In Japan it’s a common sight to see people out on the street trying to promote this or that brand or product or shop. But for all their enthusiasm, I often wonder how much is actually being achieved considering the man hours being put in.

For example, close to my language school in Ikebukuro there is an ongoing promotional street-fight between the two biggest electrical retail chains in Tokyo, Biccamera and Yamada Denki. On one street corner outside the station they battle it out, each with a team of several people dressed in their respective colours of red or yellow, handing out catalogues and announcing deals through their hand-held megaphones to a seemingly oblivious passing crowd.

Then there are the tissues. You can’t walk more than 500 metres in some areas of Tokyo without being offered a free pack of tissues by some young guy or girl with a bar or ‘ladies’ club to promote. Great if you’ve got a cold. But I can’t believe they really pull much trade in this way.

However, this weekend Nintendo were out at one of Tokyo’s busiest thoroughfares in Shibuya to announce the launch of their new handheld 3DS with a promotion that made a little bit more sense.

The 3DS has already been heavily advertised, with TV spots featuring technology-pimping boy band of the moment Arashi (they’re also the face of AU’s high profile Android campaign). Of course, the trouble with these ads is that, for all the fun that the boys seem to be having with this apparently jaw-dropping new technology, it’s impossible to really get across what 3D could add on a 2D screen. Any attempts are bound to fall a bit flat (sorry!).

So with DS ownership already so high in Japan – according to one Internet survey a whopping 42% versus smartphone penetration of 12% – how do you convince consumers that this latest incarnation is worth shelling out for?

If anything is going to work then it has to be getting hands-on with the technology because it really does need to be seen to be believed. The 3D screen, which works without glasses and can be switched off if desired truly does – sorry but I just couldn’t think of any other way of putting this – add an extra dimension to the experience.

With games that are normally 2D – like Super Street Fighter IV 3D – the effect is nice to look at but doesn’t really add much (and can be turned off if desired). But its on games that normally take place in a 3D environment where the technology really seems to come into its own, with the extra depth making 3D look like more than a gimmick for the first time. The demos on display weren’t playable but even seeing say 3D soccer has sold me on the technology. If the point of gaming is to create an immersive experience then this is probably the biggest advance – in interface terms – since the Nintendo launched the Wii back in 2006. Now it just needs the right software to back it up.

In the end, the launch couldn’t have gone better, with all 400,000 units selling out within the 24 hours. The street promotion may just have drawn a few of these punters in and will at the very least have whet the appetite of those who didn’t buy on the day (such as me!). And now that the genie is out of the bottle the technology should start to sell itself with new owners of the console taking over the job of demonstrators as friends have a go on their machines.

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