Nintendo and SEGA: marketing in Italy in the 90s

Nintendo and SEGA: marketing in Italy in the 90s

Nintendo and SEGA

Between the eighties and nineties, the video game market in Italy found itself being invaded by the new 8-bit consoles. A revolution that started rather quietly, with Sega and Nintendo distributed by little specialized companies, with antiquated marketing languages. Master System and NES arrive on national soil almost simultaneously, between 1986 and 1987. For Japanese companies, the way to let young consumers know that, compared to past consoles like Intellivision and Atari 2600, this time the games were getting serious, was all uphill.

One of the first Nintendo advertisements We can say - generally - that from the mid-1980s and for the entire following decade, Sega and Nintendo will traditionally remain linked to toy distributors: on the one hand, Games Precious with Sega and on the other Mattel and, subsequently, GiG with Nintendo.

In this retrospective article we want to retrace those years of war to the sound of marketing, for the nostalgia of the longtime reader and the curiosity of the younger user.

The arrival of the Japanese in Italy

The Nintendo videosistame The arrival of the new generation of consoles in Italy does not seem accompanied by great fanfare: NES was distributed by Wonderland, a small subsidiary of Mattel itself, Master System by an inexperienced Milanese company, NBC Italy. Both short-term relationships: NES passes to Mattel as early as 1987, while Master System to the well-known company Giochi Preziosi.

The first advertisements of the NES do not seem to change much of the language, Mattel continues with the same philosophy already tested with Intellivision: the Zapper gun becomes "Video gun" and the system "Control unit". The idea of ​​importing Rob, sold with the deluxe version of the console at a price of six hundred thousand lire (about € 700), supported by a single title since Stack-Up, was apparently never released, is curious.

SEGA Master System can be found in the catalogs of the Milanese company of the late Eighties, curiously right next to Nintendo's Game & Watch, which we also distribute by companies such as OTO in Rome.

The commercials with which Giochi Preziosi presents Master System are rather subdued, even with what the same company proposed in the rest of the decade: a child voiced by a decidedly too adult voice who speaks to the camera with a simple and direct language.

Preziosi will soon change style: it is no coincidence that the transition to the 1990s can be - ideally - marked by the arrival of testimonials in video game marketing, a tactic until then only used for consumer products. On the one hand, Preziosi, with the creation of the internal production company Winter Video, took the field with players such as Walter Zenga and Roberto Mancini. Mattel, on the other hand, presents itself with the brief parenthesis of the "son of America" ​​rapper Jovanotti, alongside the 8-bit Nintendo console.

Nintendo and my motorcycle: Jovanotti

Jovanotti is Nintendo testimonial The choice of the Nintendo testimonial, although curious today, can be explained by the rapper's popularity at the end of the Eighties. What is now also known as Lorenzo Cherubini attracted a young audience, perhaps even too adult for what was considered, to all intents and purposes, an expensive toy. The choice of an American-centric narrative, considering how Nintendo was linked to traditional Japanese values, was the daughter of a bygone era. For Mattel's advertising agency, America was still that country of dreams, despite Japan usurping its place in the minds of children who spent hours in front of children's TV cartoons and approached manga.

Even more curious is the spot starring the rapper, where he is seen explaining Super Mario Bros to a girl, as a mere excuse to reach out. A teenage narrative, definitely far from the childish target that Nintendo wanted.

After the testimonial experience, in 1991 Mattel seems to be groping in the dark enough with desperate attempts to launch catchphrases, to respond to Giochi Preziosi, with growing dissatisfaction on the part of the parent company, present in Germany with the European headquarters .

Sega and double lust: the testimonials

On the other side of the wall, Giochi Preziosi seemed to have found the winning idea. With the approach of the world cup to be held in Italy, the Milanese company launches the mediocre World Soccer on Master System, combining it with the strange face of the national goalkeeper Walter Zenga.

Given the success of the initiative, the selection of testimonials for the "Sega winning team" quickly expanded to Roberto Mancini, Gianluigi Lentini and sportsmen like Gianni Bugno. The testimonial that many remember, however, will arrive together with the new 16-bit platform, Mega Drive, presented in autumn 1990 in Milan. The well-known Catania actor Jerry Calà, in fact, will remain closely linked to the Japanese company's products for two years.

The success of slogans such as "ocio, however", apparently born from the imagination of the patron Enrico Preziosi , was intended to recommend consumers to make sure consoles were marked with the toy distributor's official brand. At the time, the biggest bugbear for companies was certainly not piracy, present in negligible numbers for that market, but rather parallel imports.

Between one lust and the next, Sega will be brought by the Milanese toy company to enjoy a 360-degree television presence: from Rai to local broadcasters. The Game Gear portable console will be particularly pushed, initially also managing to prevail over the Game Boy, especially by leveraging the wonders of the TV Tuner add-on, which allowed you to watch television on the tiny screen of the console.

Preziosi it will also enter into a full sponsorship of the USA Today program, hosted by Stefano Gallarini on Odeon Tv, which will go from dealing with home computer games to focusing only on Sega titles.

The Sonic Badge contest was also notorious. : a pin to wear during the broadcasting of sponsored programs and commercials related to Sega. If Badge had turned on playing a disturbing tune, the winner could call and find out which prize (between console and Sega "cassettes") he had won. An expensive competition that Giochi Preziosi withdrew in a short time, following accusations of misleading advertising and unfair competition. The Badge remains today a curiosity for collectors, considering the number of unsold items left in the warehouses.

The advertising of the SEGA Badge In 1993, also thanks to the car accident that will force Calà out of the scene for a long time, Giochi Preziosi will close the experience of the testimonials. The Milanese company, in the following years, reaches a sharp reduction in the budget for videogame marketing. From an almost impossible presence to avoid, Sega will almost disappear into thin air. That decision will coincide with the onset of sales decline, due to the failures of Mega Drive expansions such as 32x and Sega CD. In Italy, both were experiments with very limited success, especially due to the high price demand in the face of a rather limited availability of titles.

The subsequent debut of Sega Saturn, in 1995 proposed for about five hundred thousand lire, it will not seem to change the situation very much, with a distribution on the market and a little creative marketing that proposed ideas from six years earlier.

Sega's latest console, the Dreamcast, was characterized, especially in Italy, by a long series of difficulties. Preziosi will exit the distribution relationship with the Japanese company at the end of the 90s, not broadcasting commercials on TV and leaving the console in limbo. Bigben Interactive, already in charge of the distribution of the console in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, will intervene later. However, it was a rescue that did not end up changing the market equilibrium, since, as is well known, in 2001 Sega will definitively exit the hardware market. In fact, note how this article on Mickey Mouse does not refer to any distributor, but to a simple website:

Nintendo and the Florentine Renaissance: the arrival of GiG

The relationship with Mattel is closed , Nintendo switched to GiG in 1993: at the time a mega consortium of seven toy distributors in the area, based in Sesto Fiorentino. The company decides to focus console marketing on television, definitively abandoning the idea of ​​testimonials. The Florentine distributor will impose its own marketing language, quickly recovering a good share of the console market.

Even after hiring one of the major national advertising agencies, Armando Testa, GiG did not seem ready to make a choice of break with the past. The relationship with the advertising agency led to several missed opportunities in the marketing field: above all the Game Boy commercial, shot by the famous director Maurizio Nichetti. It was an important economic investment for a bite-free result.

The Florentine company was also trying to solve those stock selection problems that had plagued NES under Mattel management, dedicating its own team to play and evaluate which ones were best suited to the public. Furthermore, the Super Nintendo had to be introduced to the market, which arrived in Italy in 1993. Armando Testa and GiG could not find an agreement for a commercial that was more mature and, in the end, it was decided to use the European one with some censored scenes.

The GiG and Nintendo partnership lasted until the arrival of PlayStation, which radically changed the very concept of video games in a very short time. No longer "expensive toys", but a new medium where characters like Lara Croft no longer figured as mere emulators of Mickey Mouse. The excessive power of the PlayStation will be among the causes of the failed launch of the Nintendo 64, which arrived in Italy in March 1997, almost two years after the Sony console.

Ending up being substantially eclipsed by the excessive power and visibility of PlayStation marketing, thanks to titles like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, GiG tried to persuade Nintendo to change the marketing language. It will take years to arrive at a result, even if the latest advertisements produced by the Florentine company, shortly before the closure of the company at the beginning of 1999, suffer a certain awkwardness in an attempt to appropriate the "MTV Italia" style.

Among the marketing attempts, we also remember the sponsorship of Fiorentina by GiG and Nintendo, an operation criticized even by the president of Nintendo of America, Minoru Arakawa. GiG, however, continued on his way, until he transformed Super Mario into the official mascot of the football team of the Tuscan capital.

The Fiorentina of Batistuta and Toldo with the Nintendo shirt After the closure of GiG and the the sale of the company branches to Giochi Preziosi, Nintendo will pass to direct management, with the creation of a Milan branch in 2001, in charge of marketing and communication. However, this decision does not seem to have radically changed the "family" message that has always characterized the Kyoto house.

Videogames for children

It is a shared opinion that GiG and Giochi In the end, Preziosi were not interested in coming to terms with a market other than that of toys, also because as simple distributors they had their hands tied as regards communication and had no control over the product chain. In other words, the end of Sega and the limited success of the Nintendo 64 were inevitable, even if Giochi Preziosi and GiG had jumped through hoops. Sony therefore found fertile ground, adopting a marketing language valid for the entire European continent, without the need for testimonials or national re-elaborations.

Combining consoles with toys also meant allocating them to a series B marketing, so considered by the advertisers themselves because they rarely interested the most coveted television band: prime time. The attitude of the large toy distributors has also had consequences on the availability of console titles in Italy. In particular, the more complex genres were difficult to find, as well as often lacking a translation, since home computers have always been the platforms where adventures and RPGs reigned supreme. A problem that particularly affected platforms such as Super Nintendo, where role-playing games represented one of the main genres.

Although Sega and Nintendo still manage to maintain a hard core of fans in Italy, it is There is no doubt that the decade characterized by toy marketing has ended up facilitating the dominance of PlayStation, today one of the strongest brands on the market.

Expensive toys and serious video games

An advertisement del Saturn The experience of toy companies in the videogame market is shared with other European countries, as well as a marketing geared towards young age. What seems missing in our country, however, was the courage to go beyond this simplified representation. Losing, in the following years, the opportunity to cultivate and "educate" a market that was, as demonstrated, in strong growth. Surely the years of home computer piracy have significantly contributed to creating this gap between the first, considered for "adults", and the consoles, destined for a younger age.

Giochi Preziosi seemed to have lost enthusiasm quickly at the first difficulties: evidently burned by Sega's declining trend, the company was not even interested in deepening the brief relationship with Nintendo. GiG, on his side, was paying for the difficulties in relations with Kyoto, also lacking the will to raise the bar of his own marketing, as suggested by the advertising agency. The toy majors, in short, secured a monopoly that they were not too interested in managing, if not limited to making their Japanese customers happy. It took years to understand that, given the level of complexity of the video game, it needed a different marketing language, no longer simply linked to rappers and footballers.

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