Special Report: Sponsorship & Event Marketing: Mall tour boosted Nintendo game

We look at three events in which marketers have been able to enhance their image, sell more product and leverage their sponsorship budget through a tightly-focussed approach to event marketing. As one marketer put it, 'We only become involved in events...

We look at three events in which marketers have been able to enhance their image, sell more product and leverage their sponsorship budget through a tightly-focussed approach to event marketing. As one marketer put it, ‘We only become involved in events where we are the focus, where we are the excitementÉ.’ For more on event marketing, see our Event Marketing column by Michael Lang on page 16 in the Perspectives section.

Nintendo of Canada scored big with an integrated marketing program in support of the launch of its nhl Stanley Cup hockey video game, reaching 85% of its six-month sales projections in just six weeks.

Ron Bertram, marketing communications manager at Richmond, b.c.-based Nintendo, says the game, designed for the company’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System, sold 85,000 copies in the six weeks after its Nov. 10 launch, making it Nintendo’s fastest-selling game.

A key component of the marketing program, which included a tv commercial and events geared to the media, was an eight-city hockey-themed shopping mall tour.

In that tour, would-be players got to try out the licensed game for free on one of 15 Super Nintendo Entertainment System sampling stations.

As well, tour organizers employed a 6-foot x 8-foot monitor to showcase games between players, thereby allowing a greater number of spectators to be part of the action.

To emphasize the tie-in with the National Hockey League, the mall tours took place in the eight Canadian cities with an nhl team: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.

Each site on the tour included a hockey card display provided by Upper Deck Hockey Cards, a mannequin outfitted in top-of-the-line Bauer and Cooper brand hockey equipment, a photo display tracing the history of the Stanley Cup, provided by hockey historian Brian McFarlane, and several hockey-themed promotional videos.

As well, tour partners Upper Deck and Canstar provided hockey cards, hockey sticks, hockey bags and sports flasks to be used as prizes in daily round-robin video game competitions.

While the hockey memorabilia and the chance to win prizes no doubt helped lure nhl hopefuls to the mall, perhaps the biggest draw was the chance to meet local nhl players, such as Peter Zezel of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Claude Lapointe of the Quebec Nordiques, who made themselves available to sign autographs and play the video game against young challengers.

Once they had tried the game, players were directed to mall retailers that sold the product, as a way of boosting sales and generating goodwill among local retailers.

Bertram says Nintendo worked with the head offices of Consumers Distributing, Zellers, Canadian Tire, Toys ‘R Us and Kmart, among others, to ensure local store management knew about the tour and to offer them an opportunity to promote the game in-store.

The tour was also promoted in each city through radio station partners, several of which participated in live on-site broadcasts.

According to Bertram, one of the reasons sampling was crucial to the launch of the nhl Stanley Cup game was because it was considerably different than other video game releases in the hockey category.

Not only was it bilingual, making it particularly attractive to a Canadian audience, but it was the first hockey video game to use graphics that could give players an ice-level, over-the-shoulder perspective, as opposed to a view from the top of the stadium.

‘We knew if we could sample the game across the country, and get word-of-mouth going about how good this game was, it would sell a lot,’ Bertram says.

As well, he says, most players buy only two or three video games a year, so sampling helped to ensure the Stanley Cup game, which retails for $79.95, was top of mind during the all-important pre-Christmas season.

Carol Starr, an associate at Toronto-based Lang & Associates, the event marketing firm that organized the mall tour and arranged nhl player appearances, says more than 42,000 people sampled the game between Nov. 10 and Dec. 5, and thousands more were made aware of it during their visits to the mall.

‘The demand was exceeding supply in some cases,’ Starr says.

‘During the last two weeks of the tour, some of the retailers were complaining to our guys that they didn’t have enough product [to satisfy demand,]‘ she says.

Event marketing activities are an important part of Nintendo’s marketing strategy, says Bertram, who estimates his company spends a full 8% of its marketing budget on such programs as a means of generating trial among its primary target group, boys aged eight to 16.

Three years ago, for example, the company committed funds in the six-figure range to sponsor a permanent exhibit at Ontario Place, a waterfront tourist attraction in Toronto.

The Power Pod, which Bertram describes as ‘Nintendo nirvana’ allows video game afficionados to sample the latest Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Game boy releases in a high-tech setting.

While Bertram clearly believes in the potential of event marketing, he says he is discriminating with respect to the types of activities in which his company becomes involved.

‘We only become involved in events where we are the focus, where we are the excitement, where we are the reason for it,’ he says.

‘We don’t sponsor hockey teams, or soccer tournaments, or things like that. We have very focussed event spending.’

Asked how he measures the effectiveness of such activities, Bertram says he does so on cost-per-sample basis.

Having said that, however, he is not about to compare the relatively low per-sample cost of placing a sampling station in a high traffic area of Toronto’s Eaton Centre, to the more significant expense of a fully-integrated program.

‘To just stick a Super NES interactive in a mall and count the number of samples is not the type of positive imaging we would be after,’ Bertram says.

‘We are in the entertainment business,’ he says. ‘We are not out there to sample soup or Cheez Whiz.

‘When we sample, it has to be high energy, high excitement. That’s why we tie in the nhl players, that’s why we create sites like the Power Pod.’

‘It’s not just your typical `Go in and play a video game’. It’s an experience that you couldn’t get at home.’