Distinct marketing defines console battle

With consoles set to debut, Sony and Nintendo target different audiences using divergent marketing styles

With consoles set to debut, Sony and Nintendo target different audiences using divergent marketing styles

Consumers in the market for a new video game console this holiday season will have two new choices - the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii - unlike last year when Microsoft's new Xbox 360 console debuted alone.

Despite the likelihood that multiple choices may cause some indecision among buyers, the products are being marketed very differently and to disparate audiences, making this year's winner, much like a political campaign, a question of who can better energize their base. And while the PS3 is going after the more traditional gaming market, Nintendo is betting that its system will create video game enthusiasts rather than sell to existing ones.

The first major marketing difference is how the price point will affect uptake. The standard version of the PS3 will cost $600 when it becomes available November 17, while the Wii will retail at $250 starting November 19.

David Riley, senior marketing manager at NPD Group, says Nintendo and Sony are targeting different audiences with the new consoles.

He says Nintendo has done a good job of focusing on the nontraditional and non-hardcore gamers. "Sony and Microsoft tend to attract the more mature gamer," Riley explains. "But in terms of the marketing muscle, you can tell Nintendo has a well-rounded campaign targeting children, grandparents, mothers, and casual gamers, and you can tell by the product itself that's who they're targeting.

"That's not to say that a 5-year-old won't have a PS3," Riley adds.

One of the major buzz points of the Wii system is its remote control-like controller, which Riley thinks will attract a large audience. He notes that the gaming media first scoffed at the controller, "saying it would not work, [but] this past year [when people tested it], anyone who touched it could not put it down."

James Brightman, lead business editor of GameDaily.com, a division of AOL Games, says the controller is Nintendo's way of announcing, "This product is for everyone."

Conversely, PS3's system represents a continuation of the more traditional video game console market, targeting young male, 18- to 34-year-olds who love gadgets. Sony hopes the Blu-ray drive will draw the real technophiles, Brightman says. He adds that Sony's president has called the PS3 a supercomputer and said, in effect, "Don't dare call it a console"- it's more like a computer.

Brightman and Riley both agree Nintendo is making a genius move launching the newest version of the very popular Zelda game the same day as Wii.

"This is the first time we're seeing a Zelda game launched with a new console: brilliant, brilliant!" Brightman says. "It's a must-have title, and the [audience] has been waiting for it for years. And the fact they're able to keep consumers at bay because the title has been delayed for so long and then build up anticipation so close to the holidays is just good, smart marketing."

Nintendo, which currently sits in third place behind Sony and Microsoft in number of units sold, could use the hit. Its most recent system, GameCube, has sold more than 11.3 million units through September, trailing PlayStation 2 (more than 34.9 million units) and the original Xbox (nearly 14.5 million units). Xbox 360 has sold 2.7 million units since last year.

Nintendo's holiday success could also be influenced by Sony's manufacturing woes. Because of production problems centered on the PS3's Blu-ray technology, Sony could be facing a shortage fiasco similar to what Microsoft experienced last year.

Brightman says a shortage of diodes needed for the consoles is causing Sony to go to market in November with only 500,000 copies of the system. Of those, 400,000 will go to the US, and the remaining 100,000 to Japan - meaning there will be no PS3 consoles available in Europe this holiday season.

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