Nintendo (OTC:NTDOY) UK recently launched the Nintendo Girls Club on YouTube, a channel squarely aimed at promoting its 3DS and Wii U consoles to a younger female audience. The ads are hosted by Hollyoaks actress and Dancing on Ice star Jorgie Porter.
However, the effort has sparked a social media backlash against the company, in which critics on Reddit and Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) claimed that the ads were "stereotypical", sexist, and unnecessary.
Nintendo's previous attempt to reach young female gamers, the "Play As You Are" 3DS ad campaign, was hit with similar criticisms in late 2012. That ambitious campaign starred Glee's Dianna Agron, Modern Family's Sarah Hyland, and Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabrielle Douglas.
This ongoing debate highlights an interesting point in the video game industry -- are gaming companies doing enough to maximize their revenue by appealing to female gamers?
Why Nintendo wants to appeal to younger female gamers
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 45% of gamers are female, up from 38% in 2008. Based on that growth, it would appear that the Nintendo Girls Channel is unnecessary.
However, the ESA also notes that the average age of a gamer today is 30, and that he or she has played video games for 13 years. Those two numbers explain two things -- the rise of M-rated titles such as Take-Two's (NASDAQ:TTWO) GTA series, and Nintendo's constant attempts to appeal to gamers' nostalgia with golden 3DS consoles and new installments of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.
Nintendo's consoles perform much better among younger-than-average age groups, according to several online polls. Nintendo's 3DS's strongest market is the 13-18 age group, and the Wii U sells well among 19-24 year olds.
Therefore, Sony (NYSE:SONY) might have a better grasp on the average 30-year-old gamer, as seen in the soaring sales of the PS4, but Nintendo could maximize its appeal among teenagers and young adults of both sexes.
When we look at the top three best-selling video games of 2013 -- Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto V (26.8 million units), Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ: ATVI) Call of Duty: Ghosts (12.7 million units), and Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ: EA) FIFA 2014 (8.1 million units) -- we notice that the first two are rated M (17 years and older), and all three are tailored toward older male gamers.
Only 24% of Call of Duty players are female, according to Infinity Ward executive producer Mark Rubin, and NPR reported last September that only 15% of GTA fans are female. This indicates that despite their blockbuster sales, the best-selling titles are ignoring teenage female gamers.
That's where Nintendo comes in.
More than meets the eye...
There's much more to Nintendo Girls Club than meets the eye.
First off, choosing 26-year old Jorgie Porter, who looks far younger than she actually is, was a clever choice. Porter is best known in the U.K. as teenage bad girl Theresa McQueen in the Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, a long-running show that has been on the air since 1995. Casting a well-known "bad girl" as the girl gamer, who is often stereotyped as a tomboyish misfit, breaks down the perception of video gaming as a male-oriented activity for introverts.
It's the exact same approach that Nintendo used in its 2012 campaign featuring Dianna Agron -- best known as the former Queen Bee Quinn Fabray on Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX) Glee -- playing puzzle games and drawing pictures on the 3DS.
What's notable about Agron's commercials is that her catchphrase is "I'm not a gamer" -- but a "master at puzzles" and an "artist":
Therefore, the female gamers who are complaining the loudest on Reddit and Twitter about the Nintendo Girls Club are missing a simple point -- it's not targeting them.
Why Nintendo thinks that this marketing strategy will work
Instead, the ad campaign is targeting an untapped audience of young, female non-gamers who are content with playing Candy Crush on their more societally accepted iPhones. The videos on Nintendo Girls Club are not aimed at experienced gamers -- they simply showcase the 3DS hardware and casual gaming titles like Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
While critics claim that the statistics show that 45% of gamers are already female, Nintendo is simply asking: why not convert new teenage girls to gaming and bump that percentage up to 70% or more?
To understand why Nintendo believes that it can generate new sales from this untapped market, we need to take a look at the success of the seventh generation Wii. Prior to the Wii, Nintendo's sixth generation GameCube sold 21.7 million units, and was outsold by Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox, which sold 24.7 million units, and Sony's PS2, which sold 157.7 million units.
Nintendo went back to the drawing board and reinvented the controller to appeal to a larger audience of non-gamers. The result was a motion controller that could be used by young kids, their grandparents, and anyone who dislikes the fact that modern game controllers have 10 or more buttons.
That helped Nintendo convert new consumers to gaming, the same way that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) converted customers from "dumbphones" to smartphones with the iPhone in 2007. The Wii went on to become Nintendo's best selling console of all time with 100.1 million units sold, compared to 81.1 million Xbox 360s and 82.5 million PS3s.
The bottom line
The Internet is notorious for causing people to overanalyze things. Gamers will keep criticizing and mocking Nintendo Girls Club for its pink backgrounds and Disney-like emphasis on gaming princesses, but they will continue missing the point -- that these ads are intended to convert female non-gamers to the 3DS and Wii U.
If Nintendo can tap into this market and generate fresh sales, it could carve out an enviable niche among teenage female gamers. The channel's introductory video, which was uploaded on Feb. 17, already has nearly 45,000 views at the time of this writing.
What do you think, fellow gamers? Is Nintendo Girls Club stereotypical and sexist, or clever and calculated? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!