Sega of America, in a do-or-die situation more serious than any its hedgehog Sonic ever faced, this week launches a $100 million marketing effort for Dreamcast, its 128-bit videogame console.
Sega's creative strategy is to portray the device as being "alive," just as the computer named Hal had a mind of its own in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Three teaser spots, breaking on cable network MTV today, personify the videogame console as scheming to defeat the humans who try to play games on it.
CAREFUL, IT'S LISTENING
The spots are shot from the viewpoint of the device, as it looks at the player. Each spot illustrates the Dreamcast's power, warning players not to think out loud because the machine will "hear you."
Print ads will run in July and August issues of gaming books, including Expert Gamer, Next Generation, Gamer's Republic, GamePro and EGM.
Each print ad offers an "artificial intelligence hint." One headline reads: "Outsmarting it will only make it smarter." Another is, "You know it's alive. Worse. It knows it's alive."
The ads are labeled with a logo reading, "It's thinking Sega.com."
Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, is the agency.
The TV teasers will be followed with an epic spot, titled "Apocalypse," from Irish director John Moore. It is planned to debut around MTV's Video Music Awards, to be aired Sept. 9.
TAKING OVER TOKYO
In that spot, a thief tries to infiltrate Sega headquarters to steal Dreamcast. The device then tries to take over Tokyo.
A third part of the effort focuses on the games available for Dreamcast, particularly Sonic the Hedgehog, one of Sega's best sellers, as well as titles involving football and other sports. About six games will be advertised, although about 20 will be available for the console.
Overall, Sega plans to put $500 million behind the marketing of Dreamcast.
CURING AILING MARKETER
Sega is depending on Dreamcast to bring the ailing videogame marketer out of the doldrums. Once the market leader, Sega now commands a paltry 4% share of the more than $6 billion home videogame business. Sony PlayStation dominates with a 49% share, and Nintendo ranks second with a 39% share.
Competition goes beyond comparable consoles. Increasingly, game players--primarily teen boys and young men--are moving to PCs, with their ever-improving graphics and their ability to link players together via the Internet.
Among Dreamcast's new features is a plug-in, high-speed 56K modem allowing multiplayer Internet games.
"It's make it or break it for Sega," said one executive familiar with the plans.
So far, Sega executives have reason to be hopeful. Pre-sales of the $199 machines already total more than 100,000. Key toy retailer KB Toys has signed on to pre-sell the machines. KB refused to sell Sega's last videogame machine, a flop known as Saturn released in 1994.
Sega is hoping to pre-sell 200,000 machines before the actual launch in September.
The marketer plans to capitalize on the early advantage of being the first 128-bit machine to be released--and the only one ready in time for the 1999 holiday season. Sony has announced its 128-bit machine, PlayStation II, but it's not expected to be released until spring.
Dreamcast was a hit in Japan when it was released last fall. More than 150,000 machines sold within the first few hours.
Copyright June 1999, Crain Communications Inc.