(Since this morning’s article was a little on the short side, here’s a bonus article for Wednesday- Ed)
“Sega Genesis does what Nintendon’t”
Nintendo was a juggernaut in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They had no real competition, no natural enemies. Nintendo was a T-Rex, most likely one with googly eyes and a goofy little “hoohoo” laugh, and the other hardware companies were tiny rodents hiding among the brush hoping to evolve one day. Given the landscape, Sega had to do something unique to promote its new 16-bit system, and the launch of the commercials for the Sega Genesis represented a brashness that hadn’t previously been a part of marketing to kids. Sega wasn’t shy about how it was going to give it to you, “IT” being BLAST PROCESSING.
Sega decided to come at the King, and did it in the pissiest, least respectful way possible: by labeling Nintendo as a baby toy for stupid little babies.
AND IT WORKED. There’s a reason why I and many other 12-year-olds became Sega kids, and it involved more than just convincing yourself that Sega’s anthropomorphic animal mascot was cooler than Nintendo’s anthropomorphic animal mascots. It involved an attitude. Sega did EXTREME before Mountain Dew did extreme, before Red Bull did extreme, before X-Games did extreme. It didn’t feel calculated yet. Oh sure, it absolutely was calculated, but it was a fresher version of calculated. It was MTV and Grunge Rock and Beavis and Butthead for video games, and it worked. Everything about Sega felt more dangerous, and this feeling was captured in the commercials.
Sega began its campaign by being slightly subversive, adapting the Pepsi challenges of the 1980s but really leaning into the differences in products. They stuck the Super Nintendo and Genesis next to one another and removed all the subtext, shouting “Look how shitty it is compared to our product! Oh by the way, ours is 50 bucks cheaper.” Hard to argue with the approach. Sega followed up by painting Nintendo as lame, creating a school marm-ish character waging a war against Sonic the Hedgehog, essentially daring teens to side with the status quo.
Sega next steps in the console wars would be what most people think of when they think extreme advertising. Commercials introduced the “SEGA!” yell, which is the only way a lot of 35-year-olds can say the company name now. One commercial for Game Gear featured Ethan Suplee bashing himself over the head with a dead squirrel. In another a bullied kid brought his tormentors to their knees by picking up the Genesis with Streets of Rage 2; generally, Sega went bold, Sega went weird, and Sega went edgy. Combine those three things with a stellar collection of Electronic Arts sports games, and you get a sizable subculture of former pre-teens and teens who never even touched a Super Nintendo.
We moved on. Playstation took over the world, Nintendo 64 sort of bombed, and Dreamcast definitely bombed, which was a shame because it was a very solid console. Sega continued producing weird and exciting commercials for the Dreamcast starring Mr. Yukawa, although many of them were limited to the Japanese market. Maybe I was a victim of marketing, but I liked being a Genesis kid. Over the years I’ve bought three different iterations of the Genesis and I still enjoy playing it, even after paying $35 to get another copy of Toe Jam and Earl, only to discover that I’d forgotten there’s no save function in the damn game and you have to play it in one sitting. Not so funkadelic, guys.
Were you a Genesis kid? Did you see that Sonic has human teeth in the new movie? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.