Campaigns: Product Launch: Nintendo returns to the games war

Client: THE Games, Nintendo’s exclusive UK distributor

Client: THE Games, Nintendo’s exclusive UK distributor

PR Team: Harvard PR

Campaign: Launch of Nintendo 64 video games console

Timescale: March 1996 to 1 March 1997 launch and ongoing

Cost: Undisclosed

With no new hardware since April 1992, Nintendo was steadily losing

market share to Sony and Sega and all was quiet on the games war


The arrival of Nintendo 64 was set to change that. Pushing graphics into

a new era, the N64 is the world’s first console featuring 64-bit

processing power, leapfrogging competing systems and carrying the

highest price tag yet. A simultaneous US and European launch was

originally planned for September 1996, and the many delays did much to

fuel the hype surrounding the machine.


To achieve positive national press coverage in support of the launch,

maximising pre-awareness of the N64, and countering media cynicism over

launch delays.


The main bulk of the build up was PR and the team focused on the

traditional brand values of Nintendo and Mario to target loyal game


The limited number of N64s available (20,000) was publicised as a

shortage situation to focus press and consumer interest. In the three

months before the launch the team first toured lifestyle glossies such

as Loaded, FHM, Time Out, Smash Hits, then took the N64 to the national

press ten days before the launch.

Immediately pre-launch and ongoing, protesting lack of product

availability, the N64 was placed on loan for strictly monitored periods

with key media such as Live and Kicking, Scratchy and Co, Capital Radio,

Radio 1 and Radio 5 Live.

The Mirror was chosen for the only competition with a Nintendo

interactive in-store display unit as a prize. A press and celebrity

launch party was held at Riverside Studios on 28 February. The launch,

hosted by Bob Monkhouse, had a distinct New Year’s flavour, with a

countdown to the official unveiling at midnight.

A tactical price cut of 35 per cent on the PlayStation, announced by

Sony on the eve of the N64 launch, was not unexpected. A response

statement holding on price and superior quality was released.


The N64 launch in March recieved 70 pieces of coverage in the national

press and featured in over 50 consumer and lifestyle titles.

Regional newspapers carried pictures of launch day queues. The message

that ’the best is worth waiting for’ was widely taken up.

Broadcast coverage included slots on BBC Breakfast News and regional

news, Sky News, Radio Five Live and children’s television including Live

and Kicking on the day of the launch.

The Mirror received over 60,000 entries to the competition, making it

one of its most successful ever.

The first 20,000 N64s in the UK were sold within 48 hours of arrival on

the high street. Total sales for the first five weeks were over


Seasoned game players behaved predictably. Quentin Cooper, presenter of

Radio Five’s Big Byte, said: ’I was amazed at the number of kids who

were off to buy their own.’

Alexander Fitzgibbons of THE games praised the Harvard team. ’PR is

crucial in this industry and the results exceeded our expectations.

We’ve won the launch battle, but it’s just the beginning.’

Exposure for the games industry during the N64 launch reached new


Stuart Dinsey, editor of Computer Trade Weekly, said: ’The coverage was

tremendous and you knew it’d arrived. But with Sony’s PlayStation now

geared up for a mass market year, Nintendo has a lot to do.’


Sony’s high profile PlayStation launch 18 months ago also opened up a

new, maturer market on which Harvard could capitalise without taking any

costly PR risks. With a smaller budget they offered fewer stunts, but

the methodical grass roots tactics paid off and the team achieved a

sell-out situation, clearing the first hurdle with ease.

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