Skidmarks On Your Soul – Pole Position Atari 5200 Commercial (1982)

A typical approach when creating a commercial for a video game is to identify a clear target audience, identify the most appealing message you have to offer that audience, and communicate that message as uniquely as you can in a short amount of time. Actually, that’s a sound tactic for commercials of any product, not just video games. I’m not sure if the folks responsible for this Pole Position commercial consciously ignored these key tactics or if they were just winging it, but either way the result is an overlong mess that – from what I can tell – isn’t really meant for anybody.

This wacky ninety-second commercial opens with a buttoned up family in a station wagon on a road trip. An unseen narrator insults the father right off the bat, asks where they’re going, and then tells them that they’re not going wherever they’re going, that they’re going to play Pole Position instead.

A giant hand picks up the station wagon and shakes it violently, forcing the family out of the vehicle. It then drops the station wagon and upon hitting the ground it explodes. Family falls into individual race cars, in full racing garb including a helmet and podracer-style goggles, and the race is apparently on.

The race goes on for like 45 seconds, cutting back and forth between the family excitedly looking over their shoulder to in-game footage to cars that may or may not include family members crashing into road signs and exploding.

It’s unclear who wins this race, but it doesn’t really matter. We all lose. The family is shown in tatters at the end, run ragged by this edgy race. Are we supposed to be happy that this innocent family was so brutally harassed? Did they not deserve their vacation? Was their crime that they were nerds? Besides being bizarre, this commercial doesn’t have much going for it. The tone is overly aggressive, the value of the game isn’t clear, and the game footage itself isn’t even very exciting. Indeed, the most bizarre aspect of this commercial is that it exists at all.

-ds

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