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Flashback: Megadrive vs. SNES Advertising

By the end of the 16-bit generation there was a clear winner of the console wars. Globally the Super Nintendo had come out on top, shifting 49m SNES consoles compared to the Megadrive’s still impressive 40m.

It was a tough battle between the companies to get to that point. Before the days of the internet, marketing wars were fought aggressively through adverts in the gaming press and through memorable TV spots.

Technically, both consoles had different strengths and weaknesses. The SNES had a deeper colour palette, it had a “Super FX” chip to process 3D like effects and also had superior sound, while the Megadrive had a faster processor, allowing it to handle more sprites on screen and suffer less from slowdown.

The pubic perception of the two consoles at the time was very different: Nintendo’s console was seen as the family friendly machine, not least due to censorship of titles like Mortal Kombat. The Megadrive was perceived by many gamers as the “edgier” console, with less censorship and a cooler, more cutting edge mascot in Sonic the Hedgehog.

The  friction between the two companies spilled over into the companies’ advertising campaigns, as the release date for the Super Nintendo edged closer. The Megadrive had built up a significant library of titles when the SNES launched, with more than a year’s headstart on its rival’s release date in the EU. Pre-release adverts by Nintendo worked to counter this advantage with the slogan “Worth it’s Wait in Gold”, touting the system’s 32,768 colour palette.

Other pre-release adverts hoped to ensare gamers with the promise of graphics that would be able to rotate 360 degrees, a reference to screenshots from titles like Pilotwings that had already wowed prospective purchasers in magazine previews (and had already tempted more than a few importers).

SEGA, true to its “edgier” reputation, hit back more directly with it’s own series of adverts. In May 1992 Sega published the advert below in the UK press, highlighting the fact there were only 6 Super Nintendo launch games to the Megadrive’s impressive 100+ titles.

Nintendo’s post-release adverts didn’t reference SEGA’s console quite so directly, but did end with the statement that the console was the “greatest 16-bit platform yet devised”.

Not to be outdone (and ratcheting up the pressure), Sega released further adverts and TV spots mocking the SNES. Take the North American video below; an overexcited salesman has a SNES and Genesis running side by side and desperately tries to sell the customer the Nintendo console, pointing out Super Mario’s “rad colours”. Despite this, the customer behind the camera is blown away with the speed of the SEGA machine running Sonic, and the lower price point for the console, with the announcer confirming it offered players “more for less”.

In the UK, SEGA carried over the cheeky marketing that it started with the Game Gear to the Genesis. The bawdy, Viz style humour comes across well in the advert below and struck a chord with many British gamers, further cementing SEGA’s reputation as the “edgier” machine.

Sadly (for those who are true blue at least), SEGA’s marketing campaign (even SEGA’s references to “Blast Processing”) couldn’t do enough to keep the Megadrive’s momentum up against the Super Nintendo. Despite both consoles’ sales keeping up with each other for several years, the advent of the 32x, Sega CD and rushed release of the Saturn effectively ended the the Megadrive’s  lifecycle and with these series of commercial failures, the console’s fate was sealed.

The SNES on the other hand went from strength to strength and even went up against the 32-bit generation with titles like Super Mario RPG. If I had to choose then I’d say Sega had the better adverts. Which console was better? I’m not touching that one with a bargepole…

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