Trailers for video games are a weird beast, as misleading as they can be esoteric. Free from the burden of trying to directly sell you a piece of art, commercials for video game hardware are often a lot more fun.
While most console sales are (surely) made through stuff like company loyalty, word of mouth, expert opinion and game exclusivity, there’s still room for platform holders to try and sell a few machines directly through advertising. Or if not sell you something, then at least develop a little branding and awareness.
This piece originally appeared 2/14/2016.
Because those platform holders are mega-rich multinational companies, they can—and you’ll see Sony is particularly adept at this—hire some of the world’s best ad companies to make clips that live on in our memories long after the console they were trying to sell have faded from the market.
KEVIN BUTLER - PS3
From the brand’s inception, PlayStation has struggled to adopt a mascot. They’ve alternated between trying to have one to trying to have many to trying to have none. For all their efforts, though, a lot of people would say Kevin Butler is the closest they’ve come.
MOUNTAIN - PS2
This is maybe my favourite on the whole list. You don’t see a single video game or console in the whole thing, but boy do they get the point across.
Weirdly, as successful as the clip itself was, the ad—touting the PS2's crummy online capabilities—might have worked better if they’d held off for a few years and waited for the PS3/PS4.
SHIGERU MATSUZAKI - PS VITA
Running in 2012 for the Vita, it’s as minimal a commercial as you’re going to see on this list, featuring nothing but some Sony branding and the delights of Japanese crooner Shigeru Matsuzaki, who you may remember from the Katamari Damacy soundtrack.
Years later, I still sing this to myself every time someone says ‘whoah’.
STANDOFF - XBOX 360
This commercial, made for the launch of the Xbox 360, has had a weird second life on the internet. Originally airing for preview events in the lead-up to the console’s release, the fact it never went on to appear on TV (or even online trailers) led many to speculate that it had been banned, when really Microsoft simply chose not to air it. Meaning most people have seen this on YouTube years later, not as part of any actual, timely ad campaign.
Which is a shame, because in a field dominated by classic PlayStation commercials, it would have been nice seeing a little more public airtime for the best Xbox commercial ever made.
REVEAL - NINTENDO WII
Holy shit, do you remember what you were doing when you first saw this? I do. I was losing my goddamn mind. Yes, hindsight has proven much of this clip to be, well, a little optimistic as to the Wii’s actual capabilities, but still. There’s never been a better video showing exactly what you can do with a video game console and why it’s so much fun.
SEGATA SANSHIRO - SEGA SATURN
I wrote once that Segata Sanshiro was the greatest console ad man of all time. That is still true.
DOUBLE LIFE - PS1
Possibly the gold standard in video game advertising, this classic clip has gone on to be not just one of the best video game ads of all time, but one of the great commercials of all time, period.
MARCUS - PSP
Beginning life as a Kevin Butler spin-off, Marcus was wise beyond his years.
“We got good kids playin’ bad games.”
We still do.
NINTENDON’T - SEGA GENESIS
Nintendo: *spends 1980s saving home video games and releasing a steady stream of successful titles and hardware*
Sega: Hey, Nintendo, go fuck yourself.
FIRST LOOK - NINTENDO SWITCH
A commercial that was almost as fun as the console itself. There’s no abstract representations or trickery, just a montage letting the Switch’s portability features speak for themselves.