wasn’t as popular as they intended it to be, which is why they wanted to drastically change things up when they introduced GameCube. They did it yet again with Wii, but now appear to want to go back to their old strategy of branding their consoles to a particular name that sells. It’ll be very interesting to see how the hardcore and the casuals react to the Wii U’s introduction later this year.

    I think E3 will be the first real test, at least in terms of the hardcore crowd. They have to get all of us talking.

  4. I think it boils down to what people perceive of Nintendo, and how they’ve handled their product naming in general. This generation they went for mom and grandpa, and now they want everybody, which is confusing. They also don’t use numbers, which is the easiest way to indicate a sequence of something. Which is more obvious: PS2 to PS3, or GameCube to Wii? Apple has done a mix of things, but their branding is much moristinct. Nintendo can’t keep flip-flopping on its target market and expect their previous generation customers to follow. Not sure about core gamers not following the media though. Just thinking about all the people who play their games online, and that’s a lot of people.

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