There is something special about the sight of a queue. It sends out subliminal messages – “there is a thing here you might want”, “this is really worth waiting for” and “everyone else is getting one, why not you?” That line of people, waiting outside a shop, is a marketing man… or woman’s dream. Last night, customers at more than 1,500 stores across the UK queued up to get their hands on the latest object of gamers’ adoration – the Nintendo 3DS.
After selling out across the United States, Apple will again be drawing crowds for the UK launch of the iPad 2 at 5pm on Friday. In what has now become a predictable sight outside flagship technology stores the world over, queues give a visual reminder of our thirst for the latest, most exciting technology. Thousands of people feel compelled to give up a day – and night – to be among the first to have it, generating mountains of free publicity for technology companies in the process.
For the launch of the 3DS, the world’s first glasses-free 3-D hand-held games console, Nintendo pulled out all the stops to make sure that demand was high and lines were long. At the console’s official launch at HMV on Oxford Street, the first 100 customers were offered a free game and a chance to meet top games producer Yoshinori Ono. If that wasn’t enough, the first in the queue was also eligible for a free taxi home. “The fans enjoy being down there at midnight and getting access to developers and getting prizes and goodies and free games. It works for the media as well,” said Robert Saunders, a spokesman for Nintendo UK. It’s an irresistible opportunity for the media – including the BBC – to produce stories that are almost guaranteed to attract a lot of readers. Apple won’t be laying it on quite as thick as Nintendo, in terms of the number of stores opening and freebie gifts on offer. Arguably they do not need to, given the promotional prowess of the company’s chief executive Steve Jobs. “In the technology game, Steve is the only guy who can create lust,” said Brenden Tansey, chief executive of marketing firm Wunderman.
“Apple don’t mind the consumer being in love with them. They wouldn’t want [queues] every day, but to have it as an event, where the public are saying we value this product so highly – I think that’s perfect for their brand.” Indeed, it has been just 10 months since a line of eager fans snaked down London’s Regent Street, waiting to get hold of Apple’s original iPad, but Mr Jobs’ ability to repeatedly rouse his loyal user base means the lower-priced upgrade will likely be even more popular. “I think they’re at the point now where they don’t have to engineer this sort of thing any more, said Mr Tansey. “He orchestrates that developer community so they’re like a ‘groupie’ audience. I mean, they love him,” he joked. The sight of a twisting line has become one of Apple’s most powerful marketing tools, according to Victor Agreda, editor-in-chief of The Unofficial Apple Weblog.
A customer carries two new iPad 2’s he purchased minutes after they went on sale at the Fifth Avenue Apple store March 11, 2011 “Continuing to see a queue every time there’s one of these product launches has begun to sink in to people: this is what you do if you want the latest and greatest from Apple. You go and you get in line.” For the hardcore fan, it is simply not an option to not be the first with the latest technology. But it is not just ordinary members of the public queuing up. In many cases, the most enthusiastic participants are bloggers – professional writers or enthusiastic amateurs. They report live from the front line of a frenzy that they are themselves helping to create.
“It’s a competitive disadvantage to not have someone on the team sitting and poking at the new product,” said Mr Algreda. Andrew McCormick, deputy editor of Marketing magazine, agrees. “I guess part of the motivation for queuing up is they know the media is going to be there – and they’ll be labelled as an Apple geek or a Nintendo geek – and they covet that title.” “There are loads of them out there, it’s unbelievable. “Any article that criticises Apple in any way whatsoever will be smashed down in the comments underneath it.” Of course, it’s not only the hardware manufacturers that benefit from big-time launches and buzz from the blogging and tweeting community. For Nintendo’s launch, UK stores opened their doors at midnight on Thursday. Their aim was not just to maximise sales, but capture some of the reflected glory from the 3DS.
“For us, it gets our brand out there,” said Neil Ashurst, head of PR for UK video game retailers Game and Gamestation, which opened 482 stores. “Whether we did the PR element or not, the customers would be there. “The gaming industry’s marketing machine is actually an incredibly efficient one,” he said. Cynics suggest that the public will soon wise up to the yearly cycle of ‘must-have’ products, but for the time being, the lines will keep getting longer. “I don’t think it will backfire,” said Brendan Tansey. “The expectation is, ‘I will stand in that queue for five hours and get a product.’ “They’ve chosen to do the experience and no-one is surprised.”