Mercedes/Mario Kart Partnership Exceeds Expectations

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In one of the unlikeliest of collaborations, which came to light several weeks ago, Mercedes Benz partnered with Mario Kart 8 in an advertising campaign – and all things considered, the result has been pretty good for the luxury car manufacturer. Considering the popularity of the game, it hasn’t been too bad a deal for Nintendo, either.

The campaign involved a 30-second commercial and some frankly bizarre-looking free DLC swag for the game. Though the DLC is not yet available outside of Japan, it has been quite a hit with Japanese gamers – especially those doing some car shopping.

No less bizarre, the commercial featured a tiny pixelized version of the SUV speeding its way through the first level of Super Mario Bros. After smashing its way through the platformer and squashing a few goombas, the car makes a leap and completely soars over the flagpole – crashing down to the ground as a real vehicle. Swerving to a stop, live action Mario steps out – complete with mustache and bulbous nose – and manages to take several steps before being struck down by another goomba.

Although no actual numbers have made their way into the public’s hands, sales are, at least anecdotally, looking up for the company. Their Japanese showrooms are getting a lot of foot traffic from people excited about the DLC or who just saw the commercial and decided to come in. Mercedes-Benz Japan’s CEO Kintaro Ueno called it “quite a talking point,” and explained, “I can say that it’s going well.”

Nintendo released the eighth installment of the Mario Kart series in May. Mario Kart 8 has sold quite well, considering that it was released on Nintendo’s less-than-successful Wii U console. Over two million copies have been sold so far. The game is Nintendo’s best hope for selling their pricy system until Super Smash Bros. Wii U is released, hopefully this holiday season. Lack of third-party support has resulted in lengthy Wii U release droughts. Additionally, Nintendo is looking to add Amiibofunctionality to Mario Kart 8 at a later date. Amiibos are an upcoming line of character models made by Nintendo that will add functionality to various Nintendo games, similar to Skylanders and Disney Infinity,but with, perhaps, more mainstream appeal. Nintendo hopes that these figurines will help turn things around their ailing console.

Nintendo has historically been reluctant to release DLC. In some cases, this strategy has made Nintendo seem like a breath of fresh air in a greedy industry. For example, Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Leaf with no DLC functionality aside from the occasional free downloadable gift. When one considers the immense DLC potential of the Animal Crossing series, it’s surprising that Nintendo did not take a route similar to The Sims and release cash-in expansion after cash-in expansion.

Nintendo has released some pay-for DLC, such as level packs for New Super Mario Bros. 2, but we have yet to see DLC anywhere near the level of many other companies, most particularly EA. When you consider Nintendo’s less-than-stellar sales as of late, you can’t help but wonder why Nintendo doesn’t take advantage of the huge profits that Animal Crossing or Poke’mon DLC would inevitably entail. In the past, Nintendo has indicated that they do not want to dilute their beloved series by releasing cheap software full of in-app purchases or low-quality pay-for DLC. Nintendo has stated, however, that they are looking to release apps for mobile devices, but these apps will simply serve to push consumers toward their hardware. (Don’t expect a full-featured Zelda game on your iPhone anytime soon!)

While Mario Kart 8 does not break this trend of minimal DLC, it is quite interesting to note the commercial aspect of the DLC that was included. The ultra-realistic SUV (realistic, that is, besides the oversize character that sits in the entire body of the car), with its detailed parts and sleek shine, stands out like a sore thumb in the middle of the cartoony gameplay.

While the DLC has apparently resulted in quite a few Mercedes sales, the reasons behind these sales may puzzle a lot of us. One possible explanation is that while cute games tend to be dismissed as “kiddie” in the West, particularly in North America, cute culture is widespread in Japan, and it is quite possible that many adults who could buy a new Mercedes play Mario Kart. Additionally, Mario Kart is such a long-running series that the commercial could have triggered nostalgic feelings in many adults who remember older entries in the series. Regardless, the DLC is a conversation starter if nothing else, and it will be interesting to see whether it’s the start of a trend towards more commercial DLC in Nintendo games.

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