Tapping into Nerd Nostalgia

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This week, Pontiac debuted a new ad for its G8 GT called "Spy Hunter." The spot drops the G8 into the classic video game Spy Hunter (natch) to show the car's ability to avoid would-be assassins and oil slicks with smooth moves and superior handling, and it works on a number of levels. First, any man between 25 and 40 will be lulled into nostalgia-soaked hypnosis as soon as the sweet, soothing sound of the game's familiar theme music hits his ears. Second, it involves a deadly car chase and a helicopter dropping bombs. Always a plus.

Obviously, the use of video games to sell cars is nothing new. Most recently, Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles took Toyota into the World of Warcraft with Truck Summoner. Nor is using 80s nostalgia virgin territory in auto advertising, as evidenced by Honda's nod to Tron's Light Cycles in The Game. But this latest Pontiac effort splices these two concepts together to grab the attention of that ever-expanding demographic -- The Grown-up Gamer. Leo Burnett, Detroit ECD Jeff Cruz says that the target audience is guys aged 30 to 45, who turned the bulk of their adolescent allowance into coinage for arcade games like Spy Hunter.
"We tried to figure out how to reach this guy on an emotional level," says Cruz. "And thought we'd take his love for cars from when he was playing video games and dreaming about driving cars to today with the launch of the G8, to say, Remember how you felt about a car back then? You can feel that way for real, now."

Fair enough, but why Spy Hunter when 1980s arcades were a cornucopia of car games? For Cruz, it was a bit personal. "I remember pumping a lot of quarters into Spy Hunter when I was younger. I mean, Pole Position and Rally X are classic games but I just think Spy Hunter was the best car game of that era. The fact you're kind of like this James Bond-type character was always cool, the bad guys having their names like Enforcer and Switchblade was great, and then you've got the Peter Gunn music. It just had so many elements that we liked. We'd be playing the spot at someone's computer and as soon as the music came on people's heads would pop up from their desks like gophers, Is that Spy Hunter?"

While Cruz and Co. don't have any plans to put the G8 into any more arcade games, this latest spot got us thinking about what other classic car games might be manipulated to sell us a shiny new automobile.

The first to mind was Super Off Road. Perhaps Chevy or Ford could use this early Nintendo and arcade staple to combat Toyota's recent swipe at the truck-purchasing nerd population.


Next up was Super Sprint -- a perfect choice for any luxury car brand with a need for speed. Audi, BMW or Mercedes might fit nicely here. Or, on second thought, how about a Ford Mustang? Either way, this game rules.


Now, there's any number of racing games that car companies can, and often do, align themselves with but it would take a certain vision to put, oh say, a new hybrid SUV, in the carnage-infested Twisted Metal mix.


OK, perhaps this whole retro-gaming schtick would get old faster than Atari's E.T. We should probably just move on to something else before, God forbid, fast food gets involved.
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