The Visual Rhetoric of Nintendo Advertisements By: Nathan Rockershousen

Introduction

Nintendo has been a dominant player in the video game market since the late 1980s. They have produced a wide range of video game consoles throughout their history. Every time a new system is released, Nintendo produces a range of televised advertisements that are aimed to capture the attention of their target audience. In each of these ads, specific visual elements are used to establish a rhetorical argument in order to persuade viewers to purchase the system.

Rhetorical Toolkit

I will be analyzing five Nintendo launch advertisements in order to see how effective they are at reaching the audience through visual arguments. This analysis will be done through the lens of Aristotle's Rhetorical appeals. The following definitions were the baseline for my rhetorical analysis:

  • Ethos: the speaker's power of showing personal character, which will make his speech credible (Roberts 7).
  • Pathos: his power of stirring the emotions of his hearers (Roberts 7).
  • Logos: his power of proving a truth, or an apparent truth, through the use of persuasive arguments (Roberts 7).

Target Audience

The audience for Nintendo has stayed relatively consistent throughout the creation of various home gaming consoles. The target audience for Nintendo consists of younger demographic, mainly teenagers and families (Kirriemuir 240). There have been fluctuations over time due to the competitive nature of the market, meaning there are slight changes from generation to generation. Nintendo has also had a reputation for promoting casual gaming, which works to reinforce their target audience of teenagers and families. The Nintendo advertisements follow a similar formula in which they are either very edgy and modern, or include parents and children playing games together on their Nintendo console. In some instances, the juxtaposition of both elements is included.

Nintendo 64

The Nintendo 64 (N64) was one of the first systems created by Nintendo. It was released in 1996 to compete with the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. In a scholarly article titled, The Console Market, researchers found that the Sony Playstation was the best-selling console (Kirriemuir 241). However, out of all of the systems in this generation, the N64 had the lowest total amount of sales. Part of the reason for this can be attributed to the advertisements that were used.

The target audience for the N64 was clearly a younger demographic. In all of the ads for this system, kids and teenagers are the only real people shown outside of the gameplay. The Aristotelian appeals are a helpful toolkit for showing how effective Nintendo was at reaching this audience with visual arguments.

Pathos

This is arguably the most prominent appeal in the N64 advertisement. An emotional reaction is trying to be instilled in viewers by using a lot of action shots. All of the game play that is shown is in very action-packed moments full of explosions, racing, and sports. The ad also depicts a military looking radar with an N64 getting closer and closer. There are also snippets of teenagers wearing sunglasses and sitting in cars intertwined with the radar to imply that it is something that these kids should be excited about.

Nintendo 64 Advert. Nintendo, 1997. Web

Logos

Logos is used to provide a reason to purchase the system for its capabilities, not just because it looks cool. Key features such as real-time 3D, 4 player adapters, and rumble packs are emphasized to show how this system is technologically advanced. The end of the ad has text saying “The fastest most powerful games console on Earth,” which says the viewer should buy it because of its technological capabilities. These are some of the only moments text are used in the ad.

Nintendo 64 Advert. Nintendo, 1997. Web

Ethos

Credibility isn’t really emphasized in this ad besides showing the Nintendo logo. The actual company brand had gained some traction before the N64 was released because the NES and SNES predated this system, and they were fairly successful. Showing that this is a Nintendo product is primarily the only way they establish credibility. However, this is a very small reference to their brand, demonstrating that credibility wasn't a main concern.

Effectiveness

Even though the sales don’t support it, this advertisement was appropriately tailored to the target audience. Pathos and logos were accurately targeted for the intended audience of children and teenagers. Nintendo portrayed the system as a cool and technologically advanced system that teenagers need to have. They did this by only featuring people of that demographic and by using text to highlight their advanced technology.

GameCube

The Sony Playstation outsold the N64 by a substantial margin. In 2001, Nintendo attempted to improve their sales with the creation of the GameCube. This system had more powerful specs than its competitors at the time, which were the Xbox and Playstation2. The GameCube can be considered an outlier when it came to Nintendo’s marketing plan.

Sony had success targeting teenagers and young adults in their ads, and Nintendo tried to mimic this success within the ads for the GameCube. Most of the previous and future ads for Nintendo consoles are very family friendly and light hearted. The GameCube commercials are much edgier and abstract in comparison to their other ads.

Nintendo GameCube Commercial. Nintendo, 2001. Web.

Pathos

The emotional appeal is the biggest focus in this advertisement. Nintendo is trying to sell the experience of playing the GameCube. Phillips and McQuarrie describe the idea of fusion within visual rhetoric as the combination of two images (Phillips and McQuarrie 116). The images that would be seen on the television when playing games is combined with a cube, which is the shape of the system. This is used in the GameCube ad to convey the emotional experience of gaming on this system by associating adventure and fun with the console itself. All of the action in the ad happens in the glass cubes shown throughout the commercial.

Logos

Regarding Logos, not much logic or reason is included in this commercial. Outside of the shape of the console, there isn’t much information about the system itself, how it is played, or why the viewer should buy it. The logic for purchasing the system was not the main appeal Nintendo was trying to reach with this advertisement.

Ethos

Nintendo features a lot of their popular characters in this ad to appeal to Ethos. Charters that have been featured in multiple generations of Nintendo systems, such as Mario and Samus, are emphasized to show viewers they will be getting the same quality product they have seen in the past. This was especially important because the quality of games had been in question for this generation of systems. In a research study done by Barry Ip and Gabriel Jacobs, they found that “A considerable number of companies were also found to be producing large quantities of poor software” (Ip and Jacobs 544). Nintendo showing their audience the characters from their previously established high-quality games was a strategic way of establishing credibility.

Effectiveness

It was clear that Nintendo was trying something new with the GameCube advertisements, but new isn’t always a good thing. The commercial attempts to appeal to the teenager and young adult demographic by using a lot of dark colors, action-filled game-play, and an abstract art style. Teenagers and young adults are the only people portrayed playing the system in the ad as well. That being said, the use of logos is nearly irrelevant and the ethos appeal doesn’t really occur until the ending scenes when Nintendo characters are shown. Nintendo didn’t really sell the experience of playing the game, they just presented it in an abstract way. Even though the intended demographic was clear, the ad wasn’t effective from a marketing perspective at persuading people to purchase the system.

Wii

Despite Nintendo’s efforts with the GameCube, the Playstation2 outsold it and the Xbox by a large margin. Nintendo went back to its roots for the Nintendo Wii, which made allowed the Wii to outsell the Playstation3 and Xbox360 by a rate of 2-1 (InformationWeek 1). It is also important to note that the Wii had significantly worse specifications and graphics capabilities in comparison to its competitors. Nintendo primarily focused on the concept of motion controls as they were the first to develop this concept. Gameplay is hardly shown in the Wii advertisements because Nintendo was attempting to sell the quality of the new technology, rather than focus on the inferior graphics that came with it.

In all of the advertisements for the Wii, groups of teenagers or families are the main people shown. It is particularly important to note that there aren't ever shots of people playing alone. This goes back to the idea of Nintendo emphasizing the uniqueness of their technology. That being said, Nintendo is focusing on their original demographic rather than trying to branch out like they did with the GameCube. Lots of bright and playful colors are used in the Wii and Wii U ads, which is a complete transformation from the dark and grungy colors of the GameCube ads.

Pathos

The Wii commercial features groups of teenagers playing games together throughout the whole commercial. Mysterious men in suits show up at their door and present them with the futuristic looking Wii remote. The men in suits are always shown playing a game first, followed by the teens playing it as a group and smiling, clearly having fun. This is used to present the device as something modern and cool. None of the teens are ever pictured by themselves, showing that this is a system that will bring people together.

First Wii Commercial. Digital image. Nintendo, 15 Nov. 2006. Web.

Logos

Throughout the commercial, there is a much greater emphasis on the use of the controller and the motion controls, as opposed to showing a lot of game-play like most other gaming commercials. Nintendo is reasoning logically with the audience by showing off the technology capabilities of their innovative gaming technology. The audience should buy the device because the console is capable of being used in the ways presented in the commercial.

Ethos

The Nintendo logo or brand is hardly referenced at all within the commercial. There are very few ways the audience would be able to tell that this is a Nintendo product. The logo briefly flashes in the bottom corner of the screen at the start of the commercial, and there is one image of a popular Nintendo character named Link. Besides this, there isn’t much done to establish credibility.

Effectiveness

The whole essence of mystery surrounding the system that is presented in the ad makes it effective for the intended audience. The system itself was a big technological breakthrough at the time, so presenting it as this futuristic and modern technology was a great approach. It was very effective to focus on the innovation of the technology and the experience of playing it, rather than the games users can play or even spending too much time showing that this was a Nintendo product. Also featuring teenagers within the ad makes it easy for that portion of the target audience to envision themselves playing these games.

Wii U

The Wii U followed a very similar marketing plan as it was a revamped version of the Wii. It didn’t receive nearly as much focus from Nintendo from an advertising perspective. That being said, it is still important to observe the visual arguments presented within this advertisement.

Similar to the Wii, all of the advertisements for the Wii U features children and their families in nearly every frame. Nintendo is continuing to stick with the original demographic like they did with the original Wii. The success of the Wii made it a logical choice to target the same audience. There are also lots of bright, light colors that are used in the Wii U ad to appeal to this audience.

Pathos

Pathos is implemented within the Wii U ad by showing the experiences of the different players. In nearly every scene there are kids, and or parents, smiling and having fun playing different games together. It is important to get the viewer in a good mood with these commercials because our judgements when we are happy are much different than when we are upset (Roberts 7). The repetitious representation of groups of people having fun together is used to excite viewers and show them the experience of playing.

Wii U Launch Commercial. Nintendo, 2012. Web.

Logos

Nintendo is attempting to use logos to persuade the audience by highlighting the various technological capabilities of the new Gamepad, which is the tablet used with Wii U. There are several different scenes where the Gamepad is being used in different ways for different games.

Wii U Launch Commercial. Nintendo, 2012. Web.

Ethos

Ethos isn’t a main concern in the Wii U commercial. The system itself is an upgraded version of the original Wii, so using the Wii remotes and brand name within the ad works to establish the credibility of the system. Aristotle speaks to the importance of credibility by saying that a speaker’s character is their most effective means of persuasion (Roberts 7). Because the Wii was so successful, the product recognition from the audience helps builds Nintendo’s perceived character for this product.

Effectiveness

The Wii U advertisements were effective in the sense that they presented a clear argument as to why the viewer should purchase the system. The target audience was featured throughout the ad having fun and playing the system in groups of people enjoying themselves. Within these groups of people, Nintendo provided close-ups of the different uses for their new Gamepad, which allowed the technology to be shown off as well. The pathos, logos, and ethos appeals were all well thought out for this commercial.

Switch

Similar to the Wii, the Switch is a revolutionary and unique gaming console compared to its competitors at the time. No other system has created a perfect mix between a handheld portable system and a fully-functional home gaming console. Nintendo’s focus within this advertisement is on the experience of playing this system, and how convenient this technology is in terms of fitting it in to an individual’s daily life.

The audience for this system still consists of kids and their families, but Nintendo also branched out to reach young adults as well. The portability of the system makes it a perfect device for adults to be able to use in their busy day-to-day routine. This commercial switches between scenes of families having fun together, and young adults using it in a wide-range of settings.

Pathos

The emotional appeal revolves around the experiences gamers will have playing this system. It is portrayed as something that an individual can do while doing chores such as cooking or laundry. It is also portrayed as something that is extremely fun to play in group settings. This is one of the only Nintendo commercials that portrays both the experience of playing alone and in groups.

Nintendo Switch Super Bowl LI Commercial - Extended Cut. Digital image. Nintendo, 1 Feb. 2017. Web.

Logos

The most powerful logical appeal used within this ad is focused towards the young adult audience. The problem with gaming for young adults is that it is hard for them to fit it into their schedule. This is explained in a scholarly article about adult gaming when author Helen Thornham states, “It is not only that adults are taking ‘time out’ to game, and therefore not acting in a way conducive to accepted notions of adulthood; it is that they are finding this activity pleasurable” (Thornham 156). This demographic enjoys the prospect of gaming, but they don’t have the time to do it; when young adults are shown playing while doing chores, or when then have down time, it is a logical appeal that this is a system where people will be able to make time to play it.

Nintendo Switch Super Bowl LI Commercial - Extended Cut. Digital image. Nintendo, 1 Feb. 2017. Web.

Ethos

Outside of the emphasis on the technology, there is heavy emphasis on the actual games being played in the commercials. All of the titles featured are reputable and popular Nintendo titles, such as Zelda and Splatoon, which works to establish credibility for Nintendo fans. They recognize the games they have seen for years and years.

Nintendo Switch Super Bowl LI Commercial - Extended Cut. Digital image. Nintendo, 1 Feb. 2017. Web.

Effectiveness

The Nintendo Switch advertisement is arguably the most effective commercial in Nintendo’s history. Not only did they appeal to their main audience of kids and families, but they appropriately expanded to an audience of young adults at the same time. The approach to the young adult audience was substantially better than it was with the GameCube commercial. The Switch is presented as something that young adults can do during their busy lives. It is also portrayed as something that is great for parties, family gatherings, and hanging out with friends. Nearly any situation members of the target audience would encounter in their lives is displayed within the commercial.

Concluding Remarks

The diachronic analysis of Nintendo’s launch television ads shows how different visual elements are used to reach different audiences through the use of Aristotelian appeals. Nintendo has had to adjust their target audience over time based off of the technology of their own systems and their competitors. The competitive video game market has forced Nintendo to continuously update their marketing plan to keep up with Sony and Microsoft, while simultaneously establishing their own brand and fan base. Overall Nintendo has found success with the visual arguments presented in their advertisements. They did struggle early on with advertisements for the N64 and GameCube, but the visual arguments in the Wii, Wii U, and Switch commercials were primarily effective at reaching their intended audience.

References

Barry Ip, and Gabriel Jacobs. “Quality in the Games Industry: An Analysis of Customer Perceptions.” International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management 23.5 (2006): 531–546. Web.

Kirriemuir, J. “The Console Market.” Virtual Reality 5.4 (2000): 236–244. Web.

Phillips, Barbara J., and Edward F. McQuarrie. "Beyond Visual Metaphor: A New Typology of Visual Rhetoric in Advertising." Marketing Theory Articles 4.1/2 (2004): 113-36. Sage Publications. Web.

Roberts, W. Rhys. Aristotle Rhetoric. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2004. Print.

Thornham, Helen. “Claiming a Stake in the Videogame.” Convergence 15.2 (2009): 141–159. Web.

"U.S. Video-Game Market Remains Strong in Tough Economy; Sales of the Nintendo Wii outpaced the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation more than 2-to-1." InformationWeek, 13 Feb. 2009. Expanded Academic ASAP. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

Images

Created with images by Alexas_Fotos - "mario luigi yoschi" • WikimediaImages - "video game console video game play" • WikiImages - "game console computer game play" • Yeray Hernández - "Wii vector" • Doug Kline - "E3 2011 - the new Wii U controller (Nintendo)" • ant2506 - "nintendo switch nintendo switch" • compujeramey - "Nintendo"

Credits:

Created with images by Alexas_Fotos - "mario luigi yoschi" • WikimediaImages - "video game console video game play" • WikiImages - "game console computer game play" • Yeray Hernández - "Wii vector" • Doug Kline - "E3 2011 - the new Wii U controller (Nintendo)" • ant2506 - "nintendo switch nintendo switch" • compujeramey - "Nintendo"

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