Why U?

At this year’s E3 conference, Nintendo announced its new Wii U console. Nintendo’s presentation focused heavily on the new controller, the unique feature of which is a 6.2 inch touchscreen. Because of this, the presentation caused confusion – was this a new console or just an add-on for the existing Wii? Two days after the unveiling, Nintendo’s share price had fallen by 10%.

It’s not just heavy promotion of the controller over the new box under the TV that could cause Nintendo problems. The Wii U brand in general seems flawed. Here’s why.

‘We’ and ‘You’ don’t mix

The name ‘Wii’ was chosen to evoke the word ‘We’ – it was a console that was accessible to everyone, a console that people could play on together. A group of four could gather around with the TV with their Wii Remotes, with the intuitive motion controls providing a relatively level playing field. Now Nintendo have added a ‘U’ into the mix, a play on the word ‘You’. The new console is all about the experience of the individual – you can continue to play your game on the controller’s screen while someone is watching the TV (essentially allowing you to separate yourself from the other person while still being physically in their company) and, at the moment at least, only one Wii U controller can link to the box (which limits multiplayer as only one person can use a Wii U controller with its unique new features). So, the new brand ‘Wii U’ combines ‘We’ – the idea of having a communal gaming experience – and ‘You’ – the idea of having an individual gaming experience. These are two mutually exclusive things. ‘Wii U’ sends out a confusing message to consumers – there’s a major conflict within the brand itself.

There are problems with sticking an extra bit on ‘Wii’

There are already a range of Nintendo products that take the name ‘Wii’ and add something to the end. There are peripherals such as the Wii Balance Board and Wii Speak. There’s an entire series of software, containing high-profile titles such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit. Adding a ‘U’ to the name doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers will look at it and associate it with an exciting and entirely new console experience. In addition, the ‘U’ looks like superscript in the logo. It looks peripheral rather than a core part of the logo. Will the Wii U branding drive home the message that this is a new and original experience? I’m not convinced it will.

A promotional image of the Wii U controller with a finger pointing at the 'U' in the logo.

"What's this little thing?"

Nintendo consoles based on existing brands don’t sell as well as the original

The original Game Boy family of portable consoles sold 118.69 million units. The Game Boy Advance family sold 81.51 million units. (And the Virtual Boy sold less than a million units, although that was clearly down to more than just branding.) Even the popular SNES console’s sales (49.10 million units) couldn’t beat those of the original NES (61.91 million units). The new Nintendo 3DS, an attempt to build on the success of the original Nintendo DS, is about to have a price cut due to disappointing sales. Nintendo DS and Wii were new brands and were extremely successful. Perhaps it’s more difficult to get consumers to appreciate the unique selling points of your wares when they’re saddled with old branding.

The 3DS is currently floundering. The success of Wii U is far from certain. It will be interesting to see if Nintendo’s new console can rise above its current issues to become a success.

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