I think your observation is correct. I cant remember a console release arrive with less fanfare than this. People just dont know what this is. reminds me of the whole 3ds launch fiasco. I know not all customers keep in touch with what gaming consoles are coming out but jeesh, is Nintendo going to have to spell it out to them in big neon letters?
I have another anecdotal case of how fvcked Nintendo has been when it comes to marketing this system. An account rep that I deal with called on me today and while shooting the breeze, we started talking about her kids and what they wanted for Christmas. She says she ended up buying them all laptops and I asked her why a game system wasn't in the cards and she said she is getting her boy a PS3 for his birthday next year. I asked her if the he'd asked for a Wii U, and she said yes he had, but that she wasn't willing to buy both a Wii and a new system to play games. I think she saw the remote and the name and figured it was basically a turbocharger for the Wii itself, not an entirely new system. I didn't even bother trying to explain it, mostly because she'd already bought the laptops, but also because it's not my job to help Nintendo out of their marketing clusterfvck.
I really DO get the impression that people have no idea still what this system is when they've heard about it. Nintendo really needs to do something to distance this system from the Wii..
The onus is on Nintendo to clearly differentiate this new console from the previous system. They made this same mistake with the 3DS as many people actually thought it was merely a DS with 3D functionality.
Nintendo also has a problem with core gamers because they haven't really given people like me any reason to buy a console nor have they titillated me with promises of upcoming exclusive software that would compel me to consider purchasing the Wii U.
This really is one of the strangest console launches I've ever seen.