Nintendo's Wii: What's in a name?

Posted by: Kenji Hall on April 28, 2006

nintendo's controller.jpg

You’ve heard the old saw about Chevrolet’s marketing faux pas in Latin America. The story goes that the Chevy Nova didn’t sell well in Spanish-speaking countries because the car’s name was too similar to “no va,” which means “no go.” I wonder if the same will be said about Nintendo.

This week, the Japanese granddaddy of game makers took the wraps off its next-generation machine’s new name. Previously known by its code name, Revolution, Nintendo’s soon-to-be-released console will be called “Wii.” Pronounced we, the name “emphasizes this console is for everyone” and conjures the “image of people gathering to play,” according to the company’s Web site. Indeed, the i’s resemble two people standing together. And as the company’s promo page points out, it’s easy to say. The French might nod their heads in approval: To them, it sounds like oui. But to the English-speaking world, it leaves a bit too much to the imagination. I can imagine Nintendo-bashers (I’m not one of them) making bathroom jokes or coming up with barbs about size.

The name change is a bit shocking since, of the three big console makers, Nintendo's "Revolution" was the only one that wasn't a sequel. In other words, it was catchy and was probably best left alone. (Sony's PlayStation is now in its third iteration. Microsoft's Xbox has a 360 attached to it.) There's even been a movement among some fans to change the name back. Check out IGN's interview with Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo's vice president of marketing and corporate affairs, for the company's take on things.

In the grand scheme of things, the fuss over the name may not matter. If the Wii is as revolutionary as its controller--which is unique because it's held in one hand like a remote control, rather than with two hands like conventional controllers--gamers may not really care much what it's called. And you can be sure that Nintendo will drown out the skeptics with a massive marketing push just before the box goes on sale later this year.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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