Video game ads can be, quite frankly, terrible. If you’ve watched any TV appealing to the nerd demographic, you’ve seen them. Horribly forgettable and captive of their genre, they use the same crunching music over and over again, the same jumpy cuts from one FPS kill to the next. Even good games can be made to look uninteresting and cliched – while great games, like the beautiful Shadow of the Colossus, just aren’t the sort of things that play well in the 30-second ad format. It’s similar to movie trailers that way – the more features, the more complexity, the less ability to simplify and sell – so a crappy and formulaic genre film paired with a recognizable drumbeat, an ominous voiceover, and a quick jump cut at the end is transformed into nicely motivational preview, while plot-heavy indie films can be harder to scale down. Sometimes impossible.
That said, after seeing the PS3 ad mashing up Shakespeare’s Henry V St. Crispin’s Day speech tonight, I was reminded that really is some quality ad work out there. So here’s a quick list of my personal Top 10 Video Game Ads.
The only rules: no fan made inclusions – otherwise Half Life Full Life Consequences or Half Life in 60 Seconds would take the cake, and no print media, even though that’s where some of the best work has been done (who can forget the impressive Divine Comedy PSP promotion).
10 – Water Balloons
A devious little ad promoting the online multiplayer capability of XBox Live, set to the creepy strains of “Teddy Bear Picnic.” Frank Budgen has done some great work on this front – he worked on at least three of the ads on this list, besides his work for Nike and other big names.
9 – Gears of War: Mad World
This is on here mostly as a contrast with the kind of FPS game ad I noted before. It’s similar in some respects to this ad for BioShock set to “Beyond the Sea”, but the Gears ad featuring Gary Jules’ Mad World has an enduring following, and hits the right note for Gears’ post-apocalyptic environment.
8. George Plimpton doesn’t know Henry Thomas
This ad just gets more bizarre every time I see it. George Plimpton was the spokesman for Intellivision, and made a host of good ads for them, but the humor here is that Henry Thomas had just finished making E.T. – the idea that Plimpton wouldn’t recognize him was just ridiculous.
7. Pole Position
Turn your speakers down for another throwback. “Hey! You look like a real jerk!” “Well, I am a corporate executive…”
Another multiplayer ad, with much the same feel as the XBox one, albeit for a different system. But I love this one more, not just for the soundtrack, but the perfect encapsulation of the exhilarating feeling you’ve experienced if you’ve ever broken into a national Top 100 list (I’ve only done this once – Warhawk, right when it came out) on a multiplayer game.
5. Ratchet and Clank
The Ratchet and Clank ads were ahead of their time in their Youtube-esque feel. I always liked the one with the gravity boots best. Also, Cloverfield is totally a ripoff of these ads.
4. Halo 3
These are all ads from the Halo 3 “Believe” campaign, which are just a phenomenal representation of the war documentary feel. I wish the game was as good as these ads – but I’ve always loved the initial teaser, which ran during the Super Bowl, even better:
Now this is a classic. There is still a minor cult around this ad – and a running joke that whatever console problems there are, they’ll be fixed at the PS9 stage – and the design in it is excellent. The only problem: at the rate we’re going technologically, I doubt we’ll have to wait til 2078.
2. “Banned” XBox Shooting ad
I still kind of doubt that this ad was actually “banned”, as opposed to just released as a bit of internet fodder. But it does take me back to the days of running around the backyard with fingers raised or nerf guns, and the inevitable arguments that would emerge about whether someone got hit or not.
1. Double Life
By far, the best ad ever done for any game system ever. And one of the few bizarre ads created for Sony (and there have been a lot of those, many of which are magnificent triumphs of awful) that actually works. This doesn’t just work: it speaks to anyone who’s ever played a game and loved it so much as to enjoy “a life of dubious virtue.”