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
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
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.