Last night, an Australian TV commercial for the Wii U came on. My wife looked at it, then at me, then back at it, then at our Wii, before finally asking "wait, don't we have a Wii? What's this?"
While a single anecdote, it sums up my biggest concern for Nintendo's new console, at least in its early months: its message. Its marketing. A console's capabilities and even its software are irrelevant if it's not sold properly, and where the Wii was clearly sold as a new, revolutionary device, Nintendo's messaging for the Wii U has been a bit of a mess, one that starts from the very top. With its name.
By calling it the Wii U, and not the Wii 2 (or an entirely different thing), and by using old Wii Remotes in much of its advertising, Nintendo has failed to differentiate the product from its predecessor. At least at a glance. Now, my wife, she was quickly informed that, no, this is a new console, like how the PS3 followed the PS2. But not everyone is going to have someone "in the know" sitting next to them to explain the difference when they first come across the system.
Which is leading, as we've found, to a lot of people having no idea what the hell a Wii U is. Like Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States.
We had a bit of a chuckle about that yesterday, but even the most casual search on Twitter shows she's far from alone. While the word "Wii" is almost universally recognised after a six-year run as one of the hottest consoles of all time, with near-unprecedented mainstream appeal, "Wii U" seems to have some folks awfully confused.
What the heck is a wii u?? I'm so confused.— Kristina B (@junebugkb11) November 22, 2012
wtf is a wii u? what happened to just the wii??— Missy~! ☆彡 (@missymise) November 22, 2012
Just saw a Wii U advert. One of the "what is a Wii U" ones. Had to explain what it was to the wife. Good work Nintendo.— Mutt (@ps3mutt) November 25, 2012
Logan was talking about the new "Wii-U". Mom asked, "What is a "Wii-U"?". Dad replied, "It is like P-U, but we all do it together."#loveem— Hannah Clark (@HannahClark0624) November 24, 2012
What the fuck is a Wii U ?— Casmere Taylor (@FreshLoudOut) November 22, 2012
the wii u has been floating around for quite a while now and i still dont know what it actually is— chili (@mechoniscore) November 24, 2012
I asked my son if any of his friends want a Wii U. He said they don’t know what it is. That’s a problem @nintendoamerica— Jim Barraud (@jbarraud) November 28, 2012
No matter how many of my Mentalist powers I use, I still can't figure out what a Wii U is supposed to be.— Erik Dobell (@erikdobell) November 28, 2012
I thought Wii U was just an extra thing for the Wii, but no, it's a completely different console. What is actually the point?— Eilidh Mercury ♥ ♫ (@curlybobofelia) November 28, 2012
A Nintendo ad popped on an displayed, "What is Wii U?" Then 3 actors waggled Wii remotes and 1 had the controller. Didn't explain fuck all!— Neil Nightingale (@LemonPeel88) November 28, 2012
It's easy to laugh, as readers of a video game news website, but put yourself in their shoes. You're up to your neck in news and information about video games, of course you know what a Wii U is. But if you're just some regular user, a casual player, and you own a Wii then see a commercial where people are still using Wii Remotes but on a different box that's got kinda the same name, what are you going to think?
Well, you're going to think a lot like these folks are thinking.
Now, this won't be a long-term issue for Nintendo. In 12-24 months, after enough market penetration and advertising, I'm sure most people will have an idea what the new console is all about. But boy, I bet that right now, someone at Nintendo is wishing they'd gone with a different name.