Innovation Draws Viral Buzz: A Lesson From Nintendo’s Cardboard Creations

If you’re looking to make a viral splash within your industry, it might be a good idea to highlight your most ambitious ideas and approaches—and market them carefully. Nintendo’s Labo kits provide a great example of this concept in action.

Last week, a bunch of pieces of cardboard “broke the internet,” as the kids say.

The occasion was the announcement of Nintendo Labo, an experimental add-on for the Switch that mixes the hybrid portable videogame system’s motion-detecting parts with literal chunks of cardboard to extend the functionality of the popular console.

It’s gotten a mixture of praise, controversy, and constructive feedback—like anything, really—but at the same time, the fact that it became the subject of chatter in the first place means that Nintendo basically owned the digital conversation a week ago.

And many associations, of course, would love even a tenth of the level of notice that Nintendo’s announcement gained last week. So why did it succeed at leading the conversation so adeptly? A few takeaways:

Lead with an innovative, unique approach. Before last week’s announcement, there was little context for the idea that Nintendo created—it wasn’t like any of its competitors were considering cardboard as an interactive tool. By zagging when its main competitors were focused on high-end graphics, it allowed the company to take over the conversation. A great example of a nonprofit group that has consistently been able to do similar things has been the British organization Comic Relief, whose annual Red Nose Day has succeeded at raising donations in the American market by using inventive campaigns like a mini-sequel to the popular holiday film Love Actually.

It’s one thing to take an innovative approach—it’s another to do so in a way that highlights why you took that approach in the first place.

Aim at a nontraditional audience. If you’re going to go big with your marketing, your goal should be to make the big tent just a little bit bigger. Certainly, gaming has long had a reputation as a young person’s hobby, but that reputation has faded some as games have aimed for more mature audiences. Nintendo hasn’t forgotten about its adolescent base, even as other companies have downplayed it in favor of older, slightly more mature audiences. As a result, that makes Labo a little bit of a stretch, especially as Nintendo has mostly focused on hard-core gamers with the Switch. A great example of a group that has taken a similar approach is the Country Music Association, which has reached out both to Madison Avenue and to the European market in recent years, underlining its product’s broad appeal.

Stick to your core values. Among gamers, Nintendo is Nintendo, and Nintendo does what it’s going to do, for good and for bad. And its sense of whimsy and innovation has translated effectively time and time again, often focusing less on high technology and more on inventive gameplay. When it most succeeds, it’s because the company hits all the things that it represents to the public as a whole. The Brewers Association recently scored a viral win after it launched a parody crowdfunding campaign to purchase Anheuser-Busch InBev—a move that very much hit with its long-stated core values. It’s one thing to take an innovative approach—it’s another to do so in a way that highlights why you took that approach in the first place.

Think you have some innovative ideas under your belt that could benefit from a viral strategy? Share ‘em in the comments.

(Handout photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!