In 2009, when Nintendo took over Times Square's Military Island for the launch of Wii Sports Resort, the video game company crafted a tropical arcade with 50 tons of sand and a steel drum band. On Saturday, the brand returned to the public location with an even bigger, more experiential installation for the launch of Super Mario 3D Land.
With the debut of the new title, Mario, who was first introduced more than 20 years ago and is perhaps Nintendo's biggest franchise, is reinvented in three-dimensional form on the Nintendo 3DS console. It was this new side to the game the marketing team was hoping to capture by crafting a life-size version of the game. The brand and its event agency, the Marketing Arm, also looked to tap into Mario's popularity and broad appeal with a variety of activations for kids, adults, avid players, and more casual gamers.
“This game is all about what 3-D can do and transforms a very familiar game in the Mario franchise and gives it a much more immersive, in-depth feel—even the running and jumping feels different,” said Nintendo of America's consumer promotion manager, Ricky Kim, who oversaw the weekend event. “How do you bring that to life for people and not just put it in their hands and let them play it? We wanted to create that world for them.”
As with any outdoor event in a place as public as Times Square, there were a number of challenges, including the spatial limitations of Military Island, a small narrow peninsula bordered on one side by traffic. To tackle this, while leaving the adjacent pedestrian plaza open for the crowds to gather, Kim and the crew gave the installation a linear flow, a setup that started at the north side of the island with an entrance styled after the Nintendo 3DS console and finished at the southern end with a flagpole, a symbol from the game that signifies the end of a level. “We created this front-to-back experience, almost like a level in the game,” Kim said.
Beyond the physical layout, Nintendo wanted the environment to replicate the sights and sounds of Super Mario 3D Land. This meant installing trampolines and a slide with motion-activated sound effects. “One of the other challenges [with the event] was figuring out how to make people feel like they're running and jumping like Mario. We had a ton of fun with that,” Kim said. “The slide was 12 feet in the air and that alone, from a height perspective, was fantastic, but I think what put the icing on the cake was when you exited it, it had that iconic sound activated by motion.”
Beyond the three-dimensional Mario world, the organizers also used the JumboTron outside ABC's Times Square Studios to display live video from the event, photos, and Twitter posts; erected a tent to allow people to test out the new game; and offered attendees—many of whom turned out in full costume—the chance to have their photo take by L.A. Photo Party in front of a branded backdrop. A food truck, playfully dubbed the Mushroom Kingdom Pizza Truck, distributed free slices of mushroom pizza to anyone who tweeted using the #SuperMario3D hashtag.
“To have a well-rounded experience you want to have different things to offer. The way we look at things is sometimes the passive versus the active. A lot of people want to wait in line and experience something, but some people want to do simpler things,” said Kim. “I think being able to get a free slice of pizza—something cute and clever we did with the truck—and photo opportunities, those were quick and easy things people could do. It was to give people options—some people wanted to go full in, some people didn't, and by doing that we gave them a taste of a bit of everything.”
Nintendo also leveraged online platforms to extend the life and reach of the event. “We wanted people to experience [the event], but we also wanted people at home to be able to feel like they were there, so we posted in real time video footage and photos on our social network sites, including Facebook and YouTube,” said Cindy Gordon, vice president of corporate affairs for Nintendo of America. “You've got 500,000 people passing through Times Square every day and hopefully hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more tuning in from Facebook.”
As an additional bonus for the legions of Mario fans on hand, Nintendo partnered with Toys “R” Us to sell Super Mario 3D Land a day ahead of its official November 13 release date.