Television commercials didn't come into prominence until the 1940s, but the medium's potential to sell goods was apparent from the very beginning. The nature of advertising has changed over time, but everyone reading this list has likely been influenced by ads in one way or another. We've already explored gaming's best print ads, so it seems appropriate to expand into the world of television. Different ads convey different messages, but they're all trying to sell you something. I've seen gaming ads that have been funny, insightful, informative, sexy, shocking, and downright disgusting. There are no hard rules that gaming ads have to abide by, but a great commercial will catch your attention and stay in your mind. This list is ostensibly focused on TV spots, but web-based ads will also be considered since the Internet is a natural evolution of the medium in many ways. Gameplay trailers will not be included on this list, however, since they're a different animal altogether. Click the images for a full preview!
ATV Offroad Fury 2
Who is this clown?
People enjoy playing online games with their friends, but it can also be exciting to compete against total stranger. Online gaming was still in its infancy in 2002 (as far as consoles were concerned), and ATV Offroad Fury 2 for the PlayStation 2 was one of the first console games to anchor its advertising around the concept of playing online. The most memorable ad in the campaign featured a frustrated gamer who was being trolled by his online opponent. After the gamer rhetorically asks, "Who is this clown?" it's revealed that he had been playing against an actual clown the entire time! It was a stupid commercial, but it never failed to make me laugh.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Pets love it too!
The console wars were serious business during the 16-bit era, and Sega was especially aggressive with their marketing. Commercials were filled with buzz words like "blast processing," but the commercial that Sega ran after they started including Sonic 2 as a pack-in for the Genesis took hyperbole to the next level. Drawing inspiration from informercials, Sonic 2 was made to look like a typical "as seen on TV" product. The game could supposedly handle stubborn stains, hide embarrassing bald spots, and make thousands of julienne fries. The ad also pointed out that the game was made form a space-age polymer and that it could fit into any tackle box!
World of Warcraft
What's your game?
One of the reasons why World of Warcraft was so successful is because it was so accessible. MMORPGs were usually aimed at hardcore gamers, but World of Warcraft was always mindful of new players. If you're trying to attract new players, it makes sense to use the power of celebrity. On that note, Blizzard released a series of ads that featured familiar faces like Mr. T, William Shatner, Chuck Norris, Ozzy Osbourne, and Verne Troyer. These celebrities each discussed the virtues of their in-game avatars, and the ads did a good job of how personalized the game could be. This was one of the first ad campaigns to fully embrace meme culture, and it paid off in droves.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Mario! Mario! Mario!
We've seen many fantastic television commercials for Mario games over the years. The ad for Paper Mario was hilarious, and the dance number in the Super Mario Odyssey commercial was exhilarating. I'm recognizing the Super Mario Bros. 3 ad because it was the first time I remember being truly hyped for a video game release. The commercial made the game's launch feel like a global event. The ad featured legions of fans chanting Mario's name and joining together to form a living, country-sized mosaic in Mario's likeness. The commercial made it seem like everyone was excited about the game, and it spoke to the universal appeal of video games.
For the brightest colors...
The Snuggle bear has been the mascot for Snuggle fabric softener since 1983, and he's the perfect representative for the brand. Ads for the fabric softener would typically see the bear playing around in fluffy laundry while relaxing music played in the background. The ad for Battletanx began like any other Snuggle commercial and featured a familiar bear jumping into a pile of soft blankets. The bear was trying to promote snuggly softness, but things took a turn when a giant tank smashed through the wall and preceded to fuck his shit up. Despite being set ablaze and run over by the tank, the Snuggle bear knockoff still plugged Battletanx at the end of the commercial.
Guitar Hero: World Tour
The ads for Guitar Hero: World Tour mirrored the iconic scene from Risky Business in which Tom Cruise danced in his underwear to the tune of Bob Seger's Old Time Rock and Roll. The first version of the ad featured Kobe Bryant, Tony Hawk, A-Rod, and Michael Phelps, but I'm more partial to the version that starred supermodel Heidi Klum. The ad was obviously fueled by sex appeal, but it also embraced the spirit of the game. After all, Guitar Hero is all about letting loose in your living room and pretending to be a rockstar. Activision got a lot of mileage out of the ad, and they ran similar ads featuring everyone from Taylor Swift to Metallica.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
There's a soldier in all of us.
The ad for Call of Duty: Black Ops featured people from all walks of life battling it out in a war zone while Gimme Shelter played in the background. Business women, construction workers, doctors, and line cooks were all dressed in their work clothes, and they looked spectacularly out of place firing guns and explosives. (The ad also featured NBA legend Kobe Bryant and that one late night comedian who cries all the time.) The premise that "there's a soldier in all of us" painted Black Ops as a game that can be enjoyed by everyone. The ad was exhilarating, and it's not surprising that the formula was used for subsequent Call of Duty commercials.
Super Smash Bros.
So Happy Together
Happy Together by the Turtles is one of the most recognizable songs in the history of pop music. The song topped the charts in 1967, and it has been featured in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials. The song is usually reserved for cheerful situations, and that's the angle the ad for Super Smash Bros. appeared to be going for. The ad begins with goofy mascot versions of Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Pikachu holding hands and prancing through a field. Without warning, they start attacking each other and it becomes apparent that something has gone wrong in the happy-go-lucky world of Nintendo. The scene perfectly captures the dichotomy of the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
You're both pretty magical.
Robin Williams was an amazing actor and a legendary comedian, but the ad for Ocarina of Time 3D focused on his most important role. Robin and his second wife were fans of The Legend of Zelda and they were playing the game prior to the birth of their daughter. They liked the name Zelda so much that they decided to name their daughter after the princess. In the ad for Ocarina of Time 3D, Robin describes his experiences with the game in a dramatic fashion. They then pull the ol' switch-a-roo and imply that he was getting his daughter mixed up with the princess again. Robin and Zelda Williams seem so genuine in the commercial, and it's truly a magical ad.
Gears of War
The award-winning Gears of War TV spot was directed by Joseph Kosinski and set to Gary Jules' cover of Mad World. The ad focused on Marcus Fenix' efforts to avoid threats in a war-torn city. Although the game itself was fast-paced and action-packed, the commercial was surprisingly melancholy. Admittedly, it wasn't the most accurate representation of the game and the ad's central theme of isolation didn't reflect the game's emphasis on co-op gameplay. That being said, the ad was impactful enough to propel the Mad World cover to the top of the iTunes charts five years after it was recorded. People still associate the song with the Gears of War franchise.