Mario’s Canadian Karting Day was not a typical launch event – for one thing, it was held the day after Mario Kart 8 launched. But more unusual was how the day’s main focus wasn’t showing off the game.
Nintendo held two simultaneous events in Montreal and Toronto on May 31, where the first 500 attendees had the chance to go-kart for free. The game itself was on display, but it clearly wasn’t the main attraction. Matt Ryan, Communications Manager for Nintendo Canada, said they held this type of event to give the fans a good time.
“It’s really about the smiles on people’s faces. And seeing the kids dressed up and so happy. And seeing the veteran Mario and Nintendo fans come out and enjoy this.”
Instead of directly pushing the game, the goal was to create a memorable experience for fans. That focus is what made the event a marketing success.
The hashtag #IJustKarted was set up to encourage fans to talk about the experience. Nintendo even helped provide some material to get people started posting: a photo booth where attendees had their pictures taken and superimposed on some artwork for the game. A contest tasked fans with posting those pictures to Twitter for a chance to be featured on Nintendo’s Facebook page.
This kind of campaign is refreshing considering how social media is typically used. Too often, social media campaigns end up feeling like nothing more than cheap promotion. According to Forbes’ 2014 list of social media tips, a campaign should do more than just promote a product.
“It’s pretty obvious why a business is on social media: To improve sales, whether directly or through building customer relationships (which will hopefully lead to more sales). However, this isn’t a direct sales platform so don’t treat it that way. Instead, foster relationships…"
The hashtag and photo contest were appropriate because the karting day was an event that people wanted to tell their friends about. And Mario Kart is the type of franchise that carries a lot of nostalgia for many dedicated fans.
Matt Ryan said the goal is always to harness the energy of those people.
“As a marketing team, we’re constantly thinking about ways that we can get our fans together. The power in numbers of our Mario fans, or Zelda fans, or Pokemon fans, is huge. So anytime we can find a way to celebrate that, we want to bring that back to the fans.”
Similar to the “market mavens” Malcolm Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, those dedicated Nintendo fans are the kinds of people who are likely to tell their friends about Mario Kart.
“If there was a breakthrough new [product] and you were a friend, you can bet you would hear all about it quickly. Mavens have the knowledge and the social skills to start word-of mouth epidemics.”
The karting day gave those diehard fans a good reason to bring up Mario Kart in conversation with their friends. The day offered much more than a typical launch event, the social media campaign was smartly designed, and many fans will have long-lasting memories of the experience.
It’s worthwhile to try to take lessons from Nintendo’s clever marketing strategies, as they undoubtedly played some part in the success of Mario Kart 8. Following the Wii U’s disappointing launch, some have now suggested that Mario Kart will be the console’s savior. The game has now sold over 2 million units, within a month of release.
Here's a video of the event I shot for Gamefocus.ca