Marketing is a fickle practice at the best of times. One can never be sure what an audience will respond to, and must attempt to read the feelings of an entire culture. There are certain marketing strategies that have been proven to work. Bright colours, genuine comedy, eye candy and absurdity all leave lasting impacts on a viewer, even if they don't consciously realize it.
If you remember an ad, it’s a successful ad. Sometimes achieving this goal means pushing what is considered appropriate in a public setting. Ads exist as products of their social and political climates, and some things considered offensive now would have been “normal” in decades past. Testing the boundary is a risky strategy, but one that can leave a lasting impression, even if that impression is a bad taste in your mouth, a deep-seated cringe, or a turning of the stomach. And of course, some ads are inflammatory just for the sake of being so.
More often than not, however, bad ads are just the result of terrible writing and even worse management, and are pulled moments after they air. But in today’s day and age, nothing disappears forever. Every canceled ad remains on the Internet as a relic to the questionability of corporate social skills. We at TheGamer have delved into this unholy vault, and have discovered 20 of the most offensive video game ads that ever aired. Some might be considered strokes of twisted genius, but most are sheer idiocy at its finest. Best go into incognito mode… things are about to get weird.
20 Luigi May Be A Serial Killer (Super Luigi U)
Man, where to even begin with this one. There are just so many questions that I’m not sure I’ll like to answers to. Why is Peach crying in terror for Mario? I’ve never seen here this distraught, even when she’s in Bowser’s clutches. What is this dark, foggy chamber? And most importantly, why is Luigi smiling so happily in the reflection of her eyes?!
After all of this, the trailer cuts to gameplay footage and we are never given any closure. Where is Mario, anyways? Fan theories claim that in Super Luigi U he’s actually dead, probably murdered by a jealous brother. Perhaps the ad was trying show Luigi rescuing Peach in the place of Mario, but this has been horribly lost in translation, and instead we are left with an acute sense of unease.
19 Play Xbox, Or Your Life Is Meaningless (Xbox)
The last thing anyone wants when watching a video game commercial in an existential crisis. And yet, that’s exactly what you get with Xbox’s Life Is Short ad. The show begin with a woman deep in the throes of labour, and with a mighty scream her child goes hurtling from her uterus, out the window, and through the air like a ballistic missile.
As the child flies, he steadily ages. The moment he becomes cognizant he begins to scream, and makes sure to cover his genitals, probably for aerodynamic reasons. Once his skin wrinkles and his teeth begin to rot, the man crash lands violently in his grave, and only then does Xbox remind us that life is short, and we should play more. Think I’ll just lay here and get crushed by the pointlessness of my existence instead, thanks.
18 The Cringe Is Real (We Dare)
Shovelware was a real problem for the Nintendo Wii. What, you don’t remember classics such as Chicken Shoot and Major Minor’s Majestic March? Well, after seeing the ridiculous trailer for We Dare, you’ll be thankful these games at least aren’t trying (and failing miserably) to seduce you.
We Dare is a “s*xy” party game that was released only in Europe (go figure). The ad in itself isn’t really that offensive, despite its rampant innuendos and shirtless men. The true crime of this ad is its sheer cringiness. Who is their right mind would ever play a video game like this!? The couple kissing the dangling wiimote is all levels of unsanitary, and the “spanking” mechanic is so ludicrous I can hardly fathom it. All this action is dubbed over with hilariously awkward laughter, and ends with what you can only assume is about to be a porno shoot.
17 Gameboys Are Addictive… Very Addictive (Game Boy Micro)
Who knew that Nintendo’s marketing team would sink to the level of mice exploitation? It’s well known that s*x sells, but not like this. Animal and machine were never meant to be brought together this way.
The ad begins at the Nintendo Recovery Centre, where the researchers are testing the addictiveness of Nintendo products. They place a mouse in a maze, and give it the option of cheese or a Game Boy Micro. Naturally, it chooses the latter, and instead of comically playing it, like you’d hope, he begins to... violate it, and do it vigorously. The ad ends with a close up on one of the researchers's face, who appears to be holding something back as he listens to the unholy affair. Let's not look into this one too closely.
16 Rayman Has Huge Features, Huh? (Rayman 3)
These kind of jokes are a dime a dozen these days, but that didn't stop Ubisoft from using every "eggplant" themed innuendo they could find for this Rayman 3 ad. The image shows Rayman at the urinal taking a leak while staring at us menacingly. Meanwhile, the men around Rayman are far more interested in what he’s packing, which is suggested to be a HUGE FEATURE.
The worst part of the ad is hidden in the fine print on the right hand side. With descriptions like that (WHIP OUT new powers, ENORMOUS levels), you’d think this game was entirely about... you know. But it’s not. It’s a kid’s game about an armless hero who punches bad guys and uses his hair as a helicopter. I would love to meet the guy who approved the marketing team to let this one go… or then again, maybe I wouldn't.
15 SEGA Is Far Beyond Subtlety (SEGA Ads In Viz Magazine)
Back in the 90s, Virgin Interactive Entertainment ran a series of SEGA ads in UK magazine Viz, a publication known for its absurd humour and satire. These ads are a product of their time, and are designed to sit within the framework of Viz’s comedic style. All the same, they are hilarious and offensive in countless ways, and are worth a good peruse.
No topic was off limits in this hilarious run of ads. SEGA delved into all manner of depravity, including self-pleasure, BDSM, “packages” of all shapes and sizes, toilet humor, and direct threats to Santa Claus. Even SEGA mascots such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Ecco The Dolphin were thrown under the bus, and are likened to their baser animal forms, as well as cocaine-addled celebrities.
14 Breathe New Life Into Me, Nintendo (Turbo Touch 360)
Sometimes, you really have to wonder what people are thinking when they design these things. You pray that it’s satire, for if it is, all is well in the world. If not, we’re in for a case of word association gone horribly wrong, an uncouth use of homosexual innuendos, and an ad that does nothing to represent the product it’s trying to sell. But hey, at least it gave you an awkward laugh, right?
This ad for the Turbo Touch 360 controller is ridiculous in every way possible. The cheap and slightly disturbing illustration. The faces of the videogame men as they “breathe new life” into eachother. The horrendous tagline. The fact that it offers “more excitement and longer play.” And most importantly, the redundant, counter-productive controller this confusing advert is trying so hard to sell.
13 Everyone's Doing It… Aren’t You? (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare)
Straddling the edge of an innuendo is a great way to entertain a wide audience while remaining safe enough for network television. It's a subtle art that’s often done best in animated films, movies that are meant for kids but need to also keep the attention of adult viewers. Then there are examples of “subtle” humour gone hilariously wrong, such as in this trailer for Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Haven’t you heard? Everyone is doing it! Boys and girls, girls and girls, some people alone, some people in groups. What “it” may be remains enigmatic enough until the old man in the chair says “some like deeper penetration when they do it!” Hold on… we're not actually talking about banging here, are we? Hard to tie that one back to Call Of Duty…
12 The Best Bits About Tennis (Virtua Tennis)
While most ads from the SEGA era objectified beautiful women, the marketing team for Virtua Tennis decided to take a very different approach. Instead of naked women, they chose to show naked men… and the models they chose were intentionally unflattering, and a little too close to the camera for comfort. All for the butt (ha) of the joke: Virtua Tennis would help you avoid the “uncomfortable locker room moments” that apparently plague the sport.
The hilarious part is how the ad claims you’ll be avoiding uncomfortable locker room moments by putting you right in the middle of one. I wonder who looked at this image and was genuinely convinced to buy Virtua Tennis. I feel bad for these models, as most folks would turn the page before even looking at what the product is... or just laugh,
11 Have You Seen Any? Well? Have You?! (3DFX)
It takes a certain level of gall to insult the audience you are trying to sell a product to. 3DFX was a company that sold PC upgrades, and if a console gamer were to switch to PC, they certainly wouldn’t buy anything from them after seeing this charming ad.
The “PC master race” elitism is rampant in this image, and is utilized in a really awkward way. The insult is childish and ineffective, and only makes the ones saying it seem insecure. The ad ventures confidently into sexist territory, and paints women as a competitive prize as many ads from this era do. Furthermore, one has to wonder… what PC accessory would convince a woman to take off her shirt? Stereotypically, such things have the opposite effect. Curious marketing strategies indeed.
10 Don’t Ever Try To Eat Like Yoshi (Yoshi’s Island)
Ads make us feel many things in their endless crusade for our pay cheques. They are designed to make us laugh, or perhaps feel sentimental. So are even designed to annoy us, just so that we’ll remember them. But one thing an ad should never do is disgust you. Apparently, no one told this to Nintendo.
Things begin in a restaurant with a large, visibly greasy man enjoying his dinner a little too much. The sound effects are vivid, the food looks far from appetizing, and utensils are a relic of the past. As he stuffs his face with reckless abandon, his gut begins to expand, and if you’re a fan of Monty Python, you know what happens next. The man explodes, his intestines get everywhere, and his spaghetti is splattered all over my box of Yoshi’s Island. I’ll take different copy, please.
9 Beware Of John Romero’s Insolence (Daikatana)
Lauded as one of the largest commercial failures in video game history, Daikatana did very little to win a positive following before release. John Romero, known for co-developing Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, and Quake, designed the game from the ground up, and promised it would be completed in seven months. This plan fell through terribly due to an inexperienced team, an engine switch, and deplorable work conditions.
The games largest blunder however was this now infamous ad, designed by Mike Wilson. It simply features a red background with the words “John Romero’s About To Make You His B*tch,” and at the bottom, the eternally classy tagline of “Suck It Down.” As one could imagine, the ad did not resonate well with gamers, and amplified the public distaste that was already growing for Daikatana. Romero has since apologized for this marketing catastrophe.
8 Sony Loves Their Racist Dustballs (PSP)
The PSP marketing team must be lead by fourteen year olds. The dust ball ad campaign is the unholy combination of irritating and offensive, and should be burned with fire as soon as possible. If you feel like diving in and seeing some of the worst advertising around, I commend your bravery, and wish you a swift return.
The dust balls are pictured as dirty and uneducated, and have forced Mexican accents. They ramble on in grating voices about the features of the PSP, all the while slipping in countless Mexican stereotypes and sexist comments. One can imagine they are going for an Aqua Teen Hunger Force vibe, but this does not translate. The dust balls are unfunny and annoying, and have thoroughly convinced me not to buy a PSP. When will these marketing companies learn to do their jobs?
7 Tied Up In Video Games (Game Boy Pocket)
This sensationalist Game Boy Pocket ad shows a woman tied to a bed looking dismayed as someone is “seriously distracted” by a game of Tetris, and is ignoring her. The bed is sparse and creepy looking, and the woman’s expression borders a little more on unsettled than frustrated. Conclusions are immediately drawn: this woman has been kidnapped.
But of course, the ad company never intended for this impression. The idea was that the player was ignoring a kinky s*x romp, not their recent kidnap victim. See? She’s tied up with ties and scarves, and can easily get free if she wants to. No matter the intent, the ad is pretty awkward, suggesting that woman are objects of lesser value to a Game Boy, and that all gamers would rather play with a toy than have any sort of meaningful human interaction. Yeesh.
6 Murder Is Hot, Right? (Hitman: Blood Money)
Showing scantily clad women in a video game ad is one thing; showing them with bullet holes in their skull is entirely another. And yet, Eidos took this route when advertising Hitman: Blood Money. They released a series of images that show cadavers in various settings, some men, some women, each with a clever tagline. The man in a freezer? Coldly executed. The dead lingerie models on satin? Beautifully executed. The naked women toasted in the bathtub? Shockingly executed.
The images are graphic in themselves, and could be unsettling for the casual magazine reader. But the truly disturbing part is the way they use s*x to sell, like so many other ads. But this time… the beautiful women that are supposed to be catching your depraved eye are dead. That's just plain wrong, man. Sure hope I don’t need to explain why.
5 The Passion Of The PlayStation (PlayStation 10th Anniversary)
Someone definitely knew what they were doing when they designed this ad, printed exclusively in Italian publications. The ad celebrates the 10th anniversary of PlayStation, and features a punchable looking fellow wearing a crown of thorns made of up PlayStation’s face button shapes. Definitely nothing inflammatory going on here.
I really couldn’t tell you what they were going for with this one. What on earth does PlayStation have to do with the crown of thorns? They were almost certainly riding the controversy that followed The Passion Of The Christ, and were trying to enflame Christians. If not, the stupidity is staggering. Regardless of their goals, an enraged Vatican threatened to excommunicate Sony if the ad wasn’t promptly removed. Rest assured, it was, and millions of dollars were lost in the process.
4 Blackmail Your Crossdressing Dad For Video Games (N64)
The 90s were a different time. With the likes of Mrs. Doubtfire dominating to box offices, the cross-dressing man was a comedy staple. Nowadays this brand of humour has lost its edge, and we are now embracing drag culture as the legitimate form of self-expression that it is.
But no matter the time period, it’s plain wrong to trivialize the struggle of the LGBTQ community simply to promote a product. This dated N64 trailer begins with the voice of a father explaining life lessons to his son. Then it reveals that the son has walked in on his father in woman’s clothing, and dad concludes by saying “how much will it cost to keep this from your mother?” The cost of an N64 and all its games, apparently. The boy then walks in on grandpa in stockings. Why not double down and get two?
3 “Subliminal” Messaging At Its Finest (Neo-Geo)
The Neo-Geo was first released as a cartridge-based arcade system in 1990, and was eventually redesigned as a home console. The Neo-Geo had 24-bit graphics, some of the most impressive for its time, and featured franchises such as Fatal Fury and Metal Slug. It was the first console to use memory cards, and was infamously expensive at its launch, costing more than $1000 USD (!) after inflation.
And yes, the Neo-Geo was a susceptible as ever to ridiculous ads. This particular gem features a hilariously 80s looking blonde, frustrated with her man as she remembers their long lost days of passion. Now all the man can keep his hands on is the Neo-Geo controller… and whatever’s on the screen there. Apparently it's a screen shot from a game called Cyber Lip, which is as dated as you dreamed it would be.
2 The Most Blatantly Racist Ad Ever Made (PSP White)
Where to even begin with this mess? This was an actual, honest to God ad campaign that ran in 2006 in the Netherlands. Meaning someone conceptualized this image, found the models, took the photos, edited them, then pasted them on giant billboards without ever once thinking, “hold on… this might actually come across as a bit racist!”
Sony commented on the ad when they pulled it, stating that the image only intended to highlight the contrast between the different colours of the consoles. Other images from the campaign show the black woman in a position of power over the white, suggesting erotic tension was the intended selling point of the ad. This translates terribly in the “white is coming” image. This campaign was painfully tone-deaf, and a shining example of what not to do when trying to sell something that is coloured white.
1 There’s A Woman On This Page? (Sega Saturn)
The video game demographic was once seen as almost purely male, and this led to a lot of sexist ad campaigns. This campaign was for the SEGA Saturn, and it displays a nude woman on blue satin censored by conveniently placed screenshots of Saturn games.
The problems with this image are immediately evident, and it follows a trend that was rampant in decades past. Such ads shamelessly liken woman to objects, and devalue them to the level below the video games they are trying to sell. They perpetuate countless gender equality issues and paint all gamers as hopeless loners incapable of forming healthy relationships with women. Thankfully, this trend has all but disappeared, and is a sign that we are finally coming to realize how backwards this type of message is.