The computer games sector is one of the more vicious in the UK
alongside cola, hamburgers and trainers. Perhaps more than any of those,
however, games brands go in and out of fashion with terrifying
Nintendo was dominant in every country globally through its Gameboy and
other products until the early 90s. Sega was a relative minnow. When it
left the then Still Price Lintas for WCRS the business was worth a mere
pounds 500,000. Soon it was a pounds 10 million-plus account and WCRS’s
excellent pirate campaign established Sega as the UK market leader.
’Your parents wouldn’t like it’ was the message of what was presented as
a subversive campaign. The advertising cemented the reputations of the
clients - Philip Ley, Jim Hytner and Simon Morris - who later moved en
masse to Sky. Crucially, Sega’s positioning was far removed from the
cosy wholesomeness of Nintendo’s Gameboy.
This was only too evident in Nintendo’s last serious television campaign
in the mid-90s. Although Nintendo spent an astonishing pounds 10 million
in the weeks leading up to Christmas 1993, the feebleness of J. Walter
Thompson’s campaign starring Rik Mayall could not be disguised.
Since then Nintendo hasn’t had a product worth advertising. And its
duopoly with Sega was rocked in 1995 by the launch of Sony’s
Playstation. The then Simons Palmer ’fear the power of Playstation’
campaign stole Sega’s positioning, and the latter’s 16-bit product was
no match for the 32-bit Playstation. Even when Sega managed to launch
its 32-bit Saturn product, it was obvious that decline had set in.
Saturn was overwhelmed by Playstation’s pounds 9 million spend.
Other than Playstation, the only noticeable advertising in the market
since has been the 1996 press execution from Nintendo’s then incumbent
Leo Burnett for the new Gameboy. Relying lamely on shock tactics, it
depicted a scantily clad woman chained to a bed while her partner played
There were, of course, complaints to the Advertising Standards
Belatedly, Nintendo launched its much-vaunted N64 console in February
1997. Now, its UK distributor, THE Games, is seeking a new ad
The N64 costs pounds 100 more than Playstation. To compete credibly,
Nintendo will need to match the millions Playstation spent on ads last
year and, more importantly, develop a clear brand positioning. THE Games
invested some pounds 7 million in ads before Christmas. Can you recall
Over the past five years, Nintendo has become a surprisingly undesired
client on the new-business circuit. THE Games will know that it can’t
afford to get it wrong again. As Nintendo has realised, and Sega
discovered to its cost, the penalty for the lack of new product
development and marketing innovation is virtual oblivion. Anyone
remember Atari and Pacman?