I opened it anyway and discovered that it was a legitimate -- and surprising -- inquiry from Nintendo to help them market their wildly popular Wii game system. Surprising, because I am not much of a gamer. Correction: I'm not anything of a gamer. I was already in college when Pong -- the first videogame -- was introduced, and I didn't see its appeal. When younger friends were dropping coins in arcades to play PacMan, Qbert and Mario Brothers, I thought it was a waste of time and money. A few years ago, I purchased a PlayStation 2 for my daughter to play with her friends -- and I only ever touched the controls once, got frustrated that I kept losing to her, and so quickly lost interest.
Therefore, I am not the first person I would have picked if I was marketing for Nintendo.
So It's a good thing I'm not in that business. Nintendo Megan -- the nice young marketing woman who contacted me -- explained that her employers have figured out that they have a vast untapped market among women, girls and people over the age of 50. (Which makes me a "two-fer.")
That's why Nintendo is selling girly pink editions of their newest gaming system, the DS Lite, at Limited Too. And why they were the only game company with a booth at last year's AARP convention. And why the controls on the Wii's wireless remotes are so simple, even a card-carrying AARP member can master them. (And yes, I am an AARP member, courtesy of my friend Maggie, who thought it would be a funny birthday gift when I turned 50).
The venerable game company (did you know Nintendo has been around for more than a century? I certainly did not!) launched the Wii with a unique viral marketing campaign: They selected ordinary people who represented different market segments (including the gamers, who were already aware that this new system was on its way, moms, who probably were not -- and multi-generational families) to be "Wii Ambassadors," which meant that these people got to host a party where the main event would be playing with the new game console (which, at that time, had not yet appeared in any stores). The hosts would invite about 30 guests and Nintendo would do all the rest, which included arranging for refreshments and providing four to five HDTV's set up with Wii's.
Tracey Clark of Club Mom wrote about hosting one of these early parties here. And it turned out that the host of one of the L.A. parties is Linda Perry, one of my colleagues over at Family.com. Linda runs an amazing email referral list here in Los Angeles (Peachhead Families). She's the woman I want to be when I grow up (which I say facetiously, as she is several years younger than I am) -- she's energetic, efficient, and criminally attractive -- even though she works full time, is raising two daughters, AND manages to run her list and organize all kinds of events. The Los Angeles Times described her as an "Alpha Mom" -- which means, she's a leader and a tastemaker among her peers (which, thanks to her Peachhead list, number over 5,000).
I am more of a "Beta Mom" -- I have a lot of friends who could be described as "Alphas," and I'm smart enough to know a good thing when I see it. Even though the Wii was not even close to being at the top of my wish list, I knew that my daughter Megan would love one... and hosting a party like this would boost my "coolness factor" way up. (I don't think I have ever been cool, even in my 20's, when I was interviewing rock stars for a living. I have always been kind of a geek.)
So I signed on and we set the date for my party -- June 2 (Saturday). Nintendo Megan instructed me to come up with a guest list of about 15 mother and daughter pairs.
"Do you want to host it at your house, or should we find another venue?" Nintendo Megan asked. Now, my 1961 Valley ranch house is only 1450 square feet. I supposed it would be possible to set up four or five TV's in the house, if we used all the bedrooms -- but there wouldn't be a lot of room to play. And of course, there is the always-present "I hate housework" thing...
"We'll find you a place," she said.
A couple of weeks later, she called to tell me they had found a party house. "Is Malibu too far for your guests?" she asked. "No," I said. It wasn't exactly a lie -- while most of my neighbors do not like drive into the big city, the beach is another matter... we'll use any excuse to escape the San Fernando Valley heat.
As it turned out, the house was actually located just outside Malibu, in one of the canyons I used to drive to get to Zuma. And Nintendo arranged to have a shuttle take the guests over there from my house, so no one needed to drive.
(But with everyone meeting at my place, I decided I would have to clean house after all -- which is pretty much all I did last week -- and why this is my first post since Tuesday).
I submitted my guest list and waited for the invitations to go out. And waited. And waited. And worried that everyone on the list would have other engagements and that my party would be a bust and Nintendo Megan would realize that I'm not cool enough to be a Wii Ambassador and regret that she selected me.
Eventually, I started to worry that the whole thing might have been an elaborate hoax. I couldn't figure out why anyone would bother to trick me like that -- but we were getting down to the wire.
And then I received a package addressed to my daughter and me from Nintendo Wii. The letterhead was inscribed "Kappa Kappa Wii," and the message informed us that we were being inducted into the "Kappa Kappa Wii Mother Daughter Sorority."
Inside the box were two identical pink DS Lite handheld game consoles, plus a couple of games for us to play with. So now I knew this was no hoax... and that our party would have a sorority theme.
The invitations finally went out and almost everyone was able to make it. "How did you score this?" several of my friends asked. I told them I'd fit a demographic -- I figured Nintendo Megan had found me by Googling for Southern California mothers with tween daughters, and found my blog.
Saturday was crazy. My Megan woke up early, excited about the party. I was, too. I'd been informed that Nintendo would have a video crew at the event -- so I'd set up an early morning hair appointment for myself and an afternoon one for my daughter. We got back home a mere 40 minutes before we'd told our friends to arrive -- which gave me just enough time to change clothes and apply makeup, a task made more difficult by the fact that the phone kept ringing.
At 3:45, the "shuttle" pulled up in front of our house. Actually, it was a HUGE bus. It was too tall for the trees that line our street, so the driver idled in the northbound lane, forcing vehicles to pass around him.
The neighbors are gonna love this, I thought. At least, it was going to be easy for my guests to find my house. "The next size up after 20 people was a bus for 50," explained Catherine, the lovely young lady who was handling all the party details.
We arrived at the "sorority house" around 5:00 and were greeted by Catherine, Megan and a bevy of beautiful young women dressed in Kappa Kappa Wii jackets, who presented each of us with tiaras. They led us into the house, which was set up with five Wii's connected to HDTV's. The kids all scrambled to play (few of them needed instruction on the wireless remotes). Most of the moms gravitated to the munchies set up strategically around the room, the wine bar -- and the gorgeous grounds. I worried that the kids would be having so much fun that they would forget to eat, but Catherine and her caterers thoughtfully came up with the kind of finger food that would appeal to moms and kids alike (mini burgers and fries, teriyaki skewers, etc.) and still allow us to enjoy the games.
And there were a lot of them -- of course, one of the consoles was running the Wii Sports package (tennis, bowling, boxing, golf) that comes with the product. But another one featured classic games that you can download to your Wii. And my personal favorite was a disco dancing themed game, which won't be in the stores until later this summer.
The three hours scheduled for the event went by FAST -- before we knew it, the Kappa Kappa Wii team was presenting us with our party favors: Kappa Kappa Wii pins, cute Wii remote keyrings, and some yummy cookies to take home. They also gave each of our guests an invitation to order our own Wii consoles directly from Nintendo (bypassing the frustration of trying to find one in stock at a store). Those of us who did not already own our own Wii's were sold, and I was making plans to do exactly that, when Nintendo Megan presented me with a parting hostess gift: My very own Wii, an extra remote, a couple of "Nunchuks" and five games.
"This is to thank you for hosting our party," she said. Like I had to DO anything to be part of this, other than invite my friends and watch my stock rise with them?
It was a happy group of mothers and daughters stepping into the bus for the trip back home. "This party was awesome!" announced one of my daughter's friends.
"I'm going to start a blog," said her mother.