If you've seen any ads for Nintendo Switch, you might notice something peculiar: There are no kids in the trailer. Nintendo doesn't even seem to be marketing toward them at all. This is quite a change from Nintendo's family friendly image they've cultivated for years.
When Nintendo's first system came out in 1985, it was originally marketed toward children, which Nintendo kept as the target demographic for decades. There's clearly one demographic in mind for today's Switch: young adults, or the "Millennials."
What's so special about Millennials? They're the generation who grew up on those classic Nintendo consoles, and Nintendo is courting them again. They're at the age where many will be starting families and it seems like Nintendo wants to raise the new generation of gamers.
Inundated with video game systems all their lives, young adults are no stranger to the gaming world. Many spent their teenage and college years binging on video games for hours at a time. Xbox and PlayStation have long been the home of hardcore gamers, espousing the tech advancements with each subsequent console iteration.
Those teenagers who once had what seemed like unlimited free time have grown up. Responsibilities have taken over and they need a gaming platform that can fill in rather than dominate. The Wii U might have managed this because it didn't need to be on the TV. The Switch goes one step further with portability, allowing a seamless change between being home and on the go.
Nintendo is also shying away from traditional "gamers." Video games have held a stigma for a long time, never quite unable to shake the connotations with acts of violence or degenerate stereotypes. And even if you do get into gaming, you often run into "gatekeeping" (women especially), where you're not knowledgeable enough or hipster enough to be accepted. Heaven forbid you hopped on the bandwagon after it became popular.
Rather than court self-stylized "gamers," Nintendo is courting people who happen to play games and tapping into an ignored market. They're certainly not the first to realize the power of a new market, but few before have harnessed the full power of the strategy.
Gaming has changed quite a bit over the decades. Consoles flooded the market in the '80s, leading to the video game crash of 1983. Nintendo revolutionized gaming consoles by marketing the NES toward children instead of adults, which proved immensely popular. It was presented as a toy and found shelf space predominantly at places like Toys 'R Us.
Sega Genesis took this a step further, realizing that marketing to older children could be a better strategy since younger children are receptive to ads above their age range. They even incorporated this into their ads, depicting Nintendo for children in comparison to the better and more mature Genesis.
As the Genesis died out, Sony picked up the strategy, marketing the new PlayStation 1 to teenagers and young college students. This worked well for them, since they sold over three times as many units as the Nintendo 64.
Comics have also tried a similar strategy, but with more mixed results. During the '80s and '90s, Comics publishers realized their customer base of children from the '60s and '70s had grown up. As a result, stories became darker and more mature to appeal to the older fan base.
Over time comics became collectors items rather than just an entertainment medium and the market soon became oversaturated leading to a crash. Unfortunately, there was no new fanbase to pick it up the torch since kids had been largely ignored in favor of adults. Comics have since adjusted, trying to blend the markets more, especially with bringing superheroes to the forefront of entertainment via Disney and Marvel.
Disney has perhaps been the most successful at this strategy. Have you been paying attention to the live remakes lately? The same children who grew up with Nintendo consoles also grew up during the "Disney Renaissance" heyday; the time period of The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998).
Live remakes of classics like Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016) have already come out, with Beauty and the Beast (2017), Mulan (2018), and many more planned for the coming years. Disney is targeting that fanbase with their live remakes, and it's working superbly.
When the first Switch trailer came out, we saw something very specific: adults going about their daily lives. The Switch noticeably didn't tout its specs or hardware, a stark difference from the Xbox or PS4. There was no bragging about how many teraflops it can handle or how your human eyes can't process the glory of its 7K graphics.
It showed situations rather than numbers. It showed a lifestyle. It's portable so you can go places. It can hook up at home so you can game in comfort. The message shown is that Switch will exist within your busy life, not dominate it.
Most importantly, there were no children in the trailer. In subsequent images on the Switch's site, children have only been seen with adults. For a family-oriented company such as Nintendo, that's quite a departure. Nintendo has always marketed to children, believing they were the ones playing video games.
Nintendo also ran an ad during the Superbowl. Who's watching the Superbowl? Adults. This is huge. Nintendo so far has only ever advertised during children's programming and to advertise during something as big as the Superbowl where nearly every adult in the world is watching shows a definite change in strategy.
Another clue is their western choice of promoter: John Cena. If that's not marketed toward Millennials, I don't know what is. Few children will recognize his contributions in wrestling, but young adults will be very familiar with the memes that have popped up about him in internet culture.
Lastly, even the console itself has grown up. The cartoonish purple of the Gamecube has been discarded, the Wii U's blocky, Fisher Price-like exterior has vanished. Previous consoles were toys—the Switch is decidedly not.
The Nintendo Switch is sleek, matte, and dark grey, perfect to blend in with your other assortment tablets, Kindles, and smartphones. It has analogue controllers rather than all touchscreen, things that older gamers expect
Because retro is "cool." Look how much retro stuff is on eBay. The nostalgia for classic Nintendo is there. The NES Classic was hugely popular. Retro is cashing in lately: Power Rangers movie, Ghostbusters reboot, Disney live-action films. People have fond childhood memories and enjoy experiencing such things again.
Nintendo revolutionized the market by advertising to children, but the market has changed and adults make up most of the gaming community. People under 35 are the largest age group buying and playing video games. By marketing toward Millennials, not only is Nintendo able to tap into the largest demographic partaking in video games, but also a future generation of their children to grow up on the console.
Parents are a barrier. They control the money and have the purchasing power. Kids are more likely to be playing games on smartphones these days, and it's very easy for parents to just buy mobile games from app store. A console is a significant purchase, not even counting the games to keep up with it. You can market to kids, but parents have to like it too.
A large part of why my siblings and I had Disney movies, NES, and PlayStation 1 growing up was because my dad wanted them. Dad always got cool stuff "for the kids" that he inevitably ended up playing with too. If parents are interested, they're more likely to get it for their kids. Pixar has managed this with great success, marketing movies to children but also adding enough subtle adult humor to make it simultaneously entertaining for their parents to watch with them.
A Ripple Effect
Children love toys, but they also love to mimic their parents and do "grown up" things. They want to do what their parents are doing. Nintendo doesn't need to market to children if they're going to get the message anyway. Children are receptive to ads intended for older age ranges, whereas you'll be hard-pressed to find the opposite. Marketing too young alienates the older demographics, as Nintendo found with the Wii U. By skewing older, they include the rest by default.
Marketing toward parents is a brilliant idea. There's so much hype right now that, if anything, their downfall will be technical limitations. It's one thing to capture the attention of Millennials, Nintendo also needs to hold it. So far they've treated consoles as a toy aimed toward children, but the market has changed in favor of adults who need an adaptable product. The Switch's portability shows great promise, especially for parents always on the go.
One of the biggest hurdles to gaming or entertainment for adults is finding the time for it. With the Switch, Nintendo offers convenience and the ability to fit games in a modern life. If they can keep this momentum up, then they have a slam dunk on their hands.