C-E: So you are the only American at NOE I heard?
Yeah, it is a good opportunity. Nintendo moves a lot of people from Japan throughout the subsidiaries, but they haven't done a lot of sharing between the subsidiaries. I think a lot of us Americans believe they understand Europe. But as you know, PAN-Europe is a place that exists only on PowerPoint slides. There is really no such thing. It has been a very educational process for me.
C-E: What do you exactly do at Nintendo now, and what is your history with the company?
I have been with Nintendo for about 10 years. I started there as Software-Engineering Manager. I was Technical Director for Nintendo of America, and we coordinated the developer support programs for Virtual Boy and SNES. And I was part of the development of the N64, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance. Then, most recently for Nintendo of America, I worked at a position that always puts a smile on people's faces: Director Network Marketing, which was for online gaming. Everybody asks where Nintendo is with online gaming. And it is not for a lack of interest, effort, or technology. We just don't think the market is there yet. So… [laughs]… I was the head of a department in which we spent a lot of time developing and researching and came to the same conclusion - that it was not yet time… for Nintendo anyway. And I have been here, in Europe, for the last year as the director of Marketing!
C-E: Does this mean all the PAN-European marketing campaigns go through you?
Yes. Essentially the role of NOE is to develop a strategy for how we will position and market a product in Europe. But as you know every market is different. They all have a local implementation. Some markets might do TV, some might do radio, some might do heavier on print, etc. We try to collect all the materials and produce a common creative like the GBA SP campaign, for example, with the "for men" black and white stylish look. It was executed very differently in different markets. Some markets did a lot of cinema, some did outdoor, and some did print. But the direction of strategy comes from here.
C-E: There has been a lot of criticism on the European marketing strategy. How do you sleep at night?
Criticizing marketing is a pastime for everybody, right? We are all experts of marketing. We are all consumers of marketing every day in our lives, so we are all experts. I think there has been some great advertising done by NOE, and I think there has been some mediocre advertising done by NOE. It varies; everybody has his opinion. And a lot of advertising and marketing is about emotion. If it elicits an emotional response from you, this is what we are really looking for. And to inform the consumer about a game is a subordinate role of advertising. If they want information about a game, they will come to you. It is not the role of advertising to inform the consumer. It is the role of advertising to excite the consumer to generate a curiosity and a call to action. And you can do that in a number of different ways. Sometimes it means doing something that is taking a risk. Some might not work in the eyes of the consumer or regulatory agencies who decide we have ventured too far down one direction or the other. It is an art and not a science. And you are bound to get some things that are good and some things that are bad.
C-E: In the eyes of the consumers, Sony and Microsoft are the more aggressive advertisers. NOE seems to be a bit more laid-back, right?
Microsoft has something to prove. They spend considerably more money than everybody else. Are they efficient in their spending? I don't think so. They are highly visible, but it hasn't really changed your perception of Microsoft or the Xbox. They are the new player and they need to buy credibility and their way into the marketplace. But in a way it is difficult to make comparisons. Everybody has a different business model and agenda. And Nintendo's are not the same as Microsoft's or Sony's. We will do what is appropriate to support our business.
C-E: Have you got any big marketing plans for the holiday season?
Right now, everything we are doing for the holiday season is pretty much in play. Mario Kart with the Zelda Collector's Edition bonus disc was a major thrust! There are a couple of different promotions running around with that disc in the different markets. In the UK, for example, you can receive the disc in the bundle pack if you buy Mario Kart with a GameCube. And in some of the other markets like France or Belgium, you can use the "two of three" promotion. This means, if you buy two out of Nintendo's three major holiday releases for the GameCube - 1080, Mario Party 5, and Mario Kart - you will automatically receive the bonus disc. Then we have also put a bunch of them in the Stars Catalogue on the "Mothership", and they are for existing loyal customers to provide something for them as well. You can always buy the new hardware bundle of course.
C-E: What is your favourite advertising channel to promote the Nintendo products?
We are very much driven on a product-by-product basis. We don't do the same campaign for each product. It varies and depends on what it is. For the GBA SP, for example, we almost only did outdoor and very little TV. I think with hardware you can get away with that. For software… I would like to see it. It is interactive and I would like to see it on TV. To be honest, this time of the year, media is very expensive. The media for the older target audience, for let's say, the 14-24 year old consumer is very, very expensive this time of the year. Kids media is also more expensive than it is normally, but considerably less expensive. We are probably more likely to go on TV with kids advertising. And focus on gaming and specialist press for an older demographic game.
C-E: So money is the biggest barrier for advertising for NOE?
No. We'll do what we think is right. We decide how we think we should market this product and we will determine the budget from that. It is not the other way around. But Nintendo is a fiscally conservative company, and that is one of the reasons that Nintendo, until just this last announcement, had never forecast a loss since it was listed on the Nikkei in the sixties. This is an immensely profitable company and its actions like this are why. You can't compare it with something like Xbox, which just bleeds money in everything that they do. Profit is just not part of their current business model.
C-E: Not yet at least…
Yeah. I don't know how long they can sustain it [laughs] but it must be an interesting process. We actually have quite a lot of friends who work at Xbox. When they started that division, it was across the street from Nintendo of America. They knew where to go to recruit. A lot of former-Nintendo employees are in the Xbox group. So we still keep in contact with them… it is interesting. It is a friendly cooperation/competition.
C-E: Regarding the advertising, I have always believed that the GBA SP and GameCube campaigns were handled by a different division because of the big difference in style, and sometimes quality. Is this the case?
Both are handled by the same European marketing division. However, we do have two different brand managers who implement different brand strategies. Someone has to take ownership of the brand and feel personally responsible and invest in maintaining the continuity for that product. And we do this by Game Boy and by GameCube. This is something different than what happens in NOA and NCL. This is unique to the European market. And I do think that that brand guardianship is important to maintain continuity. You see with the GBA SP this year that we have used the SP as a foil as a way to advertise some of the games. With Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or Golden Sun, for example, we use the SP itself to convey some message about the game.
C-E: We hear a lot of fun reactions from the GBA commercials, but not as much from the GameCube ones. What is your personal view on the difference between the GBA and GameCube campaigns?
They are being prepared by the same advertising agency, just under different leadership from within this team here. You know, I think it varies. GameCube is in a very competitive market space, where the positioning and perception of the product is constantly being challenged by our competitors. Game Boy does not have that same situation. There is the N-Gage, but that hasn't really manifested itself that much yet. There is the PSP on the horizon. And there are some other handheld systems. The current situation with Game Boy is that we can pull off almost anything. And how we present it is accepted by the consumer because it doesn’t have a competitive position. However, that may change in the next couple of years. We will see. Like everybody else, we are very interested to see what the PSP turns out to be. Will it be a tremendously expensive product, or will it come in to be a competitive console? Who knows? I read all the same websites you do.
C-E: What was your biggest shock when you transferred to Europe regarding the cultural acceptance of marketing campaigns?
Probably my biggest shock was the overall complexity of the European market. The different lead times, the different regulatory agencies, the different types of media that are available in different markets and how they are utilised. I had an overly simplistic view of Europe, I think, which is probably shared by many people outside Europe.
C-E: What is the ideal you want to accomplish in your current function?
There are a lot of things we are trying to do at one time. Nintendo is becoming a more global company. The real evidence of that is that you are seeing more simultaneous product launches. Mario Kart only launched in Europe a few days after the launch in Japan, and I think even a day ahead of the release in the US. For years and years the tradition has always been you launch something in Japan, then you launch it in the US, and then you start localizing it for Europe in five languages and it comes out like six months later. We are really trying to get away from that. And that requires a tremendous amount of global coordination. It is about thinking globally and act locally. Develop a strategy, communicate, work together, but implement it locally. The same thing is true within Europe. Well, we set the strategy centrally here for what we think is the key selling points of a game and how we want the tonality of communication to be. It is up to the local markets to actually implement that and make it work. And the local markets are free to make their own advertising if they have another idea or if there is an event they want to tie into. Of course they can do that, and our job at NOE is to facilitate that - to give them tools, resources, and the support to make them do it.
C-E: The console wars are fierce in Europe and the rest of the world. Are you hoping to still make a difference for Nintendo?
Oh yeah! I get great entertainment out of reading articles predicting the demise of Nintendo. Nintendo is, if nothing else, a stubborn company. We haven't changed our ways in many years and to predict the death of Nintendo is naïve. We have been in this situation before. I mean, in the 16-bit generation, the SEGA Genesis got an early start and people started predicting Nintendo was going to die. But by the end of that generation, we had passed them in overall sales and revenue. It was really the beginning of the end for SEGA, because they over-extended themselves and they incurred debt that they were never able to recover from. Nintendo is by no means done on this generation of hardware! We will continue to pursue it and continue to produce the key software titles, because that is really what it is about. It seems odd for somebody with an engineering background to say it is not about technology, but it is about entertainment. Technology changes so rapidly that you are the hot processor of the week, or the graphics chip of the month, and beyond that is still comes down to the creativity. And that has been Nintendo's strength, which isn't changing.
C-E: Are there final words you would like to share with the European Nintendo fans? Can you calm them down and stop them criticizing NOE?
[laughs] No, actually I would not ask them to stop criticizing us. Feedback from the consumer is absolutely important and valid. And I know that some people think Nintendo is not listening or not reacting, but that certainly is not the case. Like any big organization, we don't act as quickly as people would like, but dialogue is great. I love it! I hang out in the forums. I read what people say on our website and other websites, and I do take it to heart.
Thanks for your time!