No matter what industry it may be, companies need to get their products out there by advertising. With present-day Internet technology, it’s relatively easier to do that today than it was back then when it was mostly through print, television, and radio, which cost a lot of money to do. Many companies hire singers, athletes, and other celebrities to get people to endorse their products. For example, 6-time NBA champion Michael Jordan was featured in a large number of commercials (McDonald’s, Hanes, Ball Park Franks, MCI, and Wheaties) throughout the 90s in his prime. In other avenues, NASCAR racers have their sponsors on their cars and combat sports athletes do the same by placing their sponsors on their robes and/or trunks.
As for gaming companies, they’re no different in trying to be creative in selling their products. And like McDonald’s and Nike, some game companies even got celebrities featured in their games. These celebrities include John Madden, Charles Barkley, Michael Jackson, and Mike Tyson. So what are some top gaming ads in both on-screen and print? Read our list to find out!
10. Michael (PlayStation 3)
- System: PlayStation 3
- Publisher: Sony
- Developer: Sony
- Release Dates: Nov 11, 2006 (Japan), Nov 17, 2006 (US)
Kicking off this list is Sony’s Michael commercial for the PS3. It is a spectacular live-action commercial where a bunch of staple PS3 characters gathers in a bar where they share their adventures. Some of these characters you can see in live action are Snake from MGS4, Kratos from God of War, Nathan Drake from Uncharted, and Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal. In the end, they all thank Michael, their owner for helping them see through their quests.
Obviously, Michael represents all players so it was Sony’s and the other game companies touching way of giving thanks to the players who make these games possible. Beyond its tribute to fans, the production quality of this commercial is distinctly cinematic and the actors who portray the featured characters will have you convinced that if a (proper) live-action movie of these games is ever made, they should be cast. Considering Hollywood’s unreasonable failures at adapting video games, this should be seen as an inspiration on how to make a proper one.
9. Piranhas (Game Boy Advance)
- System: Game Boy Advance
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Dates: Mar 31, 2001 (Japan), June 11, 2001 (US)
It’s 2001 and you got yourself the newest handheld, the Game Boy Advance. Due to the portable nature of it, you can take it anywhere you want and that includes camping by the lake. You sit down at a bridge by the lake, put your feet in the water and you get hooked to your GBA to the point that the feet you put in the water are now nothing but bones due to piranhas eating them and that is the nature of this magazine ad back in 2001.
Despite Nintendo having a kid-friendly image throughout the 90s, this disturbing ad shows that they were willing to break away from this image by showing a pre-teen boy having the flesh of his feet eaten off because he was absorbed into his GBA for the sake of humor. In retrospect, this ad in some ways can be seen as a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it shows that when you start playing, you’ll enjoy it to the point that you’ll forget the worries around you. On the other, it makes you oblivious to the dangers around you and this has been a progressing concern with today’s mobile technology. As we can naturally, it’s not fair to judge something by today’s standards when the reasons for them didn’t exist yet, so we can say that for its time, you could get quite a laugh out of it.
8. It’s Thinking (Dreamcast)
- System: Dreamcast
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sega
- Release Dates: Nov 27, 1998 (Japan), Sept 9, 1999 (US)
Coming off the failure of Saturn in the US, Sega of America wanted to make itself great again by moving onto a new console, the Dreamcast. While it was discontinued in North America towards the beginning of 2002, it still had a successful launch thanks to its “It’s Thinking” commercial campaign. While it wasn’t as aggressive as Tom Kalinske’s approach to the Genesis (spoiler, it made the list), it was still in tune with its original spirit that Sega games were fun and edgy. Some of the earlier commercials evoked The Matrix, which was a big hit at the time. One notable example is when a lady in Tokyo sneaks into a company and steals a Dreamcast console, which felt like a scene from the movie.
As for the remaining commercials, they use skits of characters (by using the console’s graphics) from its hit games as a clever cross promotion. One notable commercial was with the inaugural NBA 2K when Allen Iverson (as an in-graphics character and was featured on the cover of the first 4 installments of the series) visits Taka from Virtua Fighter at a teahouse to learn better balance in the post. Taka teaches Allen how to lower his center of gravity like a sumo wrestler in a humorous manner. Then the commercial pans back to the game, it shows Iverson using that same pose as the game is playing. Not only were these commercials funny, but also, they were being realistic about what you were getting if you purchased a Dreamcast and its then groundbreaking software.
7. Magician Lord
- System: Neo Geo, Arcade
- Publisher: SNK
- Developer: ADK
- Release Dates: Apr 26, 1990
While a good portion of consumers in the 90s was aware of the original Neo Geo console, it was by no means affordable to them. In its prime, the console was $700 (and this was in mid-90s dollars) and the games were pretty much half the price of the unit. The only way to play these arcade perfect games were just to play them in the arcade. But if there is one thing that this game had, is that its print advertising literally had balls. In the old days of gaming magazines such as EGM and GamePro, you would naturally find full-page ads for games and consoles within them.
But if there was one print ad that stood out, it would certainly have to be SNK’s print ad for Magician Lord. On the upper left side of the ad above a pair of pinball-like balls with a Neo Geo on the upper right, it has text that says, “you need a set of these (written above the balls), to play one of these (while typed above the Neo Geo).” When you read this ad, you can easily draw your own conclusions. Then in the bottom half of the ad, you get small screenshots of Magician Lord, and it explains that the balls represent what you need in the game to win.
The ad is well remembered because it’s edgy for different reasons in relation to its day of pushing the envelope, and the present with how gender roles and identity are a new debate in society. It has humor, it challenges masculinity (at last with how it was viewed in the 90s), and it explains to you that the Neo Geo is a legit console for people to play. But in the end, it was probably best to replace the balls with 100 $100 bills for anyone who wanted to buy it.
6. Street Fighter II Turbo
- System: Super Nintendo, Arcade
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Dates: July 11, 1993 (Japan), Aug 1993 (US)
While many of us are familiar with the ad campaigns of our nations of residence, it is also important to acknowledge what was featured overseas. For our first Japanese addition, we would like to make a shout out to the Japanese commercials for Street Fighter II Turbo on the Super Famicom, or the Super Nintendo outside of Japan. Long prior to the debut of the infamous Jean Claude Van Damme movie and the critically panned Legend of Chun Li movies, the perfect live-action Street Fighter was already made in some commercials exclusive to Japan. One features Chun Li and another Guile fighting M. Bison (or in this case, Vega).
The actors selected to play these featured characters accurately reflect how they look in the game. Guile is appropriately played by a muscled Caucasian, and Chun Li is played by action actress Miki Mizuno. The song featured in these commercials is intense and get you pumped into the action. The action is excellently choreographed for a commercial and it does its best to include signature moves from the game such as Chun Li’s Kikouhou and Guile’s Sonic Boom. Plus, the fights look like they take place in Thailand, Bison’s stage from the original Street Fighter II game to offer more authentic faith to the source material. So if you want a true live-action Street Fighter (other than Assassin’s Fist), watch these commercials from Japan on YouTube.
5. Mortal Kombat
- System: Genesis, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Game Gear, Arcade
- Publisher: Acclaim (consoles), Midway (arcade)
- Developer: Midway
- Release Dates: Oct 8, 1992
Before the controversy, before the congressional hearings, there was the Mortal Monday commercial. For some gamers, this was probably their gateway to one of the most groundbreaking games of the 1990s. For a 40 second commercial, it excellently got gamers of those days excited. Filmed in a sepia-like tone in the middle of Chicago’s streets, a bunch of teenage boys screaming MORTAL KOMBAT at the top of their lungs with their arms in the air. As they scream, people flock to the middle of the streets and in-between the running and screaming, the commercial shows various clips of the game.
Even though the clips are just milliseconds, they do enough to show viewers that this isn’t your typical fighting game with its then-unique graphics, crazy special moves, a brief preview of Rayden’s fatality, and its board breaking minigame accompanied by some crazy techno music of the day that excellently compliments the intensity. The reason why this commercial also works is that it also shares that it was available on all home consoles and handhelds of its day so you could buy if you had any of them.
4. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce)
- System: Super Nintendo
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Dates: Nov 21, 1993 (Japan), Apr 13, 1992 (US)
In addition to Street Fighter II Turbo, this particular commercial relates to another one exclusive to Japan, a commercial for Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super Famicom. What makes this stand out is that is is pretty much a spoof of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Its cinematography and choreography more or less invoke it but uses a very silly song singing about how the game is finally out and that it’s about action and adventure.
Despite how silly it comes across, even if you can’t understand Japanese, its visuals get the job done. It is filmed in a dungeon (which the franchise as a whole is famous for), the backup dancers represent many of the enemies and villagers, demonstrates you have to save Zelda, gives you some action that is accurate to the game and introduces Ganon. In case you were wondering, Link is played by a woman but no one can deny she looks stunning in the costume. The song is cheesy but catchy, and the dancing adds a fun element.
Just like how numerous anime (notably Sailor Moon and Prince of Tennis) get a series of musical adaptations, watching this video will have you convinced that a Zelda musical is a strong possibility and could become a must-see.
3. Segata Sanshiro (Saturn)
- System: Saturn
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sega
- Release Dates: Nov 22, 1994 (Japan), May 1995 (US)
While the Saturn was a tragic failure in North America and Europe, it was a massive success in Japan. The reasons behind this can qualify as its own article but we can at least share one reason why Saturn became a hit in Japan and that was because of a series of commercials known as Segata Sanshiro. The Segata Sanshiro is a spoof of Sugata Sanshiro, a 1940s martial arts film. Furthermore, he was portrayed by Hiroshi Fujioka, the original Kamen Rider, a long-running Japanese superhero series.
The commercials themselves are just so Japanese with him wearing a judo gi and using judo on kids telling them to “Sega Saturn Shiro,” meaning, “play the Sega Saturn!” In some of these commercials, he advertises for Sonic R, Shining Force III, and a very hilarious one featuring one of the console’s biggest hits in Japan, Sakura Taisen. After Sega moved onto the Dreamcast, the character was killed off in his last commercial by protecting Sega’s headquarters from a missile. However, he rose from the dead as Sega included him in Project X Zone 2 as a playable character.
2. Genesis Does What Nintendon’t
- System: Genesis (Megadrive)
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: SEGA
- Release Dates: Oct 29, 1988 (Japan), Aug 14, 1989 (US)
As the world entered the 1990s, it went from the Cold War to the Console Wars. With the fall of the Soviet Union, came the rise of Sega of America as former Mattel CEO Tom Kalinske (who gave the world He-Man and rebranded Barbie) entered the company as its new CEO. While the Genesis made its debut in 1989, it didn’t make its impact until the 90s when Kalinske took the company in a whole new direction with its aggressive campaign of “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.” Considering that Nintendo was the only recognizable video game brand at the time, what Sega did took a lot of balls to directly attack the competition. In its commercials, they were showcasing how many of their software was superior to Mario Kart (by showing off its faster-processing speed and its edgier games).
They had quality software that appealed to its target audience of teenagers with the likes of Sonic and Comix Zone, and sports games that featured the popular athletes of the time such as a Joe Montana licensed Football game, and a Buster Douglas boxing game as a diss to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out since he knocked him out in Tokyo. They did everything possible to beat out Nintendo besides these aggressive ad campaigns. They were offering lower prices, free games, etc.
Thanks to this marketing campaign, they dominated over half of the market by the halfway point of the decade. Despite the console’s success in the US, the staff in Japan allegedly didn’t like the ad campaign because of their cultural attitudes of being non-confrontational. But with Kalinske being all-American, he took the ball and dunked on everyone while he was still in his prime.
1. Now You’re Playing With Power (The Power Glove, NES)
- System: NES
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Mattel (US), PAX (Japan)
- Release Dates: 1989
Back in the old days of the original NES, the company’s iconic tagline was “you’re playing with power.” It was used in many of the commercials for its hardware, software, and peripherals such as ROB the Robot. If any commercial is best remembered from those days, it has to be in context to the Power Glove. In case some of you younger gamers don’t know, the Wii wasn’t Nintendo’s first attempt at motion controls. They first attempted this with the Power Glove on the NES. As for whether or not it was good or bad is another discussion for another time, but Nintendo knew how to market it in more ways that one.
As for the standard commercial, it has a typical 80’s teen entering a blue-dimmed warehouse matching his denim clothing where he holds an NES, a super big TV, and the Power Glove itself. It is narrated by a female robotic voice as the teen is playing Mario Bros. 2, Rad Racer and Punch Out with the Power Glove. It is accompanied by intense music and you see the kid having fun playing. While this is the official commercial to the Power Glove, many younger Gen-Xers and older millennials best remember the peripheral briefly used in The Wizard by Jimmy’s arch-nemesis, Lucas, who uses it to get a high score in Rad Racer and upon completion, he says the memorable line of “I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad.”
We would like to make some honorable mentions to Wrestlemania 2000 for the N64, Earthbound for the Super NES, Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES, Final Fantasy VII for the PSOne, and the Japanese commercial for Resident Evil 2. A large number of older gaming ads are still fondly remembered by the gamers who grew up watching them, and there are others we look back at and wonder why we enjoyed them.
There are others from back in the day that is now presently considered politically incorrect, especially with some of the Sega CD and Neo Geo ones. However, we can take into consideration those ads were intended for a more mature audience. Whether they are in print or video, what are some memorable ads from games that you feel we may have missed? If you got any good ones, please share in the comments.