Nineties Kid Nostalgia: Sega Pirate TV

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I was looking around YouTube and found this compilation of early-90s British TV ads for the Sega Mega Drive (that’s the Genesis, for readers in the US). Boy, what a time capsule they are. And not only because they hype a bunch of 16-bit platformers as cutting edge entertainment technology.

Originally, the ads starred a barber played by Bottom‘s Steven O’Donnell, who turned his customers into cyborgs via a process called the “cyber razor cut”. This was intercut with footage from Mega Drive games because… cybernetic organisms spend their time playing Sonic the Hedgehog, or something.

Cyborgs were a popular theme at the time, and had been for a few years, what with Terminator, Robocop and all. They were cool. But these ads show a very British approach to coolness: take something that’s cool (like cyborgs and Japanese video games) and throw in something uncool (like barbers and the fat guy from Bottom) to create something that, in its own way, is also pretty cool.

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After a few ads they dropped the barber theme but kept O’Donnell’s wacky cyborg, and then came the Sega Pirate TV campaign. This involved innocuous-looking spoof adverts for washing detergents, newspaper horoscopes and the like, which would then be disrupted and turn into warped parody versions starring Steven O’Donnell and a cartoon skull (one wonders if these were inspired by the Max Headroom signal hacking prank – the general effect is rather similar). These adverts actually had their own trailers, and you know a promotional campaign’s gone into overdrive when you start getting adverts to advertise adverts.

Oh yeah, and the animated skull is a time capsule in itself. It’s hand-drawn. These adverts were possibly the last point in human history that hand-drawn animation was used to suggest state-of-the-art technology.

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One of the ads, which lasts more than two minutes, is a spoof magazine show promoting the Mega CD (remember that?). Amongst the attractions is an interview with “Megan, star of Night Trap“, who appears as a sort of cyberpunk-on-a-budget digighost before being dropped down a trapdoor by a teenage boy. (This kid’s specifically identified as “Benny from Romford”, so I’m guessing he won a contest or something). Megan had the last laugh, of course: as the 90s progressed, it was virtual reality rather than the cyborg that kept pop culture’s imagination, and somehow a sexy digital girl seems less dated than a barber with robotic bits.

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Steven O’Donnell starred in Sega adverts from 1991 to 1994, apparently. Then came the Sega Saturn and the apocalypse that followed.

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