Last year, we got to see Pokémon’s first ever Super Bowl commercial, which hit aspiring trainers right in the nostalgia guts. Apparently the result was satisfying enough for the joint venture between Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures that Nintendo decided to take a stab at its own solo Super Bowl ad this year.
I talked a bit about Nintendo’s new console, the Switch, on this blog after its announcement last fall. Since then, many people have been eagerly waiting for the Switch’s release as well as the latest The Legend of Zelda title, which was featured in this ad as one of the console’s launch titles.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around Nintendo’s $5 million decision here. While, yes, the newest Nintendo console hits shelves next month, the commercial focuses more on Breath of the Wild, the aforementioned Zelda title. Usually brands are drawn to the Super Bowl for its massive reach, so it’s a bit odd Nintendo would use the platform in general due to its somewhat niche audience, and especially to focus on a specific game instead of its new console. The extended cut of the commercial below is much more along the lines of what I assumed was going to air. Much more console focused, it shows off all of the titles announced at the Switch’s launch presentation and more of the console’s features itself, like its multi-player capabilities and online support.
Of course, 30 seconds isn’t a lot of time, so the one title focus seems much more out of necessity and cohesiveness. And while not Nintendo’s usual flagship mustachioed mascot, Link is arguably the company’s second most recognizable character to push for mass awareness. (It also helps that he’s from the only returning franchise from the launch title lineup.)
Even so, it’s interesting to see Zelda as the focus. I know Zelda fanboys who will purchase the Swtich solely because of BotW, but it’s not just fanboys who watch the Super Bowl. How many of its 111.3 million viewers know what the Zelda franchise is? And even if they might have heard of it, were they able to recognize that BofW is a new Zelda before they tuned out? And did they understand that in order to play the game, they would have to purchase a new console? Although the Switch is shown throughout the commercial, many potential consumers may not understand that Nintendo is gearing up for a new product launch. After all, one of the major downfalls of the Wii U was the lack of awareness from consumers. By the end of the commercial, Nintendo risks retaining only people who already know of the Switch.
I’m also bummed about how tame the spot is. I talked about in my last Switch post how Nintendo is clearly lining themselves up for a more sophisticated millennial audience, but did the ad have to be so generic? It’s not that memorable since it feels like every other video game commercial I’ve seen for the past few years. White guy. Video game footage. More white guy. More footage. White guy smiles in a ‘I got this’ fashion. Cut to game title. Then console title.
Yawn. Been there, seen that. You paid 5 million bucks for this, Nintendo. Come on, you’re supposed to be the video game company willing to take creative risks. Although I do get your strategy for a new target market, it doesn’t mean your commercials have to be bland now. There’s still a set Super Bowl commercial culture you’re playing in. The audience doesn’t want to see commercials that are borderline basic- otherwise, what would make the Super Bowl different than any other live event? Viewers are staying glued to their seats to catch a unique experience and react to it in real time with friends, family, and even internet strangers. They expect that not only from the game itself, but the commercials. That’s why Super Bowl spots cost so much- there’s no other situation where advertisers will find an audience that wants to watch ads. With a such a lackluster spot, I think Nintendo ruined their opportunity of creating a truly memorable experience to gain potential consumers.
Nintendo’s entering make or break territory next month. With their latest console being a commercial flop, there’s more pressure than ever for the Swtich and BotW to be massive hits. It’s crunch time. Maybe that’s why they pulled out all the stops with their advertising budget. But whether or not this spot helped generate interest among new purchasers and not just avid Nintendo fans, it’s hard to say.
But, at the end of the day, will it even matter? It’s no news that Nintendo has stock problems. Their last two product launches, amiibo figures and the NES mini, have caused black markets due to limited quantities. So here’s hoping that come March, we’re all not witnesses to Nintendo shooting itself in the foot. Again.