Let me use Australia's situation as an example. In 2006, Nintendo set up a massive tour, which visited pretty much all of the major retail locations in the country, with a significant lineup of games, and therefore got experience with the Wii out there to large numbers of people. And they pushed the hell out of that tour, so that there were queues everywhere that the Wii went.
Jump forward to 2012. They announced an understated tour where a couple of fixed locations, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne, would get continuous Wii U demo stations. Other than this, for a week at a time, the Wii U would be taken to each of the other major cities, where there would be a tiny little outdoor inflatable structure that would house five demo stations - two with NSMB U, two with Nintendo Land, and one with another game (in Brisbane, it was Scribblenauts - can't be sure that it was the same game in the other cities). There was no real advertising of its presence, and so, unsurprisingly, there was little attention paid to it. Remember, these outdoor locations weren't in the middle of retail space, they were out of the way places - the Brisbane one was in a small concrete park outside of the city hall.
Beyond the tour, in 2006, Nintendo ran a massive ad campaign for the Wii, with the main ads being great demonstrations of what the Wii was about. In 2012, I think I saw two ads for the Wii U prior to launch - the same ad, mind you, but I saw it twice... and it did nothing to really help you to understand the Wii U.
Simply put, the Wii U marketing to date has been woeful, at least in Australia, and from what I hear, it's not much better anywhere else, perhaps outside of Japan. And it's not just the ads themselves, it's the overall marketing.