Diabolical Product Differentiation

The Trojan Horse doesn’t conjure thoughts of honorable warfare. It’s definitely not something you’d associate with one of the top 100 most loved brands in the world. But at age 11 I was fully caught in the crosshairs of a diabolical marketing scheme that took the public by storm.

The year, 1985. The place, Japan. Nintendo had achieved product differentiation in Japan by building a superior gaming system that the Japanese public loved.


Jump to the U.S. The home video game market had become a bloated, commoditized marketplace. To give you an idea of how bad it was Nintendo became so desperate that they approached the retail giant FAO Schwartz and offered their merchandise for free as long as FAO would simply put it up for sale in their stores.

Can you guess how FAO responded?  The toy retailer declined!

Nintendo knew they had a HUGE problem. They were sure that If people gave their hardware a shot they’d be hooked. But how could they pull off product differentiation in a saturated market?


Nintendo gave the public something they’ve never truly seen before. A robot that actually plays video games with you. He was called ROB, the Robotic Operating Buddy.

ROB got people to stop and take notice. It seemed every newscast was asking “who wouldn’t want a robotic video game pal?”

The buzz was so incredible and unstoppable that the Christmas after launching ROB at FAO Schwartz, a representative was quoted as saying they had never worked so hard before nor so ever since. And yes even little Jesse James Wroblewski plunked down his dollars for a system.

Now here is the rub.

With 800 officially licensed Nintendo games on NES system. How many of them do you think you could actually play with R.O.B.? 100?  200?  300?

NOPE, JUST 2.  You heard me correctly, not 200, just…2.

And to make matters worse,  you’d be hard pressed to find any video gamer who will admit that either of those 2 games were remotely enjoyable to play.

Nintendo had pulled the wool over everyone eyes, including mine.  Their Trojan Horse aka ROB got me to let down my guard and open my piggy bank. ROB quickly ended up at the bottom of my closet collecting dust as I became obsessed with Nintendo’s other amazing games.  The diabolical plan was executed  just as they intended, I was hooked.


Was Nintendo’s Trojan Horse a level of DIABOLICAL DIFFERENTIATION?
Possibly. Did it work? Absolutely. Nintendo went from the brink of extinction to becoming a mainstay in the top 100 most valuable and most loved brands in the world.


It doesn’t matter if you’re an 11 year old video gamer or seasoned professional, we’ve all been conditioned to up our defenses when approached by a new sales tactic. Nintendo, knew this and brilliantly overcame this obstacle which lead to market domination in a commoditized marketplace. Sure, you might not exactly have a giant trojan horse or a robot but, you do have your own version of these. You just need to tap into the extraordinary power of your creativity to get through the guarded defenses of your audience.

Jesse James Wroblewski

Differentiation Consultant

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