More often than not, when people look at the video game “Console Wars” the first to come up is the battle between Nintendo and Sega, more specifically the battle between the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis. Though both consoles were great in their own individual ways, Nintendo and the SNES would eventually win the war. There was a point however, where Sega was quite a bit ahead of Nintendo. It took them a while to get ahead in market share, but when Sega rose to the top, it wasn’t only due to their games, but mostly the incredibly effectiveness of Sega’s marketing.
Today, we’ll be looking at some of Sega’s marketing materials from the age of the Genesis to see what made them so successful. In order to do this however, we’ll need to identify Sega’s target market. In the days of the NES, Nintendo seemed to be the only guy in town when it came to video games. In addition to this, everyone looked at video games, and thus Nintendo, as a toy. The general view of video games as toys would lead Nintendo to primarily market their games to children, as that group is the largest consumer of toys on the market.
When Sega and the Genesis came around, they made it very clear that the Genesis was not just some kid’s toy. The Sega Genesis was an advanced video game system that only the coolest of teenagers and young adults could fully grasp the coolness of. From Sega’s eyes, even in the days of the SNES, Nintendo was the baby’s toy, and the Genesis was for the “super rad” older brother or sister. Because of this, even kids would want the Genesis, because every little kid wants to be as cool as their older sibling.
Let’s dive into our first commercial then, shall we?
This first ad is from the earlier days of the Genesis, as you can tell by the apparent lack of a certain blue hedgehog. One could argue that the games you see in this commercial, Altered Beast, Super Monaco GP, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, Columns, Joe Montana Football, Pat Riley Basketball, and James ‘Buster’ Douglas Knockout Boxing are all similar to games you could find on Nintendo systems. However, it’s not just the games alone that set the Genesis apart from Nintendo. The gameplay footage is nice, and shows off how much more powerful the Genesis is than the NES, but it’s the quick cuts and other footage that really seals the deal in this one. Big, concise clear text, guns, Michael Jackson, pro football, basketball and boxing, all things that clearly meant for “older kids” and young adults. Kids don’t belong in the boxing ring, and thus kids don’t belong on Genesis. If you want to be cool and “mature” as most kids do, this commercial makes it clear that Genesis is the way to go, not that baby’s toy, Nintendo.
While this next commercial requires a bit of context, it’s one of Sega’s more famous ones. You see, at the time Nintendo was using “Mode Seven” as a marketing tool it some of its ads. Mode Seven allowed SNES games to portray a pseudo-3D view as seen in games like Super Mario Kart, F-Zero and Actraiser to name a few. In response to the witty and cool sounding “Mode Seven,” Sega thought it important to find a buzzword/technical term of their own. In looking through the Genesis’ processes, Sega’s marketing team discovered “Burst Mode,” which allowed the Genesis to process code faster than Nintendo’s SNES. Though this didn’t actually have anything to do with the speed of characters like Sonic or Ecco the Dolphin, the renaming and rebranding of “Burst Mode” to “Blast Processing” gave the Genesis the apparent advantage in speed over the Super Nintendo. Why would you want to be kicking along in a van like Nintendo when you could zoom into the next level with Sega?
Finally, we’ll be looking at the “Salesman” commercial. During the console wars, Sega was always quick to put Sonic up against Mario head to head, at trade shows, mall tours, or in this case commercials. Even looking at a single frame of this video makes a lot clear about why the Sega Genesis was a WAY better buy than the Super Nintendo. First, you can see that the obviously skeevy and greasy-looking salesman wants you to buy the Super Nintendo. Obviously, this is the guy who just wants more of your money, so why not go with the Genesis instead. You can see clearly that the Genesis is much cheaper, and clearly the better value. Lastly, the most important part of this commercial is it’s cinematography. The commercial is shot in a first person point of view, giving the viewer the idea that they are the one in this fictional video game store. Because of this, they more closely feel connected to the Genesis, and feel all of the effects of the commercials marketing tactics. Also, the viewer doesn’t have to relate to any figure in the commercial, because they themselves are already there. Sure, they may relate with a 90s star like Jaleel White or Candace Cameron, but wouldn’t it be much easier to relate with yourself as you see it from your own eyes?
During the console wars, we learned about the power of marketing. Most of Sega’s success can likely be attributed to their powerful and very direct marketing tactics. Sure, most of Sega’s games were pretty solid, and a lot of other various business tactics would lead to their success, but marketing very much on the forefront of what would lead Sega to their success.