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Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples

Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples

Nintendo’s Enduring Portfolio of 4 Billion-Dollar Brands: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Nintendo Switch &  Pokémon

Nintendo gives us enduring brand strategy examples by driving profits and growth for multiple billion-dollar brands including The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Nintendo Switch, and Pokémon.  The three character brands are over 30 years old, and going strong, while Nintendo Switch is the newest, at just over six years old.

Nintendo’s recent financial results are excellent. For the quarter ending June 30th, Nintendo recently reported an 82% increase in operating profits to $1.2 billion (185.4billion yen), attributing this success to three of these billion-dollar brands: 

  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • The Nintendo Switch  

Over longer periods of time, Nintendo’s financials have been up and down, with console performance varying significantly.

Nintendo Brand Strategy Example: The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda, with protagonist Link, was first released in 1986 on the Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES), making this brand over 30 years old.

Today, with the May 2023 Zelda brand release, Tears of the Kingdom (TotK) selling 10 million units in its first three days of release, and over 18 million units as of June 30th, the Nintendo Switch and the Zelda brand franchise is top of mind for many gamers. 

Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples

Target Customer for the Legend of Zelda Brand

While the core youth audience is important as ever, it appears The Legend of Zelda target for Tears of the Kingdom is the casual adult gamer.

With initial TotK sales primarily to previous Zelda release Breath of the Wild (BotW) players, and BotW released in 2017, this means that most of the TotK purchasers are adults.   Additionally, Nintendo reports that it is bringing in new players to the Zelda brand franchise with TotK.

The target has evolved over time. In the late 1980’s, the target for Zelda II was video game enthusiasts, with the thinking that a higher difficulty often helped games appeal to enthusiasts.  This thinking has changed, with several ways to beat any given challenge and more accessibility to appeal to casual players. Jude, a 10-year-old boy, was introduced to Zelda by his dad, who remembered the franchise fondly. He supports the thinking that higher-difficulty doesn’t always result in a better play experience:

“Zelda is one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. I like playing as Link. Most of the games are different from each other. My favorite is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and my second-favorite is Link’s Awakening. Breath of the Wild was too hard. If you make a mistake, you can’t go back.”

For example, TotK capitalizes on nostalgia for the pleasures of gaming by targeting casual adult gamers in this recent “The Legend of Zelda” advertising execution.   

While not as playful, this advertising execution hearkens back to the appeal of gaming to adult fathers and Game Boy’s classic 1992 “Punish Your Father” advertising.

Brand Strategy Elements for The Legend of Zelda

Like other video games, The Legend of Zelda uses specific audio branding and specific sounds that are instantly recognizable, to cue the player.  For instance, there are specific sounds when traveling or capturing spirit orbs.  

There’s also “invisible” sound design with each village in BotW having a day version and nighttime version.

Brand Pillars / Commitments for the Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda brand strategy example features two foundational pillars: exploration and interactivity. At the time the first Zelda game was created, exploration was an evolution away from linear games that define where to go next. Interactivity was also a departure, though expected today.  TotK takes interactivity to a new level.

Zelda’s main character Link was named and conceived as a link between the past and future.  Zelda was named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife to create a sense of intrigue.  Link doesn’t speak words, communicating instead through various sounds and behaviors.

Like all Nintendo products, The Legend of Zelda must live up to the Nintendo company’s commitment to “the highest quality.”

Brand Strategy Future for The Legend of Zelda

Speculation abounds for a future Legend of Zelda movie, after the cancellation of the cartoon TV series in the 1980’s.  And, it will be fascinating to see if Zelda’s TotK will ultimately exceed BotW’s 30.6 million lifetime units.

Nintendo Brand Strategy Example: Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo Brand Strategy Example: Super Mario Bros.

Now over 40 years old as a brand, Mario first appeared in 1981. Initially named “Jump Man,” he was the protagonist in the arcade game Donkey Kong, the hit game that generated $1.7B billion in arcade coin revenue.

Shortly thereafter, in 1983, the Mario Bros. arcade game made him the title character, and in 1985 “the game that defined Mario and created a video game mega star” was released: Super Mario Bros. (for the Nintendo Entertainment System/NES/Famicom). 

Our friend Jude weighed in on this franchise:

“There are many Super Mario Bros. games, and they are more popular than most other games. I’ve played about half of them. Mario defeats meanies like Bowser, and I like his brother Luigi. Super Mario Bros. 1 is my favorite of the Mario games, and I beat it. The second to last level was so hard. Many versions of them are different from others. For example, Super Mario Odyssey is way different from Super Mario Bros. 3. That makes it fun.”

We get a different perspective from 10-year-old Elias, who adds:

“Super Mario Brothers games are awesome! I like the characters. My favorite is Bowser. I think Mario is better than Sonic. The games are more fun. My favorite Mario game is Mario Odyssey, and I beat it! I’m not a fan of Zelda. Those games are boring.”

Mario is also top of mind this year and makes a prominent brand strategy example.  The Super Mario Bros. Movie had box office sales exceeding $1.355 billion worldwide since its April 2023 release, and it tops the list for the highest grossing film based on a video game.  It’s interesting to consider that the 1993 Super Mario Bros. live-action movie was unsuccessful.

Nintendo reports that The Super Mario Bros. Movie drove added interest and sales of the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe video game, which has sold 55.5 million units since its release in 2017.  The Mario brand franchise sold more than 500 million units cumulatively over time.

There are a number of Mario sub-brands and spin-offs, the most prominent is Super Mario Kart, first released in 1992.   Another popular sub-brand is the Mario Party (and Super Mario Party Series). The first Mario Party was released in 1998, and this sub brand has over 69 million units sold.

In recent years, Super Mario Kart Deluxe has dominated unit sales as the chart from’s Dario Andric shows. 

Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples

Target Customer for the Super Mario Bros. Brand

Nintendo prefers to say its products are targeted to all ages, and Nintendo is well known for offering family-friendly products. 

Still, the target customer for Super Mario Bros. is a boy ages five to 10, while the brand may appeal to children as young as three.  The recent movie is intended for a child.   Like other brands with children as customers, the parents are a secondary target as they hold the purse strings. 

Targeting with brands for children can be even more specific.  As an example, when we worked on the Popsicle brand a few years ago, the target was an eight-year-old boy.  In reality, the Popsicle target consumers were children even younger than eight, but eight was an aspirational age to depict in advertising. Looking at this in 2023, the Popsicle brand’s Play Zone portion of their website features preteen girls seated in beanbag chairs, so perhaps the Popsicle brand is marketing to a slightly older kid age group.

Brand Strategy Elements for Super Mario Bros

The Mario character was recently named the #1 most popular video game character, with The Legend of Zelda’s Link ranking number four on the same list and Pokémon’s Pikachu coming in second place.

Super Mario Bros. also has distinct audio branding that distinguishes it.  The sound designers for The Super Mario Bros. Movie describe the process:

“They (Nintendo) gave us an initial dump – a very large library -of Mario-related sounds.” 

Many of the brand’s signature video game sounds were used in the movie:

For example, Mario slides down the pole in front of the burger place and it makes the ‘wooooop’ sound, and the coin dispensers in the Mushroom Kingdom have that iconic ‘bling!,’ and Mario eating the mushrooms have that power-up or shrinking-down sound…”

The sound design team considered alterations vs. using the sounds as-is on a case-by-case basis, and depending on how iconic they were.  For instance, the wooooop sound was not changed, because it is iconic.

Brand Pillars / Commitments for Super Mario Bros

A core brand pillar for the Mario franchise is to keep moving. Physical movement, whether jumping, climbing, sliding or driving is a foundational for the Mario brand. Some translate this to an emotional benefit from keeping moving to overcoming challenges.

Jennifer deWinter, dean of Lewis College of Science and Letters at the Illinois Institute of Technology says:

“The core experience of Mario is playgrounds…It’s climbing and jumping and sliding.”

“Jumping” as a brand strategy example is put to song in this musical trailer from Super Mario Odyssey.

Brand Strategy Future for Super Mario Bros

Based on the commercial success of the 2023 movie, more movies are expected for Super Mario Brothers.  

A Super Mario Bros. theme park opened at Universal Studios in Los Angeles this February.

Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples
  • October 2023 release of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, the first side-scrolling installment in more than 10 years
  • November 2023 release of Super Mario RPG, “the first RPG in the Super Mario” series

In addition to various games and downloadable content already released in June, Nintendo announced these two new Super Mario Bros. video games to be released in 2023:

Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples

Nintendo Brand Strategy Example: Nintendo Switch

This brand strategy example isn’t a game franchise but the console itself. Released in 2017, the Switch brand has sold over 129 million units through June 2023. 

By design, The Switch allows handheld access to Nintendo console games and vice versa. The name conveys the essential flexibility of the product, with the ability to switch between handheld and console gaming, as well as single player or multiplayer games. The premium Switch OLED was released in 2021, offering additional capabilities.

According to this source:

People on the Switch will buy 20-plus $60 games over the life of owning their Switch. This is not a casual ARPDAU-type audience. This is a high monetizing, high-intent audience. There are about 100 million active Switch players per month when you think about the churn, people buying multiple devices, devices breaking, and stuff like that. You have an attach rate of 35%–40% on a recurring revenue software business… They have a billion dollar business subscription business on their hands.”

Target Customer for the Nintendo Switch

The target consumer for the Nintendo Switch is a young adult casual gamer.

As of year-end 2018, the Switch had 50% female and 50% male ownership, unlike many other devices and even Switch early adopters, who skewed 70% male. 

The secondary target is kids and their parents, capitalizing on Nintendo’s family-friendly appeal.

Brand Strategy Elements for Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch has a colorful, accessible brand look that supports a playful brand personality. Users can customize the look of their Switch by purchasing colorful controllers in green, pink, orange and more.

Unlocking the device requires hitting the same button three times, and depending on which button you select in handheld mode, different sounds are deployed.

Brand Strategy Pillars / Commitments for Nintendo Switch

The brand delivers on the brand pillar of “play wherever, whenever” through its design. The second brand pillar is “an easy switch between a home consumer and mobile experience.”

Equally important with the freedom and ease of use offered by the Switch is the outstanding content. There are many hit games, with over 18 million units sold as of June 2023, including:

  • Tears of the Kingdom
  • Breath of the Wild
  • Animal Crossing New Horizons
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Pokémon Sword and Shield
  • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

One review sums up players’ attitudes by stating:

“The Switch Has the Best Original Games.”

For example, in 2017, Breath of the Wild was termed “the biggest system seller” to justify the purchase of the Switch.

Brand Strategy Future for Nintendo Switch

Since the Switch is now in the brand’s sixth year, it’s been widely reported that a new device will be released to replace the Switch.  In the past, Nintendo has discontinued older, billion-dollar device brands that were once market leaders, such as the Game Boy (discontinued in 2003) and the Nintendo DS (discontinued in 2014).

In the case of the Switch brand, however, the rumors have it that the new release will be a Switch 2, with the timeline varying in 2024. 

Nintendo Brand Strategy Example: Pokémon

Nintendo Brand Strategy Example: Pokémon

The Pokémon brand and the Pokémon Company were created in 1998, and Nintendo owns roughly a third of the brand. The other two owners are Game Freak and Creatures. In 2022, Pokémon Company revenues were reported at $1.7billion.

This is the most enduring franchise of the brand strategy examples we’ve reviewed, given its size, scope and long-lasting appeal over generations of young players. At $100 billion in lifetime revenues, Pokémon is the highest media-grossing franchise of all time.

The original cards are going strong with 9.7 billion Pokémon cards sold in fiscal year 2022-2023.  Lifetime card sales were 52.9 billion as of the same reporting period.

Over 480 million units of Pokémon brand software sold in the brand’s lifetime.  There are many Pokémon video games with sales in excess of 15 million units including:

  • Pokémon Red, Green & Blue (31.4 million units)
  • Pokémon Sword & Shield (25.7 million units)
  • Pokémon Gold & Silver (23.1 million units)
  • Pokémon Scarlet & Violet (20.6 million units)
  • Pokémon Diamond & Pearl (17.7 million units)
  • Pokémon X & Y (16.7 million units)
  • Pokémon Sun & Moon (16.3 million units)
  • Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire (16.2 million units)
  • Pokémon Black & White (15.6 million units)
  • Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! & Let’s Go Eevee! (15.1 million units)

And the mobile game Pokémon GO has more than one billion downloads since its launch in July 2016.

The Pokémon brand also boasts more than 20 animated films and over 26 TV ‘seasons.’

Pokémon also has a Pokémon Wonder theme park in Yomiuriland, an amusement park in Inaki City, Tokyo that opened in 2022.

Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples

Target Customer for the Pokémon Brand

The target customer for Pokémon is children ages five to 10, similar to Super Mario Bros.  Also,  the brand skews to boys.

As a family-friendly game, a secondary target is parents and even grandparents who buy Pokémon-brand products for their children and grandchildren.   Teens or young adults who have nostalgia for the franchise are tertiary targets.

Brand Strategy Elements for Pokémon

The Pokémon brand features “really tough, cool and cute” little creatures who battle each other without guts and gore.

Brand Pillars / Commitments for Pokémon

The Pokémon Company’s vision statement spells out the importance of competition, product excellence and discovery as brand pillars.

“The world of Pokémon connects everyone across the globe; beloved by kids, adults and every Trainer in between! These incredible creatures have crossed borders and language barriers to reach the hearts of millions for over 25 years, bringing people together through the joy of play and discovery.

The Pokémon Company Group has a mission to delight our fans through excellent products and meaningful experiences. We hope to help make the world a better place for everyone by creating opportunities to bond and to grow through shared journeys and friendly competition.”

Drawing in new fans and retaining existing ones by offering products for both core and casual gamers is another brand pillar.  As Christopher Dring explained in 2019:

 “Announcing Let’s Go could easily have gone very wrong. A casual, entry-level Pokémon game isn’t what the core players of the console series were looking for. To counteract some of that negativity, The Pokémon Company simultaneously announced that Sword and Shield (at the time untitled) were in the works. It turned out to be a smart move, because although there was some discontent from the fandom, it wasn’t nearly as severe as it could have been. Again, it was careful brand management, keeping each of its audiences in mind with every announcement.”

Perhaps even more than the other brands, a highly-connected Pokémon brand franchise is critical to the brand strategy as a pillar.

 “Connecting the disparate parts of the franchise in significant ways has been The Pokémon Company’s MO since its inception…Pokémon the video game franchise, Pokémon the Trading Card Game, and Pokémon the TV series were in constant contact throughout the early years.”

Brand Strategy Future for Pokémon

As the most expansive brand of the three, Pokémon can be expected to continue to release new game editions, cards and media content to support the brand.  

Netflix and Pokémon have announced that Pokémon Concierge will release in December 2023.

And, while a new video game is not expected in 2023, the video game franchise remains very active with downloadable content.

Nintendo’s brand strategy examples have a global appeal. Today, I saw two young boys who looked to be around five and six years old proudly wearing their Pokémon trainer t-shirts at the family resort we recently visited in Marbella Spain.  In town, we saw Super Mario Bros. prominently featured on an advertisement for Circo Berlin Zirkus. Based on the ubiquity of the brands, it looks like they will be healthy for years to come.

Billion Dollar Brand Strategy Examples

Nintendo has navigated three of these four brands across generations of consumers and generations of devices.  And, while time will tell, the Switch looks to be a strong contender as another enduring billion dollar brand.

For more brand strategy examples, visit our brand strategy resource page.  For another example in the gaming industry, we’ve explored the Steam Deck. Or join us for an upcoming office hours.