Aaron McKenna: A Wii bit more attention for Nintendo

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Aaron McKenna: A Wii bit more attention for Nintendo

Branding explains itself, when it’s done well. When it’s not, consumers simply won’t listen to anything else, choosing to mock you rather than take heed.

When Nintendo announced that the perfectly serviceable name of its upcoming console, the “Revolution,” is to be changed to “Wii,” many on the Internet at first thought it a bit of a joke – one of those pranks that starts in a blog, and ends up having spread to every tech news organization on the globe before it can be stopped.

Apparently not, and now Wii is the new Revolution, more of a whimper than a bang. At first, I too joined in the parade of, shall we say, piddling jokes about the Wii. Sure, it’s pronounced “we,” but with that extra “i” in there it looks more like “wee.” Granted, some are saying “Wii” is controversial mainly in the English-speaking world (the Japanese can’t even pronounce it); in France, for instance, it’s a homonym for oui (yes).

But the upcoming E3 Expo plays mostly to an English-speaking crowd, even though it’s an international event. And even from an international perspective, Nintendo’s choice seems a tad stupid: Although the name “Revolution” may be a codename, so was “Tank;” and as in that case, once a name gains currency, why change it? Even if Nintendo had chosen something poetic, smelling of roses or laced with lyricism, the move would be seen as something of a faux pas.

Nintendo explained the name change with more than a modicum of bull about how it highlights the inclusive nature of the console (“we” as in “us”), and also how the logo for the term itself recalls the innovative shape of its new controller…once you remove the “i.” Quite apart from the fact that this sounds like a hastily thought up excuse for having done something naughty by a bunch of school kids, there is also the unsettling realization that Nintendo felt it had to explain all this up front in the first place.

Think of “Xbox,” “PlayStation,” “Dreamcast”…heck, think of “Revolution.” Nobody had to explain these terms to anyone, even though technically the Xbox could just as easily have been a funny type of packaging. The moment you have to begin to explain your branding in pedantic detail – which Nintendo is doing through both its spokespeople and its promotional material – you’re screwed. If you’re going to make your customers stop and think, it should be for a clever reason. Sony, for instance, made waves with its PlayStation Portable advertising, with phrases like, “Your girlfriends white bits here;” and although it made everyone scratch their heads, that was half the point.

On the other hand, this is the point of the discussion where I start to ponder, suppose Nintendo is smarter than all of us. It’s just over a week to E3, where Sony fans will be all giddy and running around like they have a Blu-ray chasing their tails. Amid all this, Nintendo announces a name change which is not only interesting, but controversial. You can’t not notice it. Essentially, Nintendo steals more than a wee bit of Sony’s thunder. Then, post-E3, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo steals it back again, saying either, “It was all a big laugh…” or, in a more straight-faced manner, “We’ve listened to customer feedback…” and change the name back to Revolution. All right, so that’s one of those “grassy knoll” conspiracy theories, but they’d get double their monies worth and finish up with more attention than what they started with, so I’d do it.

However stupid the name might be, this stupidity is generating a huge amount of PR for a brand that was fading into non-existence prior to now. Tell me, who had the “Revolution” on the top of their go-to list at E3, at this time last week? 

As Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” So, the Nintendo Wii: Crazy on the outside, ultimately self-defeating in the end? Maybe, but we’re talking about it now, aren’t we?