Friday, May 09, 2008

Wii Fit: Better than chocolate for Mother's Day?

I’m a cynic: there’s no question about it, so it’s no surprise that I tend to think of Mother’s Day as greeting card and florist marketing gimmick. The original Mother’s Day was more to my liking: It was initiated after the American Civil War , as a day where women stood up for peace and justice world wide.

Cynicism aside, I’m still sending my mom a card and I sure hope there’s chocolate and breakfast in bed for me on Sunday. And in case anyone I know is reading this, I could really use a new yoga mat…

But wait! Maybe my family should get me the new Wii Fit attachment (which won’t really be available until May 19th, but when pre-ordered from Wal-Mart, comes with a $10 gift card). That way I can do yoga and exercises from the privacy of my own living room, using the patented Balance Board to check my stance and chart my progress in weight and body mass index over time.

Wii Fit is Nintendo’s latest expansion of its product line. The wildly successful Wii has appealed mainly to a certain demographic (you know who they are and they’re probably not reading this blog). Targeting mothers is an interesting strategy and a smart one, since women are major consumers, especially for fitness products. The Wal-Mart promo is designed to tap into the shrinking pool of spending money, literally banking on the fact that people might be more willing to make discretionary purchases on technology for special occasions and gifts. The Wii Fit seems like a bargain coming in at $89.00 (with that $10 gift card) at Wal-Mart, which is less than the average $138.00 people spend on their moms, wives, and grandmothers. Consequently, the retail giant has set up an entire Mother's Day strategy behind the new device, hoping that customers in the store for a Fit might pick up a few other items while they're there.

Compare that to my Mother’s Day list: a new yoga mat runs about $20, plus maybe a new membership card ($55), and a fancy new metal water bottle ($20) and you’ve spent about the same amount. The WiiFit should last a bit longer than my ten punch yoga class card, so it’s probably better in that regard. But let’s remember something: it’s an attachment. You’ve already got to have a Wii: that’s an additional $200 if you forgot to buy one for your kids over the winter holidays.

On the other hand, if you really wanted to get me some useful technology, I’m still pining for an iPhone…

Here’s the big question, though: will the Wii Fit be worth the price and get used? Nintendo is banking on the footprint to be a big seller based on the fact that it’s fun. They are careful not to claim that it’s a weight loss device or that it should in any way replace going outside for a bike ride or walk. Claiming it "helps you get to know your body better," they’re smart enough not to tie it in too closely to fears about the "obesity epidemic." That’s good because there are countless similar gadgets that end up in garage sales across the US. In 2005, Jackie Chan had a similar product called the J-Mat Fitness that allowed users to work out with the movie star and martial arts master and track their progress. Of course, the Wii itself is what makes the Wii Fit so appealing, piggybacking off an already successful and well-designed product.

Interestingly, the Wii Fit has already been for sale in Japan for a while. The creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, in pitching the Wii Fit in Japan, talked about his vision for its use – for family fun! This is interesting, because those sorts of activities are more in line with Japanese cultural values regarding family time. Americans may think they’re all about family values, but culturally, we are the people known for bowling alone. I do yoga with my kids and more often with my friends at the yoga studio, but keeping track of my exercise patterns and weight loss are solitary pursuits. At the same time, both men and women say they exercise more consistently when it’s a social activity – hence the worldwide success of low impact chains like Curves (also not exactly designed to make you into Lance Armstrong).

Here’s where the Wii Fit differs from DDR (Dance, Dance Revolution) the phenomenal dance game that has become an exercise tool for countless after school programs, phys ed classes, malls, and recreation centers. DDR is inherently social – most of the time, you do it with someone. Indeed, it’s a competition. I have the unfortunate feeling that for many moms who are the recipients of Wal-Mart’s special offer, the Wii rrFit is destined for that drawer in the entertainment center that’s a repository for extra remotes, old aerobics tapes, and broken joysticks. At least until they release a new snowboarding interface and the kids pull it back out.

And since I know the iPhone is a bit too pricey, I’m hoping that when I get home from the Mother’s Day Peace Vigil, there will be a new yoga mat and some chocolate waiting for me.

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