No Game for Nintendo's 3DS Marketing Push

Okay, here's a new one. To give a needed boost to its 3DS gaming system, Nintendo has shot a viral-video-with-two-capital-Vs that knows it's a viral video - but one that views the viral-video genre with contempt, even as it is clearly designed to go viral itself.

Got all that? Posted by Nintendo to its YouTube page last week and tweeterfied to the masses yesterday afternoon by Joel McHale, who stars in it, the clip drops McHale into a generic conference room. There, he and a generic-looking marketing guy decked out in generic-marketing-guy clothes attempt to advertise the 3DS without making it look like advertising. In the process, they draw awareness to themselves and drop product specs ("young people can smell a commercial from a mile away, just like how they can view the incredible 3-D technology of Nintendo 3DS at whatever intensity they prefer") in a manner that oozes self-referential smarm.

See, everyone's totally in on the joke - just check out the video's title ("Joel McHale Goes Viral For Nintendo") and description ("We partnered with Joel McHale to bring the funny to this video (not) about Nintendo 3DS. How subtle can he be?!"). Hell, McHale even no-sold the clip/campaign in the tweet directing viewers to it, which referred to the device as the "DS3." Intentional? That's not outside the realm of possibility. As a result, even before one watches the video, the impulse is to suggest that the creators pull their meta heads out of their meta asses.

I ask this: What's the point? If it's to entertain, the video should lose the wink-nudge rehash of cheeseball viral-video tactics ("How about this: We shoot a normal conference-room scene, but we insert Nintendo logos and products everywhere and then it becomes a funny thing about how obvious we're being" - cue images of Nintendo logos and products). If it's to manufacture buzz for the brand, the video should shoot broader with its humor, rather than waste time on obscure nods to viral sensations from days of yore. If it's to sell the product, the video should, you know, show the product.

Instead, the 3DS clip falls over itself to satire a genre that more or less satires itself. It shoehorns in any number of viral-video tropes ("hot women can sell anything," a kick to the crotch). It skips from one burst of deadpan patter to the next, repeatedly pausing to explain itself ("if you point out exactly what you're doing to mask what you're doing, you're going to lose the trust of the audience"). It ignores the product, except for a rote recitation of bland marketing copy ("funny" in that it's done so transparently). Put all this together, and the video is that rare marketing entity that hits the abrasive/humorless/ineffective trifecta.

By the time McHale's foil serves up the punchline on a platter ("This could actually be the commercial!"), we've been moved from pity to annoyance. So, of course, the clip pushes the bit even further past the finish line with its final salvo: "I'm not a sellout. BUY NINTENDO 3DS NOW!" You know what's really sad? That we took the bait. Between the time when McHale tweeted out the link and noon today, the clip notched more than 181,000 views.

Joel McHale is a very, very funny dude (and if you're not watching Community, shame on you and the parents/relatives/wolves/whoever that raised you). The 3DS, by all accounts, is a fairly revolutionary techno-tchotchke. But Joel McHale selling the 3DS by aggressively, obnoxiously un-selling it ultimately amounts to a big "screw you!" to viewers who ostensibly enjoy clips of this ilk. Everybody involved with the production of this tripe oughta lose the ironic distance.

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