The Evolution of Nintendo Commercials, Part 1

By Nick Breckon, Apr 02, 2008 10:23pm PDT Nintendo's marketing strategy has seen dramatic changes since its North American invasion in the mid-1980s. From cutesy cartoons, to cliched nerds in glasses, to Wii-waggling models in tight jeans, nowhere are these paradigm shifts more evident than in the company's television commercials.

Join us on a look back through the years of system selling and Mario marketing, starting in 1983 with a Game & Watch classic and moving up to the present. Check out Part 2 for the conclusion.

1983, Game & Watch
Neeentendo. Maaaarrayyo. Back when the soon-to-be-rolling-in-it Japanese import was pawning their DS prototypes, even the hired help had no idea how to pronounce this gaming crap.

With a higher pun-per-minute count than is now legal in the United States, I'm not sure this commercial for the handheld Game & Watch had its intended effect. And who the hell is Stanley, anyway?

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1985, Nintendo Entertainment System
With such an important launch, Nintendo had to make sure it covered all of its bases in every short TV spot.

Novelty robot--check.
"Incredibly accurate Zapper" that you'll use three inches from the screen--check.
Kung Fu--check, I guess.
Mario--missing?

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1987, The Legend of Zelda
When it was released in August of 1987, The Legend of Zelda was unlike any other videogame North American kids had seen. So how best to market the momentous title? They needed something that could get through to the youth of America. Something their potential customers could relate to. Something--what do the kids say these days? "Cool"?

This was the eventual product, a perfect harmony of wanton nerdiness and bad-ass rapping. It's totally bitchin'.

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1987, The Legend of Zelda
Reluctant to let the games speak for themselves, early Nintendo ad philosophy tended toward telling, rather than showing.

Desperate for someone, anyone to rescue their dreadful Zelda ad campaign, Nintendo turned to the only logical place--the local drug rehab center. This is who they dug up.

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1987, Metroid and Rad Racer
This is more like it. It's short, it's to the point. It's powerful, it's effective. It's got some kid jumping around in red boots.

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Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_
1988, Nintendo Power
Ahh Nintendo Power, vanguard of unbiased information. Who didn't covet every issue of this sacred publication in 1988? The advertisements had little to do with my subjugation, but I can see they were certainly trying to appeal to my inner-ADD in this commercial.

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1988, Nintendo Cereal System
And why stop at magazines? Ram that gaming shit down their throats. And while you're at it, call Fred Savage and see if he's free next month.

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1988, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
As was the case with illustrated box art, live action elements were thought necessary for videogame commercials in the day of simple, pixelated graphics.

Like me, Nintendo envisioned Link as a panicked, effeminate man with a high-pitched voice and little sense of direction. But why is he punching a television screen?

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1989, Game Boy
Probably the only time in history you could call Tetris "outrageous," this ad carried the entire handheld era in on its low-budget shoulders. The message? Buy a Game Boy, and men in robot suits will dance with you. We were all deceived.

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1989, Power Glove
Make all the "I love the Power Glove, it's so bad" jokes you want. It doesn't change the fact that you very much wanted one of these babies.

Here is a prime example of Nintendo's futuristic aesthetic, a look that would show up in several other spots--that is, until the public realized that the NES looked more like a toaster than something from Blade Runner.

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Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_
1990, Dr. Mario
Funky fresh beats. Animated viruses. Strange kids lab coats high on pills. Here's a commercial that works on every level.

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1990, Super Mario Bros. 3
The Cult of Mario fully established, Nintendo carted its cereal-munching zealots to the American mid-west for this historical piece of advertising. Buy all three games, or face expulsion.

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1991, Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Enter the Rudd. Yes, everyone's favorite forgettable actor of the 21st century got his start here, staring seriously a green screen for hours, while developing one hell of a neck-ache. We wouldn't see Paul Rudd again until 1995's Clueless. Wait, he was in Clueless?

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1991, Super Mario World
"I don't like it. Could it be a bit more in your face? A bit more gruff? A bit more catchy? A bit more repetitive? Hey, I've got an idea."

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1992, Super Mario Land 2
After falling under his influence in 2nd grade, I'm still blaming my mistakes on Wario.

Along with the previous Super Mario World spot, this ad marks a welcome shift in Nintendo commercial ideology, from child-starring dance pieces to adult-narrated gameplay footage.

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Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_

1992, Super Scope 6
While the Super Scope sold itself--I mean, the thing looks like a bazooka after all--pay close attention to the camera angles going on in this ad. By putting the player "inside" the game, the reflective glass makes it appear as if the gun is actually firing something.

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1993, Super Mario Kart
Whoever directed this spot deserves a retroactive raise. Done in the style of monster truck rally commercials, goofy little Super Mario Kart never seemed so extreme.

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1994, Super Metroid
Warning: Approaching the Play It Loud era.

Continuing both the lab-coat and "dogs can play videogames, too" themes, Nintendo took a decidedly Taco Bell approach in this one.

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1994, Donkey Kong Country
On more than one occasion, Nintendo Power distributed specially produced infomercials for big games, bypassing the airwaves and shipping straight to the kids. Donkey Kong Country got this treatment, complete with a Pauly Shore-wannabe host and an army of hip game-testing tipsters. The full tape follows.

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1994, Play It Loud
Alert. Alert. We have now entered the Play It Loud era. Take cover.

My god. They've turned Mario into a jewelry-wearing pimp. Beavis and Butthead is on screen longer than the company's stalwart mascot. Speaking of butts, is that the Butthole Surfers?

"I lived in 1994," adds Shacknews staffer Aaron Linde. "It was never that cool. It was me and two friends in a basement, making maps."

We can only blame Sega's stiff competition and edgy marketing for this painful, reactionary campaign.

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Tune in next time, as Nintendo enters the 64-bit age with a slew of memorable commercials--along with some painful clips that had previously been wiped from our memories. And be sure to share your favorites in the comments.

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