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Marketing Games: A Look Back at Nintendo’s Strangest Commercials



For decades now, Nintendo has had an enormous presence in the consumer electronics market. The Big N has also had a strange and complicated relationship with advertising their products, taking on many forms over the years, some successful and others not so successful. Over the course of the coming weeks, I plan to write several articles about some of Nintendo’s most disastrous and most successful ad campaigns, beginning with the creepiest commercials of the bunch.


Video games are growing in popularity every year, rivaling movies and TV, and in many ways, coming out on top. They are ingrained in our culture and driven by some of the most innovative minds working in the tech sector. Artists and creators continue to push the entertainment envelope, and with so much competition, developers and publishers desperately try to find every way possible to get their product into the hands of consumers.

According to statistics from the Entertainment Software Association, 59 percent of all Americans play video games, with sales that generate billions in revenue. Not surprisingly, marketing plays a critical role in building the awareness of a new product – but reaching gamers is about more than just targeting a specific demographic. Publishers need to produce bold creative campaigns that will persuade customers to spend their hard earned cash. As you might expect, video game marketing is largely about the trailer, but it takes more than just a video to capture the attention of gamers, especially in the digital age, when millions of videos are uploaded online every day.

From the days of the Nintendo’s Seal of Quality campaign to the Now You’re Playing With Power movement, to the Play It Loud era, Nintendo has produced an abundance of commercials and marketing concepts ranging from family friendly ads to R-rated material. Here is a list of the most bizarre, and sometimes unsettling ads they’ve released over the years.

1 – Virtual Reality 

The Virtual Boy proved to be a dismal failure for Nintendo. It was an absolute bonafide disaster and supposedly forced the retirement of creator Gunpei Yokoi, the brilliant mind behind the once successful Game & Watch (not to mention legendary producer of such games as Metroid, Donkey Kong, and Mario Bros.). It didn’t take long before Nintendo realized their mistake, and just months after its release, Nintendo decided to pull the plug. One could blame the controversial LED (Light Emitting Display) technology which rendered the visuals in monochromatic red on black, but some of the commercials Nintendo created also didn’t help to get the product into the hands of consumers. While there is one amazing ad for the Virtual Boy (that will appear in my next article) the following commercial is in my opinion, a terrible way to advertise your gaming console.

2 -The Twilight Zone

Perhaps the creepiest Nintendo commercial I’ve seen features a poorly-animated CGI businessman and 3D recreations of some of Nintendo’s most iconic characters from the 8-bit era. The ad was released in Austrailia and New Zealand, and issues consumers a direct challenge, as opposed to say, explaining why they should buy Nintendo products. One should never underestimate the power of a good theme song, and the creepy music and hypnotic voice-over of this ad somewhat recall the opening of The Twilight Zone and The Outer LimitsI’m pretty sure this commercial left quite a few viewers confused and bewildered. Watch, and you’ll understand why.

3 –  The Witch doctor song and dance

Super Mario has taken on many occupations over the years, and after his initial success as a plumber, Mario looked to medicine as a practice. When Dr. Mario was released in 1990, it was one of many games riding on the heels of the success of Alexei Pajitnov’s puzzle classic, only Dr. Mario turned out to be the best of the many Tetris clones by combining easy game mechanics, colorful graphics, and a great soundtrack.

In Dr. Mario, the player assumes the role of a doctor and is tasked with eradicating deadly viruses, so what better way to market the game than to include a witch doctor in your commercial? Unlike the previous commercial, this ad is actually quite good – maybe even brilliant – and a lot brighter underneath than its surface gloss would suggest. The witch doctor himself is fun to watch onscreen, and the catchy theme song will stick in your head long after the commercial ends.

4 – Stick it where the sun doesn’t shine

On its own merits, Super Mario Sunshine is a fun game with some great levels, but it just wasn’t enough to satisfy fans who waited so long for a follow-up to one of the greatest games ever made. It wasn’t even enough to outdo the superior Luigi’s Mansion released a year earlier. Super Mario Sunshine was a disappointment, and the following commercial for Super Mario Sunshine made me embarrassed to be a fan of Nintendo. We’ve seen some truly odd commercials over the years, but this has to be the worst of the bunch. At an egregious 9o seconds, the ad feels like it was conceived by people who were born yesterday, lacking any awareness of its triteness. I mean seriously, who is this ad aimed at – toddlers? If there is a special hell for Nintendo fans, it probably has the following commercial on continuous rotation.

5- Rape?

After years of living in the shadow of his older brother,  2013 marked the year of Luigi and continued in 2014 in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Luigi’s debut in Mario Bros. Luigi was finally lifted into the spotlight, starring in several games and also in the most troublesome ad Nintendo ever made. I’m not sure what message Nintendo was trying to get across here, but I’m not the first to think that it seems to suggest Luigi is raping Peach. This is an ad without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship. There is no possible motive for exhibiting it, and worse, the problem could have been easily solved had Peach called out to Luigi for help, and not Mario. Instead, we see a frightened Peach and Luigi’s reflection in her eyes and she trembles in fear as if to suggest Luigi is terrorizing the poor princess.

6- Walking Dildo

Unlike most Kirby games, Kirby: Canvas Curse allows players to control Kirby with the stylus and touch screen of the DS instead of the usual directional pad, face buttons, or shoulder buttons. It is one of the best games released for the DS and a good demonstration as to how good a DS game can be when it utilizes all of its features. Nintendo really wanted to emphasize this feature and so they decided to create an ad which stars what looks like a giant penis accompanying Kirby throughout his day. Obviously, Kirby’s companion is a stand in for what is supposed to be the player’s finger, only, unfortunately, it looks like a walking dildo. Perhaps, though, the ad is fitting given that the alternate title for the game is Touch! Kirby’s Magic Paintbrush. Enough said.

7- Gluttony 

Nintendo took a radical step with Super Mario World 2 Yoshi’s Island, opting for a prequel, not a sequel, and a completely different style of gameplay. In Super Mario World 2, the game casts players as Yoshi as he escorts Baby Mario through 48 levels in order to reunite him with his brother Luigi, who had been kidnapped by Baby Bowser’s minions. The boss battles are the best part of Yoshi’s Island, with each of them being unique in their own way and each presenting a different layout and strategy. Most notable is Burt the Bashful.

To defeat Burt, Yellow Yoshi must hit him with eggs six times; with each hit, Burt’s pants continue to fall off. When he is defeated, his pants entirely fall off and, ashamed, he turns red, eventually imploding. Nintendo tried to find a way to represent Burt in the commercial for Yoshi’s Island, and they did this by including a middle-aged bowling instructor stuffing his face at a fast food restaurant until he literally explodes. The idea was to emphaize that Yoshi’s Island is crammed with so much exciting content that players just can’t get enough. Apparently, parents were appalled by what they saw and demanded it be taken off the air, but as strange as it is, this ad is amazing! Not only does the commercial immediately grab your attention, but it is something you won’t soon forget. Surreal and visually striking, the commercial is at times graphic, but it creatively touches on disturbing subjects with imagination and wit. The gluttonous climax produces nightmarish horror and formal beauty in surreal, American pop visuals. Parents hated this ad back in the 90’s, but the kids loved it!

8- TransAmerica 

Have you ever caught your parents cross-dressing? Well if you ever do, Nintendo thinks it’s a great way to blackmail them into buying you a Nintendo console. For what was supposed to be a family-friendly console, the N64 has several R-rated commercials, most memorable being the commercial for Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

Nintendo decided that the best way to push its line of games for the Nintendo 64 was to release a commercial featuring a young boy walking in on his father dressed in drag. The commercial begins with a tracking shot through a suburban home as we hear the narration of the father’s voice, accompanied by sentimental music, explaining to his son that money isn’t the most important thing in life, unless of course you need to bribe your son to keep your secret hidden from your wife. It’s a farce with heart, a meditation on identity, family and gender politics and a great way to grab a viewer’s attention.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.