Advertising Gone Weird: The Strangeness That is Video Game Commercials

Before we start, I just want you to take a look at this ad.  No seriously, just watch it.  It’ll give you an idea of what’s to come.



Yes, that was an actual ad that ran on actual television for an actual game.  Pole Position was released in 1982 for the Atari 2600, so presumably the commercial came out around that same time.  It’s certainly bizarre, and if there’s a lesson to be learned from it, it’s that God can be a dick sometimes I guess?

But this isn’t the only television commercial for video games that goes absolutely batshit crazy.  Oh no…there’s plenty of them out there.  Like this one that Nintendo released in Australia and New Zealand.



Oh yes…it was a whole thing.  Not half a thing, not even a quarter of a thing, but a WHOLE thing.

Now, these two ads I personally never saw on TV, mostly because one, I don’t live in Australia or New Zealand.  And two, I wasn’t even born when these ads were released.  I found them much later on as part of a article talking about strange video game commercials.  And this weirdness was almost par for the course when it came to video game advertisements, particularly in the ’80s and ’90s.  A possible explanation for this was that the technology was still new, and game companies weren’t sure how to present it to a television audience.  It’s also possible that the people in charge of making the ads had no damn clue what video games were about and so just decided to give good old insanity a try when it came to marketing.

Speaking of insanity, check out this ad for the original Legend of Zelda.



“Now you’re playing with power”?  More like playing with powers beyond mere mortal comprehension.  Poor guy…doomed to forever scour a room searching for a princess that doesn’t exist…

Well I suppose it’s better than the nerd rap commercial they made.  Or is it?  I really don’t know.

In any case, it seems that advertisers had no clue how to market this new technology to people, so they went for the most attention-grabbing tactics they could find.  But were these ads effective?  I can’t really say.  I know that from my own personal experience, television ads for video games rarely, if at all, affected the games I would buy.  Word of mouth and the internet were far better predictors of the games I bought, along with what I read in the gaming magazines I was subscribed to.  Of course, my experience is merely anecdotal, but as far as I can tell the television ads were secondary to the whole thing.

But hey, this is all in the past right?  There’s no way they’re still doing this kind of thing in modern times…right?

Wait, what’s this?  An ad for the Playstation 3 about ten years ago?  Well there’s no way this could be weirder than-



…dear god what in the hell did I just witness?  Maybe it’s metaphorical.  Maybe it has metaphysical connotations.  Maybe it’s a musing on the frailty of human life and the terrifying power of the technology it can create.

Or maybe drugs.  Lots of drugs.  Yeah probably drugs.  I’m guessing drugs.

All joking aside, as strange as it might seem there is actually a logic behind these kind of ads.  Because they are not just relegated to the realm of video game marketing.  Have you ever seen an ad that just makes you scratch your head and ask “why would that make me want to buy their product?”  Then you know what I’m talking about.

Back in college I had a class where we talked about the different types of ads marketers will use to sell their products.  At one end of the spectrum you have the typical “problem solution” ads.  An example of this would be those cleaning product advertisements where someone spills something on their shirt, making a stain which is then solved by the appearance of a cleaning product which transforms their shirt into looking good as new.  You see the formula: there’s a problem (stain on the shirt), which is then counteracted by a solution (the cleaning product).  These are probably the most common ads you’ll see on television.

There are other types of ads out there, but in the interest of time we’ll skip to the other end of the spectrum.  These were described in my class as something like “attention ads”.  These ads, rather than straight up selling you a product, will do something to grab your attention.  Most of the time it’s done by being funny, showing something interesting, or in the case of the Playstation 3 ad, fueling unbridled terror in men’s hearts.


And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you...

And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you…


The purpose of these ads is not to convince you of the virtue of their product, but to make the ad itself stick into your brain.  These will cause you to remember the ad, and by association, the product with it.  And you know what?  It actually kind of works.  After all these years I can still remember the Playstation 3 baby doll ad but I’d be hard pressed to tell you about any of the Xbox 360 advertisements, which was the Playstation 3’s competitor at that time.  Now whether or not these tactics translate into sales I cannot say.  It’s well-known by now that the PS3 was outsold by the Xbox 360 for almost the entirety of that console generation, but that was largely due to a botched launch.  The PS3 was just too expensive, didn’t have many games worth playing, and the technology was just too awkward for game makers to develop for, which lead to consistent technical issues with their games.  The ads were certainly bizarre, but it’s highly doubtful they led to the failure of the system on any level.

In any case, these ads are fun to look back on as curious pieces of history in a way.  They stick with us, and even if they didn’t achieve their purpose, they’re still fascinating to watch.  At the very least, they provide us with some entertainment value.  Creativity is the spice of life after all.

Well thank you all for reading, and check back next Wednesday for another post.  Now, before I go, I leave you with one last video game ad.  So enjoy!



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