The Amazing Nintendo Ads of the 90s!

Posted by Steven Collier on Jan. 7th, 2016

Anyone who lived through the 90s remembers that American advertising got a more than a little over the top. Now, when you think about extreme video game ad campaigns, most people remember Sega's highly aggressive publicity. Who can forget the infamous "Sega Does What Nintendon't!" commercials? However, you might be surprised to learn that Nintendo caved to popular trends and went through their own rebellious phase.

The PLAY IT LOUD! campaign debuted and ended in 1994, with a whopping budget of $10 million. Aimed at Nintendo of America's core demographic: teenage boys, its advertisements were brimming with all kinds of counter-cultural images. Phrases like "FIGHT EARWAX!," "CRANK IT!," and "THEY CAN'T HEAR YOU!" would flash across TV commercials like subliminal messages. Meanwhile the main message "PLAY IT LOUD!" would be displayed regularly between scenes of youths hanging out at skate parks adorned with Nintendo themed graffiti. All this just to bookend stock footage of F-Zero, Street Fighter II, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, and oddly enough Virtual Bart.

It seems extreme by today's standards, but really PLAY IT LOUD was still relatively tame compared to most of what was being broadcast on MTV at the time. But, that's also what makes these ads so jarring. Even now, it's strange to see Nintendo creating a brand image that doesn't play to any off their real strengths. PLAY IT LOUD feels like a desperate cry for attention from a company that was famous for their honest and direct commercials. Nintendo knew their product was good, and never previously felt a need to to play it up. The results had always spoken for themselves.

But, like I said, the entire campaign lasted less than a year. Cooler heads soon prevailed, and Nintendo wisely decided to go with slightly more understated advertisements. Nevertheless, you can still see the impact of the PLAY IT LOUD movement on almost any Super Nintendo product from the mid 90s, too much money had been sunk into the project to revise the designs for themed Super Nintendo and Game Boy packaging. So if your system came in a box that looked like this:

Or included a poster like this:

Now you know why.

How many of you remembered Nintendo's rebellious 90s phase? Or did you manage to miss this one entirely? More importantly, how well do you think Mario works as the face of youthful rebellion? As always, let me know in the comments.

comments powered by Disqus