Nintendo Case Study: Rules Are Made to Be Broken

How often should you send mailings to your opt-in database? Conventional wisdom says not too often. Otherwise, you risk overloading recipients with email. There aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but a rule of thumb many in the industry follow is regular newsletters are typically sent once every two weeks or monthly. If you sell a product or service via email, you’ll generally send an offer once, maybe twice, with little follow-up.

Rules are made to be broken. Nintendo experimented and came up with its own guidelines. The company found more frequent mailings can be a successful tactic.

Last fall, the gaming giant announced a new product. Nintendo was able to successfully send not one, not two, but in some cases six messages devoted to that one product. It did this for nine different products. Nintendo carefully considers its core audience and sends some customers most of the email series for each game.

How does Nintendo manage this without overwhelming its members? First, it built a loyal subscriber base of recipients who look forward to email communications. (For more on this, please read this column.) Then, the company sent interesting, varied messages regarding each product.

Let’s take a look at one product example. Nintendo wanted to announce a new game, Star Fox Adventures, and build excitement before the holidays.

For several years, Nintendo had been successfully building a newsletter subscriber base. The company offers two newsletters: one for Nintendo GameCube hardware users, the other for Game Boy Advance users. Nintendo designs the newsletters with community building in mind. There are product and event announcements, game-related tips, and more. Newsletters are published once a month.

For the Star Fox Adventure game, Nintendo created a series of six messages:

  1. The tease. On October 1, a “coming soon” announcement was mailed a week or so before product launch to a large group of Nintendo’s core audience over the age of 13. A link took recipients to a product microsite.

  2. The arrival. Three weeks later, on October 23, a streaming media email message went out. The video invited recipients to “join the adventure.” It played automatically in Outlook. Users with other email clients clicked a button in the message to launch the video.
  3. The survey. Nintendo wanted to continue to engage recipients. On November 12, subscribers who expressed interest, by opening or clicking through the previous mailings, were contacted. The survey asked questions such as, “Have you played Star Fox Adventures?” and “Which of the following influenced your decision to buy or play Star Fox Adventures?”
  4. The site announcement. On November 24, Nintendo invited its core audience to visit a revamped site and receive game tips and strategy advice.
  5. The puzzle and…
  6. The bidding auction. Nintendo sent these two mailings on December 10 and December 17, respectively, to a subset of the database: those showing strong interest in the game. These recipients hadn’t just opened prior emails; they had either clicked through or even purchased. The idea was to get users engaged. The message was along the lines of, “Here’s a great add-on, hope you enjoy it.”


Please bear in mind Nintendo wanted to monitor list health. Subscribers were already receiving one or two regular messages per month.

Open rates were between 21 and 57 percent. Not surprisingly, messages five and six were highest (57 and 46 percent). The lowest open rate was message four, at 21 percent. The first three messages garnered 27, 25, and 36 percent, respectively.

CTR varied widely. Considering the content and who received the messages, you can understand why. It ranged between 4 and 85 percent. Message five, which was sent to recipients who already demonstrated responsiveness, was highest. Messages two and three came in at 9 and 8 percent, respectively.

You’re probably wondering if this multi-message tactic turned subscribers away. It didn’t. The unsubscribe rate was steady at well under 1 percent. The low was 0.04, the high 0.65 percent.

There are a few more results to make special note of. More than one in five people who received the survey completed it. That translates into over half of those who opened it. The streaming media clip was 200K in size and played for about 30 seconds. More than 60 percent of those who opened the clip watched it all the way through.

Nintendo has a strong interest in using email to build community, so the company is more focused on the number of opens than CTR. For example, in this case study, message one was an announcement intended to build excitement.

John Harrison of @Once, the company that ran this campaign, says because of the number of messages Nintendo anticipated a possible downturn in response. Instead, response rates outperformed the previous quarter. He notes Nintendo didn’t see “list fatigue,” which he attributes to relevance and the fact each message was different (an announcement, a survey, streaming video, etc.).

“Each message has a different look and feel, and we’ve seen that builds excitement for Nintendo,” notes Harrison, vice president, product strategy and production. “If we were talking about a catalog, I’d probably say the exact opposite. This type of messaging is critical for driving high results for a company such as Nintendo.”

What this study illustrates is a loyal audience will stay loyal if you provide relevant content. Nintendo, which knows how to compete in gaming, knows what makes a winner in email marketing, too.

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