Attacking the SNES Commercials

 

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Author: John Legendoffzelda

I’m 20 years old, and I’m too young to have been around for when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a hot item with kids. Of course, this generational gap doesn’t keep me from adoring the SNES as an esteemed game console. But there are a lot of scraps of nostalgia associated with it, video game commercials above probably all else, that require first-hand experience to be held in the same regard, and that’s where I diverge. I personally can’t relate to video game commercials from before my time, or with fans who discuss that those forms of advertising were better than what would be practiced afterwards. Most Super Nintendo commercials, as I see them, look like extensions of the TV programs and similar kid-oriented media they were likely paired with. And the kids who watched these sugar-rush blitzes might say they were good marketing because they were “fun and zany” as opposed to, say, “pretentious and overly serious”.

Final Fantasy VII commercial

Black commercial

I can relate with the sentiment behind those opinions, because I know how strong emotional bonds are. These particular scraps are part of what shaped peoples’ childhoods, after all. But my own sentiment is based on commercials from after the SNES’s time (which is partly my own), which tell me that games can be advertised with consistency and themes that are fun and can inform viewers on just what the game is. I think Super Nintendo game ads are disappointingly different: they aren’t fun, they’re busy and in-your-face and dishonest, and they don’t convey what’s supposed to be so good about the game. They don’t inform viewers on theme, context or expectation – they get them to invest in the games sold by way of empty hyping.

Super Mario World commercial

This TV spot for Super Mario World is pretty much the most famous of the SNES crop, earning mentions from JonTron and ScrewAttack alike, and I feel it’s the one that shaped the mold. The commercial is thirty solid seconds of compiled game footage, with an anonymous announcer blazing through a list of statements with an excited tone that distracts from its own absence of meaning. “The next generation from Nintendo”? What is he even talking about? His rapid-fire delivery doesn’t suggest any attachment to these lines, which was at least something kids got from that one commercial with Tony Jay. Instead it’s slick and casual; listen to the harsh voice he uses for “a bit more enemies” and how he switches to a softer voice for “a bit more friends”, assigning a basic emotional idea to both key words. He sounds like the script was one of hundreds he reads every week for his day job, and his producers allow quantity to take precedence over quality. Then there’s the kicker to this ad, that these flashy phrases are meant to get the announcer to say “bit” sixteen times because this a “16-bit” game. Nice, but what is “16-bit” supposed to mean? Is it anything more than these detailed colors or that there are “a bit more levels” to play? There were parents back then who would never be sold on this new video-game technology, partly because “bits”  meant nothing to them; and in the midst of that time here comes an advertisement foregoing a relevant explanation in favor of saying Nintendo’s newest offering has this and that. If this context-free message was meant to get parents to buy a Super Nintendo anyway, I can imagine a lot of disappointed kids anticipating sleepovers at their friends’ houses.

Final Fantasy III commercial

I have to say, I resent how deeply this commercial misrepresents Final Fantasy III. That slogan at the end says that Squaresoft is the “Maker of the World’s Greatest Video Games”, something that’s very in line with this game, and all this ad does to support that statement is show off a Moogle “auditioning” monsters for the game and zapping them into dust. It’s like a Robot Chicken sketch without a punchline, and it doesn’t even go any further in suggesting the monsters than generic ghouls and creatures (there are no monsters in the game that have wheels! Why would they do that?!). Furthermore, it’s from this musty setup of a joke that viewers should interpret FFIII is a great game, or at least one they should have. What were kids supposed to do, call the ad’s bluff? Was it counting on them to play the game directly or read the latest issue of Nintendo Power to learn the game was vastly different than what it led them to believe? Maybe that sounds cunning on its part, but there’s no reason that the commercial couldn’t have been upfront with that information; there’s a wealth of humor and appeal in the game’s real content they could have presented instead.

Super Metroid commercial

Super Metroid had this TV spot that advertised the game’s size and difficulty. These are reasonable pieces of information to consider, yet it delivered those messages in a format that excessively oversimplified the subject. The immensity of this game is enough to turn a Rottweiler into a Chihuahua. What a reductive message that is; a harrowing installment of a cross-generational sci-fi series and it’s summarized with a cutesy visual image that does nothing but underestimates its target audience. For comparison’s sake, can you imagine if Terminator 2, a work with both kid and adult fans in mind, had this kind of marketing? It’s bad enough that the actor here looks so bored by what he’s doing – there’s more malarkey about technological specs for the announcer to read aloud here – but why mention this game is “the most intense Metroid battle ever” when the only suggested ties to that series are from a string of random footage? Neither kids of the time nor teenagers who grew up with the original game could make out Kraid or Ridley amid all that mishmash. The only thing left to discern is if they want to play the game, they will feel as intimidated by it as that dog.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past commercial

I actually think this commercial is alright. It doesn’t brag or do meaningless things, and it comes closer to capturing the feel of the advertised video game than most other SNES spots, even if Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is more serene in its epic foreboding than this ad depicts. Playing up the Master Sword as an Excalibur-type goal works because that’s what the Master Sword is. But more than that, this ad does what real commercials do: With Link ascending the mountain and finally hoisting the sword, the game’s logo is shown etched into the mountainside. It creates a complete emotional arc. The game also doesn’t wear its sense of triumph so prominently, of course, but the ad does this because it’s the emotional response people should take when those thirty seconds end.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island commercial

Kirby Super Star commercial

Super Mario RPG commercial

My go-to choice when picking a popular “bad” era of Nintendo’s history has to be their “Play It Loud” advertising campaign. I don’t know what came over those ad executives in mid-1994, but starting at that time they decided to sell first party Super Nintendo games by using crude and irrelevant metaphors, paired with visual tricks that were designed to blare those names at kids so loudly that they rang in their subconscious. The campaign was something of a Pyrrhic victory: it helped the company eclipse Sega in popularity, but it made for intolerable kid-media advertising. The commercial for Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island somehow thought it could convey the game’s content by showing a fat man stuffing himself with food in a greasy close-up, until his gut explodes in a green projectile mess. How does this revolting display relate to Yoshi at all, and how are parents supposed to get that this game is at all ideal? If your folks didn’t let you watch Nicktoons when you were young, there’s no way they would have seen this ad and thought this game was suitable; the message is lost in egregious fashion. That’s the driving force behind “Play It Loud”, and it affects the advertising of Kirby Super Star and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in similar ways. The Kirby ad purports a smirking cartoon reality where kids who play the game turn into balls of air, while the RPG ad explains its premise with the incoherent ramblings of an old person, and both ideas put up these thick barriers between them and the audience. Why does the experience of Kirby have to look so frenetic and cartoonish? And whose side is the audience on with RPG, the old man’s or that of the kids listening to him? The ad wants people to like the game, but the wavering tone of “which audience surrogate is more relatable here?” makes the whole thing look too crazy to be worth anything.

Almost all of these ads ruin the games they sell; they assault viewers with pretenses and hyped-up jargon rather than even hinting at the genuine quality all these games have. That’s what makes me so disappointed in them. I shouldn’t think that the fans of these ads disapprove of the relative sophistication in video game advertisements since then, and I don’t. SNES fans come from all periods of time, and a main strength of the system is that it can now live with or without the media environment it once had. Really, it’s all just a matter of values.

Thank you for indulging this cultural point of view.

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John Legendoffzelda

John Legendoffzelda

My name is Bill Hensel. I was born in 1993, and I am attending an out-of-the-way college in West Virginia. I find the SNES Hub to be a rewarding outlet for my creativity (though not the only outlet), and I look forward to contributing to it further.

6 Comments:

  1. Thanks for submitting this! It gives a great look at how younger SNES enthusiasts view these same commercials from a different lens.

    Ahem…. As for my article, I suppose you have to look at it from the context of what the SNES was, which was a sustained innovation. Rather than do something to capture new markets like the Atari 2600 or the NES, the SNES and Genesis were essentially operating within an established market.

    So how do you convince users to move upstream if you are not doing anything fundamentally different? The answer lies in highlighting what the new sustained innovation does BETTER and BIGGER, which is what 16-bit marketing does. Ads are not about honesty. Ads are about selling the product in a way that does not defy consumer expectations, which some, but not all did well.

    -The yoshi and FF3 ads were really bad. Don’t know what they were thinking on these…….

    -The reason why that Super Mario World advertisement is cited so much is because it is a perfect example of marekting a SI product. Super Mario Brothers 3 has just come out in the U.S, and many will say that it does the job better than even SMW. How then do you SELL an inferior product to people who still have an NES and Mario 3? By showing off 16-bit graphics, mode-7 effects, and implying how much bigger the game is, longer the levels are, and how much more content is packed in. ITS A BIT MORE…. Keep in mind that advertisement is not supposed to be honest. It is supposed to sell the product.

    -Zelda was advertised as “The game that is already a legend”. The sequel to the coveted golden cartridges of the NES era. This is a hype-based ad showing off some random schmuck engaging in heroism, which is the heart of what Zelda is. “I was weak. Now I am strong.”

    -Super Metroid was advertised as difficult because the first Metroid was balls hard. while SM was not as hard, it is still considered Nintendo’s prestige game, like when Defender was in the arcades. It was Nintendo’s answer to the “Kiddie” charge that was plaguing them even in the 80’s by PC gamers. The chiuahua bit was Nintendo challenging the Hardcore, which was the entire intent of the game “I dare you to play and complete this game”, which of course many Hardcore did! Many even developed speedruns and sequence breaking maneuvers.

    As for modern game ads, I find myself most of the time going “What The Fuck?” No gameplay? Music that does not convey the emotions the player feels while playing the game? Almost every modern game ad plays like a gritty movie trailer with a sad song, (while the same grittysadsong game plays like a jerry bruckheimer film complete with shitty dialogue) and tells us almost nothing about the game itself. That is because they are less an ad and more a hardcore hype trailer that succeeds in showcasing the developers desire to be movie directors.

    I will of course omit the early Wii ads from this critique….That was just pure fucking brilliant!

  2. Great article! As someone who grew up during the “16-bit wars” I find it fascinating to read the opinions of someone who can look at the ads objectively and without any nostalgia. I think its safe to say that while the SNES may be timeless, many of its ads are not.

    Have you taken a look at some of SEGA’s ads during this time period? Much of Nintendo’s late-SNES era ads are a direct result of the content / branding that SEGA was putting out around the time. You almost can’t look at one without the other, since the two companies were competing so fiercely back then.

    I really do miss that Nintendo / SEGA competition. Both companies offered a quality product that was still fundamentally different. We still had some of that “great but different” competition during the 5th, 6th and 7th (because of the Wii) generations, though this looks to be all but lost as we enter the 8th generation.

  3. It may have been the type of household I grew up in, but I hardly remember any video game commercials growing up in the 90s. I played a ton of SNES but it was never paired with other media outlets, such as commercials and such, that my friends would have encountered. The only video game commercial I distinctly remember from the 90s was “Dr. Mario.”
    Looking back at these videos I never remember seeing, the “play it loud” campaign seems to be consistent with MTV culture of the time. It didn’t have to make the most sense, or highlight your product’s positives. It seemed that every add producer wanted to be pitched ideas that were “so crazy, it just might brilliant!” This of course doesn’t make for timeless commercials, as they age very poorly.
    Rush is right, the 16-bit trench warfare is a significant aspect in marketing the SNES. There’s a Sega commercial the Angry Video Game Nerd highlights where Super Mario Kart is poked fun of for being boring pedantic, lacking the loreful “blast processing” of the Sega Master System , yet SMK is about as classic as the 16-bit generation gets. Yikes! Oh, the times.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb73kHBAirU
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_y3waeqxU8

  4. About SMW2.
    I’m guessing you haven’t seen the “Play It Loud” print ads in magazines? (well, since those would’ve run the year your were born if you’re 20 😀 )
    EarthBound is probably the most famous of those. It proclaimed “This game stinks!” with foul-scented scratch-n-sniff pages. EB fans who were around for that will tell you those ads are likely one reason the game flopped on release (the other being the Peanuts-like graphics, a year after Donkey Kong Country made CG a big deal. The other being that RPGs wouldn’t become mainstream in America until around 1997-1998 when FF7 and Pokemon were released.)
    True SMW2’s was more offensive, but it can be argued that Yoshi (and especially SMW2 on the box) were popular enough they could sell even with crappy advertising.

    Another notable ad was SMASHING THE MYTH OF SPEED AND POWER, the first time Nintendo made a confrontational ad, and one that annoyed a lot of Genesis fans with its article-style (they call them advertorials in the bis) ad (well, aside from when Nintendo Power written one, but in NP you knew to expect it was a biased source)
    http://www.gamepilgrimage.com/content/smashing-myth-about-speed-and-power

    Some of my other favorites:
    Ken Griffey Jr. Presents MLB “Baseball so real you can taste it!” (shot of some kid with a baseball jammed in his mouth)
    Super Game Boy “It’s like Game Boy on steroids!”
    Stunt Race FX “The other guy’s game only has three tracks, so the only thing you get to pick is your nose.”
    Super Pinball: Behind the Mask (“To get pinball action this real anywhere else, you’d have to go to an arcade. And you’d probably have to wear clothes.”)

    • I know about the print ads, even if I didn’t directly write about them in the article. But on the subject of those, I think they’re equally crass and tasteless; the repercussions of the “Earthbound” campaign lasted for 18 years.
      If you and Mon aren’t so bothered by the “Play It Loud” era, then that’s a good thing.

  5. I remember those Play it Loud ads were in the magazines, Mike. Haha, I still remember the scent those those scratch and sniff cards emitted. Anybody remember Mossman from He-man? They made an action figure of him that had a peculiar smell. Those Earthbound cards kinda smelled like him!

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