Remembering the Game Boy Advance SP's edgy marketing
"The second best thing to do in the dark."
The Game Boy Advance SP was forward-thinking in a lot of ways. It featured a frontlit (later changed to be backlit) screen that has since become standard, and a highly portable clamshell design that paved the way for Nintendo DS. But its marketing here in the UK now looks more than a little more dated.
Originally released in Japan 20 years ago today, and then here in Europe on 28th March, there's no doubting the SP was a sleekly-designed piece of kit. The original Game Boy Advance was compact enough, but could also never escape looking like a toy - something a kid might try and conjure a Digimon out of in a particularly energetic play session.
The SP, on the other hand, was intended to appear a more grown-up device and was therefore marketed as such. Its colours were more muted - its all-silver option made its hinged design look like a small laptop. Its angular shape was more business-like (and its dinky shoulder buttons rather less ergonomic to hold down). But all of this made sense - right? Nintendo already had a successful Game Boy Advance for the younger market. This one was for a different and more narrowly-targeted demographic - something its advertising also reflected.
Like some kind of aftershave, Nintendo marketed the SP here in Europe as a device "for men", with an advertising campaign that featured widely within the various UK lads mags of the time. The handheld's most memorable advert featured the boast that playing the GBA SP was "the second best thing to do in the dark", highlighting the device's backlit screen - but also that not even Nintendo thought playing Mario was as good as sex.
The advert included a moody monochrome photo of a model-like couple posing topless beneath silken sheets. The man is shown holding the SP and playing whatever is on its backlit screen, while the woman lays next to him. I still can't tell if she was supposed to be watching the game as well, or had simply fallen asleep.
Nintendo ditched its "for men" branding for the infamous Game Boy Advance SP "Tribal" variant, a design which seemed pitched as an awkward halfway house between the SP's original advertising - aimed at horny young office workers who had Game Boys as children - and a younger teen demographic who listened to Fall Out Boy. This advert featured another topless model - albeit in a less suggestive pose - and highlighted games such as F-Zero, Max Payne and Splinter Cell, rather than Mario or Zelda: Minish Cap.
All of this isn't to say the SP was the only time Nintendo was horny on main. The arrival of Nintendo DS and its touch-based screen gave the company a seemingly irrestible oppurtunity to take things up a notch. Here in the UK, Nintendo advertising sponsored Channel 4 comedy shows with short adverts that made it look like a man was about to get a handjob. The slogan "Touch It" was used here, a more adult version of the "Touching is good" phrase seen in other advertising. It is truly, truly cringeworthy now.
This advert at least features the woman in a more active role and ostensibly playing a game - what looks to be Metroid Prime: Hunters - albeit from upside down and while wearing a latex glove. While designed to be viewed after the 9pm watershed, it seems unlikely Nintendo would run a similar ad campaign today.
Anyway, happy 20th birthday Game Boy Advance SP. You're now finally out of your teenage years - and not a minute too soon.