Channel Zero #1: Let's Do Something EXCITING!

by Rathe on Wednesday, 2 February 2011

In October 2002, someone in Nintendo’s PR management thought having Des Lynam dye his moustache purple was a good idea for a Super Mario Sunshine campaign. Instead of being laughed at so hard the reverberation in the room caused him to explode, they ran with it and gamers everywhere got to cringe with despair as what they were hoping to be the most important platformer since Super Mario 64 was promoted by Mr. Match of the Day, on the basis of them both having…well, moustaches. Cute, but let’s face it, your dad probably wasn’t the one in the household who got all 120 Stars.

Des Lynam, Super Mario Sunshine, moustache
Not-Very-Fun Fact: Googling 'des lynam mario sunshine' returns this CBBC Newsround article as the first hit. Does anyone remember Newsround? Does it still run? Is it still terrible?

Then, an article in this month’s NGamer reminded me of those atrocious Jedward Dragon Quest IX adverts.
The arguments that Nintendo have traded their loyal fanbase of ‘true gamers’ for their parents have long been done to death (and business is business), but now we see the emergence of something a little more worrying – aiming games at people the same age as gamers who have probably enjoyed similar games in the past but ignoring them in favour of a different lifestyle demographic, or just people more easily parted with their money (JLS fans). Why aim Dragon Quest ads at the people who like, say, Persona when JLS fans are so much more exploitable and commonplace? Hell, you don’t even need to show any gameplay footage! Gamers are finicky buggers to flog anything to anyway, whereas your mum – and hers – isn’t quite as discerning.

It's quite strange - unlike selling Wii Sports to, say, parents, who will usually enjoy the game; this is merely selling an RPG on the back of Jedward to people who like Jedward. It could literally be any game at at all, it would make no difference to concept or consumer.

This is separate from the celebrity promotion issue – I’ve always had a hard time with any game advert (or, for that matter, any advert) that uses anyone remotely famous right off the bat, because the product instantly become an aspirational centrepiece as opposed to having any merits of its own, like Beckham’s fragrances. Besides that, having Jedward hocking me Dragon Quest is a bit like having Peter Andre trying to sell me the restored Blu-Ray edition of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – anyone actually interested in the game itself would put their life savings on them having never played it before. Conversely, anyone interested in John and Edward (the abbreviation physically pains me to type) is probably going to enjoy downloading ringtones or trying to decide if rocks are edible more than they ever are Dragon Quest.  

As an aside, America did a similar campaign with Seth Green for Dragon Quest IX. I'm not sure which marketing department is more misguided; theirs for equating fans of Chris from Family Guy as an RPG demographic, or ours for thinking X Factor semifinalists are the same thing.

I suppose my point is the basic thinking between the Lynam and Jedward campaigns is pretty much the same, Nintendo only sold 1.5 million GameCubes that next January in all of Europe, while now they sit quite comfortably on top of figures of 8.3 million units as of October last year (one in three homes in UK). Apparently we’ve traded silly ads for ones that actively insult our intelligence, and they’ve had far greater success. I wish Nintendo every success after those dark GameCube/N64 years, I just wish it didn't have to come at the expense of their dignity.

Let's end with an advert from Japan, to make us feel better. No wonder Dragon Quest has such bloody miserable sales over there.

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