The Brand Story of the Decade: Nintendo

This gaming brand soars not on high-tech promises, but on its commitment to straightforward fun.

My nominee for the brand story of the decade is Nintendo: a brand I have studied with a colleague, Professor Akutsu of Hitotsubashi University. The story of Nintendo’s astounding brand success is documented by BrandJapan, an annual survey, now in its tenth year, measuring the strength of over 1,000 brands in the Japanese market.

In the 2005 findings, Nintendo was ranked 135 in the survey. From that point on its status rose to 67 in 2006, to 7 in 2007, and finally to a number one position in 2008 and again in 2009. It fell in 2010 but still gained a place in the top 15.

In contrast, other brands had remarkably stable equity ratings. The products were clearly the drivers. Nintendo DS was a mega-hit, reaching its worldwide accumulated sales of 26.8 million units in less than two years after its December 2004 introduction. The Nintendo DS brand was so successful that it was a top-six brand in Japan in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Having a subbrand in the top six was unprecedented.

“Nintendo DS was a mega-hit, reaching its worldwide accumulated sales of 26.8 million units in less than two years.”

Then came Wii, a new form of a game that incorporated user movement into gaming allowing the user to dance, golf, box, play guitar, and on and on. Within a year after its introduction, it was already ranked a top 60 brand by the BrandJapan survey and in 2009 and 2010 it became a top 20 brand — meaning that out of 1,000 Japanese brands, three of the strongest were Nintendo brands.

A constant parade of branded features and new games provides ongoing energy and competitive advantage to both Wii and DS and the Nintendo brand. Four interrelated explanations reflecting both strategy and execution can be identified: A move away from competing on high technology.

Sony and Microsoft focused on graphics technology that appealed to the heavy users, namely young males. Nintendo, in contrast, reached back to their heritage as a simple toymaker and decided to focus instead on involvement and “fun” with products that were relatively low-tech. A different, broader target market. Nintendo decided to refocus the target population away from the hard-core young males who were into action games and high-quality graphics toward a broader audience.

One goal is to have the mom be a participant and an advocate rather than a cynic and opponent, hence a wide array of easy-to-use games including some that were learning vehicles. Another is to involve the whole family, so the games are not simply related to the boy’s interests. Instead of focusing on the heavy user and beating the competition, Nintendo defined new categories for which competitors were less relevant. A talented game developers group.

Nintendo was blessed with a talented group that was extremely good at creating games and had a track record of doing so over three decades. The new strategy liberated this group to be creative and fulfill its potential. Both DS and Wii had a host of games that connected with a wide range of family members. In fact, these Nintendo game titles created a new market categorized as “casual games,” a video game that requires fewer skills and less experience and is characterized by simple and intuitive rules.

A new CEO. At the outset of the strategy, a new CEO was brought in: a young, energetic, entrepreneurial person. With exceptional people and organizational skills, he was able to gain acceptance and excitement around the new strategy and marshal the talent needed to implement it. It all came together: a differentiated strategy, a new target market, supporting competencies, innovative offerings, an energized CEO and nearly flawless execution. All were needed. The result was an amazing brand story. What is your nominee for brand of the decade?

Nintendo’s done it again with PokemonGo, learn more about what augmented reality means for brands.


Amid the universe of devoted gamers who are passionate about their platforms, Nintendo wins with a steady stream of branded features and new games. And instead of competing on high tech, it revels in its heritage as a simple toy maker.

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