SEGA'S OUT WITH SATURN; GAME MARKETER GOES FOR SOPHOMORIC APPEAL

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How do you grab the attention of a young, techno-savvy market when your competition's playing games? Try a "hidden" message-with sophomoric bathroom humor-in an alternative audio track on your new TV spot.

That's the secret behind Sega of America's $50 million marketing blitz for its new Saturn video-game player.

In regular transmission, the spots that began Thursday on Fox and MTV offer a funny look at how the human body responds to Saturn's sensory assault.

But just hit the "Separate Audio Program" button on the TV remote control and Sega's youthful subculture is treated to the bathroom babble.

"Fortunately, butt hair doesn't grow very fast," spews a voiceover. "Belly button lint is nutritious ....Would more people take vitamins if they were suppositories?"

The idea came from Sega and was executed by its creative agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and media buyer, BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles.

"None of the networks....[knew] we were doing this," said Michael Ribero, Sega's exec VP-marketing. BBDO told the networks only at the last minute to fix technical glitches.

The separate-audio feature doesn't work in all markets, though Sega says it's trying to resolve that with the networks. "They don't have a problem with it," a Sega spokeswoman said. "It's a technical issue."

The campaign is at the center of Sega's drive to lead the market for high-price game machines.

Sega surprised the competition by putting at least limited supplies of its $399 Saturn on sale Thursday, nearly four months early.

Archrival Nintendo of America has delayed its Ultra 64 game machine till April. Videogame newcomer Sony Corp. won't offer its PlayStation till fall.

It's unclear how many kids and parents will spring for the pricy new machines. Two existing high-end machines, the 3DO devices and Atari Corp.'s Jaguar, have not taken off.

Industry veteran Dean Fox, Atari's senior VP-marketing, said, "$400 game systems just aren't going to make a mass market."

Atari, which invented the video-game, is struggling to show it's still a player. In the past six weeks, it recruited Mr. Fox and hired Ground Zero, Venice, Calif., to create ads on a project basis.

Sega vows to spend $50 million marketing and advertising Saturn, its biggest introduction ever. The program includes a promotional tour tie-in with Coca-Cola Co.'s Cherry Coke.

While its Ultra 64 is delayed, Nintendo will pump $65 million into advertising other products for the rest of the year through Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. Nintendo's new Virtual Boy, a $180 virtual reality toy, is set for a $25 million marketing push.

Jeff Jensen, Joe Mandese and Andrea Sachs contributed to this story.

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