Reggie FIls-Aimé, Nintendo of America’s popular former president, has begun making the rounds in interviews following his April 2019 retirement. And while he’s still speaking fondly of his former gaming employer, his post-retirement position appears to be letting him spill more beans about his 15 years of leadership. This month, that includes a reveal of how he “put a stop” to at least one major change to the company: its logo.
Present Value, a podcast about business leadership recorded by Cornell University graduate students, interviewed Fils-Aimé on December 28 of last year. That episode was resurfaced by gaming video channel GameXplain on Sunday due to the executive’s comment on the iconic, “racetrack” Nintendo logo, which has remained consistent since the company’s rise as an arcade and console game producer in the 1970s.
The below comment from Fils-Aimé is transcribed from the December 28 episode:
When I joined Nintendo, there was a sense of almost shame that Nintendo appealed to young consumers. The marketing time at Nintendo of America started doing things with the logo. Right? That classic Nintendo logo in an oval. They would put it in a graffiti style, or they’d do different things to try and age up the logo. And I put a stop to that, because that is not our brand. What we needed to do was, yes, appeal to a broad swatch of consumers, but we needed to do it based on what the brand stood for, and not in some false way.
Systemically, we went through and cleaned up the presentation of the brand. but we also created messaging, coupled with content, that really broadened the reach, broadened the appeal, and set the stage for all the great products we’d launch, like Wii, like Wii Fit, and eventually the Nintendo Switch.
The episode didn’t otherwise describe any work by Nintendo’s logo or branding teams. Savvy Nintendo fans likely recall Nintendo’s attempts to “age up” its products and consoles through the ’90s and early ’00s before Fils-Aimé joined the company in late 2003, particularly its “Play It Loud” and “Who Are You” advertising campaigns. The latter went so far as to include a massive amount of graffiti-styled text.
Fils-Aimé’s mention of a “cleaned-up presentation” might relate to the Wii era’s white-and-gray Nintendo logo, which removed the logo’s longtime red color but otherwise remained consistent in design. Nintendo is among a rare breed of successful international entertainment companies to keep its logo unchanged for so long, with its font and color scheme locked down as early as the 1960s.
Maybe he didn’t like the handle
The rest of the episode sees Fils-Aimé speak candidly about his career at Nintendo and beyond. (This includes his tenure as an exec at Pizza Hut, including his claim that its Bigfoot Pizza campaign was “one of [his] personal biggest failures” and somehow ushered in Papa John’s as a chain.) Curiously, he speaks about his time at Nintendo in the present tense and uses “we” to describe the company’s past and present efforts.
Among the details revealed: when Fils-Aimé interviewed for his role at Nintendo, he confessed to owning both a Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2, but not a GameCube. “As a consumer, I could see issues and opportunities,” he said about his lapsed Nintendo status; he’d previously owned the N64 and other Nintendo hardware. “I could have a sense of where the needs were, not only from a sales and marketing perspective, but just from an overall perspective.”
During the recruiting process, Fils-Aimé asked to speak directly with Nintendo of Japan’s Global president at the time, Satoru Iwata, before accepting any job. “It is not something they had planned to do,” he told Present Value. “I learned later on, it caused quite a bit of issues within Nintendo. ‘Who is this person asking to meet with our global president?'” This phone interview with Iwata-san was eventually scheduled and originally meant to last 30 minutes. It exceeded 90, Fils-Aimé said.
When talking about the Wii, FIls-Aimé didn’t go so far as to take sole credit for “the tough, tough decision to include Wii Sports” as a console pack-in product. He simply said he “advocated” for it, rather than potentially sell it separately and move “40 to 50 million” copies at $40 or more. But he still called it an example of his business principle of “courage and decision-making.” He recalled that the game’s inclusion with the Wii console was “one key decision that, in my view, determined whether we’d achieve” historic sales figures, and he pointed to the console’s greater success in the Americas and Europe, where the game was packed in, than in Japan, where it was not.
When pressed about his world premiere at E3 2004, and his “I’m about kicking ass” declaration, FIls-Aimé said that his speech was planned as early as his first phone call with Mr. Iwata.
All of the senior executives, we had a plan, based on the proposition that we needed to get more people playing video games. The only way to do that in Nintendo’s view was to provide new forms of entertainment that was designed for new and old, male and female. Our competitors thought that more horsepower and photorealistic visuals were the key. Nintendo had a different path. I benefited from knowledge of our plans [particularly the brand-new Nintendo DS]. E3 is a key point in time to motivate consumers, retailers, and business partners. We needed to be clear that this was a new Nintendo.
Given my aggressive nature, my ability to confidently speak in front of thousands, it became my job to set the stage for this new direction. Yes, those fateful words—”I’m about kicking ass and taking names”— they were completely thought through. I was the devil’s advocate: is this really what we want to say? Is this the approach? It began the journey of what Nintendo would accomplish. Not just the bravado. We had the goods to back it up.
For more from Fils-Aimé, including his belief that Nintendo “failed forward” with the Wii U and that Splatoon was the company’s proper response to first-person shooters, listen to the complete episode at Present Value.