And what did Nintendo, the company behind Super Mario, as well as other iconic video game heroes like Link and Pokemon, pay for the massive marketing coup? Zero. That’s the power of icon status, folks. Once your brand has become so tied to a culture that a topic political official will wear that costume in public, you have reached a certain zenith in public relations.
Nintendo spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa confirmed the rumor shortly after the prime minister’s Mario moment: “I want to make that clear. We did not pay… we are not going to become Olympic sponsors either.”
Boom. Mic drop. Yashiro’s company just got the most coveted advertising in all the world, and they didn’t pay a nickel. Better still, the timing was ideal, both for Japan and for Nintendo. Prime Minister Abe’s “Mario” appearance coincided with the passing of the Olympic baton from Rio to 2020 host, Tokyo.
The Associated Press quoted Baker Street Advertising analyst Bob Dorfman, praising Nintendo’s advertising coup: “Top Olympic sponsors pay millions of dollars to the IOC for permission to promote their brands to a massive global audience. Nintendo just did it for free. With Japan’s prime minister as their pitchman…”
The PR bump from the event resonated across the globe, but no bigger anywhere than in Japan, where citizens are now calling the popular prime minister “Abe-Mario” with playful respect. Meanwhile, citizens have never been more proud of one of the most famous exports. Japan gave something to the world, a character that generations of people have loved and embodied.
This PR bump could not have come at a better time for Japan. There’s been a strong public and private push for Olympic Games organizers in Tokyo to cut costs due to a weakening yen as well as a series of bad planning leading to redesigns of major event venues, including the main stadium.
And a second crack in the veneer of national pride is opening. Japanese traditionalists want less “modern” and more classic Japanese culture to be evident in the Games. They’re not happy about all the gaming and tech motifs being promoted — and they’re not shy about letting people know.
Mario may be an international icon, and electronics, especially gaming, may be a massive aspect of modern Japanese culture, but these folks don’t care … and they’re not likely to get quiet as the 2020 Games grow closer.
Ronn Torossian is a PR maverick and the CEO of 5W PR in NYC.