This week Mercedes Benz Japan unveiled new television spots featuring more characters from gaming’s beloved Mario Kart franchise making the crossover to real world endorsements. We got the chance to see Mario himself sell out back in May, but the latest ads feature real life Peach and Luigi. On the surface they might seem like a sad attempt at promoting Mercedes cars with inside jokes targeted at gamers, but the ads actually highlight a few things about Nintendo, especially in its native Japan.
The ads themselves are pretty standard for anyone who’s familiar with Japanese television. Having spent countless hours watching the finest 30-second storytellers in the world, I can say the two spots are distinguished only by the fact that it’s easy to discern what’s going on – at least if you’ve ever played a Mario Kart game. There is a race which has the characters driving the Mercedes Benz downloadable content (DLC) for the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8. It also features a real world version of the Mario Circuit track. Peach (or Luigi if you watch the other video) has placed first in the race, and is gloating about her victory. Her hubris is then atoned for when a green turtle shell comes her way.
Footage of the GLA 180, the Mercedes compact SUV that is being promoted by the spot, is interspersed with the in-game content and real world cameos, which Japan still loves, apparently. The car will run you 3,440,000 yen (US$30,000) and up.
That Nintendo chose to include sponsored DLC in one of its flagship games was an interesting move, and a little worrying to some. For its part, Nintendo has followed the age-old commercial tradition of “What happens in Japan, stays in Japan,” and didn’t ask players to pay for the DLC. Though for Nintendo, the timing of the new commercials coinciding with the release of new paidLegend of Zelda DLC tomorrow has to be a bonus. With no third-party software support, the Kyoto-based company has been forced to essentially go at the Wii U alone, with the only real help going forward coming from smaller indie studios.
That the deal is an attractive one for Mercedes Benz is perhaps the real story. Few would have dreamt that Mario Kart or video games period could be an effective partner in moving real world vehicles in the 16-bit era, when games were more or less child’s play. Nintendo’s games aren’t exactly simulations either, a la the Forza series for Microsoft’s Xbox consoles, but the family-friendly image of Nintendo certainly seems like the logical fit to tug at the heart strings of someone looking for a vehicle for the spouse and kids. Grand Theft Auto, by comparison, is probably missing out on deals like this for the foreseeable future. Let’s just hope this import car business isn’t the first sign of a mid-life crisis for Mario and Nintendo.