The Earliest Video Game Ads Were Weird AF
These days, video game commercials are just lengthy cutscenes where the developers show off their graphics and how realistic they made their horse balls look. But back in the '80s, you could hardly put your game's five pixels on the big screen and expect anyone to be impressed. That's why the first-ever big-time video game ad decided to skip the old school game part and go retro in a whole different direction.
In 1983, as Atari was ramping up to take over the world, they launched their first big U.S. video game ad campaign. The jewel in that commercial crown was going to be for their upcoming arcade smasher Dig Dug, i.e. Landscaper Bomberman. And the pressure was on, as the game was also going to have the first-ever video game commercials to appear in movie theaters. So to make sure their Snake-but-with-more-steps looked the best it could on the big screen, Atari did what any good game company would: they paid some ad agency fifty times what it had cost to make the Dig Dug to commission a commercial that in no way resembles the actual game.
In the style of '50s sci-fi/horror like The Blob or It Came From Outer Space, the Dig Dug commercial was a multi-million dollar fake movie trailer. In it, the eponymous Mr. Dug is transformed into an alien menace terrorizing genre tropes like shadowy military councils, vaguely diverse science teams and, of course, horny teens in the woods. The trailer ends with everybody realizing Dig Dug is no threat to the Earth, he was just dangerously eroding it to force people to play with him. So kids ought to rush to their local arcades and tell them to buy the cabinet before mom and dad get sinkholed into the nether realm.
But the real star of the ad wasn't Dig Dug, but the Dig Dug song, a swinging '50s rock and roll number performed by the Dig Dug Band, five teens dressed like it's ABBA night at the coal mine. And if you thought the song sounded two hairs of a copyright lawsuit away from "The Twist" (first, hi Dad), that might be because it had been originally performed by none other than Chubby Checker himself, singer of "The Twist" and the reason your grandma needed a hip replacement at 50.
Checker's version was only made public 30 years later when Matt Osborne, son of Atari executive Don Osborne, rediscovered a cassette of the recording in his old stuff. Sadly, we'll never know why Atari decided at the last moment to wipe Checker off the board but Osborne posits they might've thought arcade kids would respond more to some random camp counselors doing a bad cover of a rock and roll legend, showing that Atari isn't just responsible for creating misleading video game commercials, but two decades of Kidz Bop music as well.
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