By Jeffrey M. O'Brien
October 30, 2007

By Jeffrey M. O’Brien

Gaming powerhouse Nintendo (NTDOY) announced late last week a revamping of its Nintendo of America marketing department. Out go SVP of marketing George Harrison and VP of marketing Perrin Kaplan. In come the former head of marketing at Yahoo (YHOO), Cammie Dunaway, and Shigeyuki Takahashi, the former head of Nintendo Research. Dunaway will serve as EVP of sales & marketing, reporting to NOA president Reggie Fils-Aime, aka “the Regginator. ” Takahashi, the new EVP of special assignments, will consult the marketing department while trying to expand the company’s North American business.

The timing is auspicious, considering that Advertising Age just awarded its Marketer of the Year award to Harrison, Kaplan and senior director of consumer marketing Robert Matthews for their work hawking the DS and Wii. But the company had to see this coming when it decided last year to move the NOA headquarters from Redmond to Silicon Valley. (There’s an invite-only grand opening party this Thursday, btw.) Word is the duo, as well as 90% of the marketing staff, refused to leave the Pacific Northwest.

Given the company’s runaway success, a tripling of first-half profits and revised earnings guidance for the year, some think Dunaway has landed the easiest job in the world. But not all is rosy in Nintendo land. For starters, working at the U.S. arm of a Japanese company can be a nightmare. Kaplan, who had been with Nintendo for 15 years, was by all appearances a master at communicating with the mothership in Kyoto. What’s more, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox 360 outsold the Wii in September thanks to the much-anticipated launch of Halo 3. (Sony’s (SNE) PS3 remains an also-ran). And then there are the continued inventory shortages. What’s a marketer to do when there’s no product to sell? She can push the games, sure, but has to be careful about creating too much disappointment among would-be Wii owners who can’t find a unit to buy.

And then there’s the growing concern that Wii is a fad. Everyone (hard-core gamers, mainly) who has said so from the beginning has been proven wrong. But I’ve watched my own habits and have lately become concerned for the company. I’ve never been an avid gamer, but immediately saw the appeal of the Wii (conveyed so expertly in the bundled title Wii Sports). Lately, however, the console has been getting little use and my household has returned to non-gaming status. Dunaway has to figure out a way to get me back up off the couch — which my wife and friends can tell you is definitely not the easiest job in the world.

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