On May 22, 2000, Perfect Dark became the most controversial video game ever published by Nintendo.  Considered the “Disney” of video game companies, a communication challenge was born by marketing their first “M” mature rated title.  Many industry insiders figured Nintendo’s main franchises being Pokémon and video games featuring characters such as Mario and Donkey Kong that Perfect Dark would not appeal to Nintendo’s target audience.  More importantly, unique aspects of the game such as animated violence and a rating of “M” would have parents shy away from the company they associate with video game material suitable for their children.  From a well-carved public relations plan, Nintendo conducted one of the most successful and responsible marketing campaigns in history.  In the end, the marketing of Perfect Dark received accolades from the U.S. government and the national media by marketing this game to the audience it was intended to reach.
Nintendo initially directed its internal marketing department, along with Golin/Harris International to conduct extensive research defining consumer attitudes and demographics toward this new game.  Perfect Dark was the first game from Nintendo to have an “M” rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), meaning the game is suitable only for those over the age of 18.  Extensive market analysis concluded that vast majorities of potential target sales base were under the age of 18 for Perfect Dark.  The research also identified an audience over the age of 18 was excited about the game, but the main challenge was to market responsibly to this audience, and not the audience under the age of 18.  In fact, many members of the hi-tech entertainment industry believed not exposing the under age demographics to Perfect Dark would hurt sales because the majority of video game players are under the age of 18.  With this knowledge, an this challenge upon us, we set out on an epic public relations adventure that would become one of the largest multi-faceted, and closely monitored marketing campaigns Nintendo had ever launched.
Our extensive research identified the following elements, each of which helped shape the planning process:
  • First “Mature” rated game Nintendo produced
  • Marketing Perfect Dark to a target audience of 18+ years and older
  • Challenge of introducing Perfect Dark, with a new character
  • Opportunity to market a female lead character to an industry dominated by male lead characters
  • First time for Nintendo to incorporate “experiential marketing” as a means to promote Perfect Dark
  • Opportunity to establish Perfect Dark as a new franchise for Nintendo
Communication Objectives:
  • Build early anticipation with consumers and retailers to generate product demand
  • Communicate to retailers the importance of selling the game only to those 18+
  • Generate media interest and gain extensive coverage, in mediums interested in demographics 18+
Target Audience (audiences defined by key research)
  • Over the age of 18: 32%; under the age of 18: 68%
  • Consumer and video game enthusiast media (print, radio, broadcast and online) targeting an audience 18+
  • Retailers
  • Phase I – Build anticipation by obtaining positive video game previews/reviews by key media outlets and consumer outlets reaching 18+
  • Phase II – Generate unequaled consumer excitement by implementing Nintendo’s first “experiential marketing” campaign
  • Phase III – Maintain momentum and interest in Perfect Dark after launch
Phase I – “Gamers’ Summit” – Perfect Dark Training Missions
The main purpose of the Summit was to give Nintendo's key media quality game play time with Perfect Dark before the game hit store shelves, as well as a number of other upcoming titles for N64 and Game Boy Color.  The event also gave media a chance to visit Nintendo's new development house, Nintendo Software Technologies Corp. (NST), along with access to the game designers, most importantly it gave Nintendo the chance to stress to the media this game was appropriate for an audience of 18 years of age an older.  Further, the Summit allowed media face-to-face meeting with Nintendo executives that also served as farewell to Howard Lincoln, chairman of Nintendo of America and an introduction of Mr. Arakawa, president of Nintendo of America.
Phase II – “Experiential Marketing” –Experiential Marketing Revelation Scenario:
Beginning with placing the sinister corporation in Perfect Dark, dataDyne, ads in major college newspapers for job opportunities, Nintendo’s first “experiential marketing” campaign was underway.  Golin/Harris recommended that Nintendo neither confirm nor deny involvement or knowledge of the ads.  Instead, Golin/Harris advise reporters “to stay tuned and see what happens.”  This strategy was based on two key factors:  game enthusiasts media and others covering the industry that had been exposed to the story line, both via articles and postings on developers’ web site and from direct game play at the Gamer’s Summit.  Secondly, by contacting Nintendo, the media outlets already knew, or at least had a strong feeling of Nintendo’s involvement.  A non-committal response was enough to merely peek their interest, without further compromising the program.   Game enthusiasts were brought into the unveiling program at our event in March at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Here Nintendo revealed the cinematic spot and commercial advertisement, shown only after 10 p.m. on network and cable TV and only at “R” rated movies, for Perfect Dark.  This allowed the media to cover the event, and support continued “sightings” on college campuses throughout the country.  The actress from the commercial who portrayed the video games heroine, Joanna Dark, was Nintendo’s guest of honor at the party, which was highlighted by an autograph and picture session.  Conducting a major college tour and having the unveiling program in Las Vegas supported what Nintendo claimed at the beginning of this campaign, to market Perfect Dark responsibly.
Phase III – “The Adventure Continues” -- No Time to Rest, Perfect Dark Has Gone Global
Due to the experiential marketing efforts, college outreach, and targeting the game to an audience of 18 and older, Perfect Dark debuted at #1 on the Toy Retail Sales Tracking Service (TRSTS) charts (video game industry equivalent of the “Billboard” charts for music), but we had to keep the momentum going.  Extensive media outreach continued with our dedicated media team pitching new Perfect Dark developments.  The accolade and praise Nintendo received for marketing this game correctly and in the most responsible manner was immeasurable and is another example of Nintendo’s commitment set forth the example and be the leader in the interactive entertainment industry.              However, reports surfaced that adult-oriented entertainment and “M” rated video games were being market to children under the age of 18.  We addressed the concerns of parents and the media by providing background and data that our marketing techniques were geared toward an audience of 18 and older.   We positioned this news to media and were successful in having a video game reported in the news as being marketed responsibly. We have also coordinated an ongoing Perfect Dark presence via online and radio promotions reaching key appropriate audiences in major markets around the country.
Golin/Harris successfully met and exceeded business and communications objectives with the following results:
Exceeded sales goals with more than 1.5 million units sold in five weeks; Perfect Dark remained the number one video game for nearly two months
Conducted a huge pre-sell program – nearly 200,000 sold by launch day
The agency secured more than 61 million print impressions between April 1 – August 31, 2000, including:
  Feature stories in leading print media, such as: The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Maxim Magazine:
  • Newsweek Magazine - “And as far as videogames go, Perfect Dark is in a league of its own.”
  • USA Today - “HHHH out of four.  Spectacular game play combined with superlative graphics and sound make Perfect Dark the best action game for the N64.”
  • Los Angeles Times – “Perfect Dark is the kind of digital adventure no rational action-loving should miss.”
  • Maxim Magazine - “HHHHH out of five,” “With cool options such as friend/foe identification and threat readings, plus the best graphics ever on an N64 game, good luck keeping Perfect Dark your little secret.”
  • Washington Post - “(Perfect Dark is) Action that hits its target.”
  • Chicago Tribune - “Perfect Dark, the highly anticipated follow-up to GoldenEye 007, has taken the first-person shooter to a new level and managed to breathe new life into the Nintendo 64 console.
  • Playboy Magazine – June 2000 “Game of the Month”
  • Product reviews and additional story angles about Perfect Dark experiential marketing campaign in: San Francisco Chronicle, St. Petersburg Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Seattle Times
Cover stories were secured in eight key enthusiast magazines, including: GamePro, Game Week, Gamer’s Republic and Next Generation
The Perfect Dark experiential marketing campaign generated approximately 35 broadcast placements in major markets, including: New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Detroit
For the first time, a video game was recognized for properly being marketed to the audience for whom it was intended.