Founded in July of 2006, Nintendo of Korea has faced an uphill battle since its inception. A notoriously difficult market for non-PC games and platforms, Korea presented a great many challenges to the company, not the least of which was the widespread prevalence of piracy.
An even bigger challenge for Nintendo, however, was the lack of any previous presence in the country, or any significant base of loyal fans. A good number of young people could identify Mario and Pikachu, but there was no real connection to Nintendo itself. NOK, therefore, had to start from scratch.
Living in Seoul over the past decade, I've been able to observe firsthand the ups and downs of the current generation, and in large part, things have not been pretty.
Microsoft started with a strong marketing push for the Xbox 360 in early 2006, but the platform was met with a lukewarm reception outside of the hardcore crowd. Soon, demo kiosks at big box retailers were the console's only major remaining source of visibility -- a fact which continues to hold true today.
On Sony's end, the PSP has been a steady success since its release in mid-2005, but after the initial well-executed advertising push, marketing visibility in the real world has been virtually non-existent.
Likewise, the PlayStation 3, launched in mid-2007, was marked by an early advertising campaign that reached the masses, but ever since has been all but invisible, much like the Xbox 360 before it. PS3 demo kiosks are generally harder to find than their Microsoft counterparts, as well.
In the eyes of the public, then, the pattern that emerged from both Sony and Microsoft suggested that they had quickly given up on the mainstream Korean market, evidently seeing little further hope for it in this generation. Systems are certainly available on retail shelves, but they feel decidedly neglected -- even abandoned.
Nintendo, on the other hand, has forged out for itself a very different path in Korea. The success of DS in the country has been well documented, and Wii, while not a DS-level phenomenon, has made significant inroads into the Korean living room since its launch in mid-2008.
That's not to say that NOK has had an easy go of things. Korea remains as difficult a market as it's ever been for non-PC games, and the massive prevalence of piracy has proven to be a major obstacle for the company.
In spite of these difficulties, however, Nintendo of Korea has shown an unmatched dedication to the market since day one, and this has proven to be its main point of differentiation from competitors.
Starting with the launch of the DS lite, all of Nintendo's advertising has been consistent, unified, and tasteful, and most sigificantly, it's been visible everywhere -- on TV, in magazines, on the internet, and in the real world.
Na-young Lee, one of the first stars of Nintendo's ads in Korea.
Nintendo and its products were suddenly plastered in the faces of a people who had never been exposed to them before, and they responded positively. The uniform nature of the ads made them recognizable immediately, featuring some of Korea's most popular celebrities in ways that came across as natural, not forced.
Most importantly, visibility has never tailed off in the slightest -- the same intensity that accompanied the DS Lite's launch at the outset of 2007 is still in force today. In short, Nintendo came out firing on all cylinders, and has maintained a sort of omnipresence in Korea ever since, despite the fact that the obstacle-ridden market is nowhere near as fertile as those of other major territories.