Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sega's Infamous "Absolutely Rose Street" Infomercial!

Back in 1994, Sega decided one of the best ways to advertise their new 32X add-on was to create a fictitious soap opera about 20-somethings butting heads with a public-access TV producer who hates video games. Surprisingly, the gimmick didn't do a whole hell of a lot to move units...

By: Jimbo X

Now, all you motherfuckers know I love me some Sega, but even I have to admit they did a LOT of fucking up in the 1990s. Rolling out the Sega CD way too early, manufacturing pointless hardware like the Pico and Nomad, forgetting to tell retailers they were releasing the Sega Saturn, not putting a DVD player in the Dreamcast, letting a partnership that would have effectively given Sega the rights to the Playstation fall apart - considering all of those monumental screw-ups, it's actually kinda' surprising Sega didn't go belly up as a console maker than they already did. 

In the rich panoply of Sega hardware fuck-ups, though, perhaps the 32X represents their quintessential console misstep. Even now, I'm not entirely sure why the thing was green lit; after all, it was released just months before the 32-bit Saturn console hit store shelves, and with a grand total of about 30 games in its library, pretty much nobody anywhere had much of an incentive to purchase it. I kinda' sorta' get the idea that it was meant to beef up the Genesis and keep people playing their 16-bit powerhouse while waiting for the Saturn's release, but jeez - was even that worth squandering millions - maybe even hundreds of millions - on a product with a barely eight-month life cycle?

Not that I consider the 32X to be a terrible console. In fact, it actually had some really good (and some bordering on legitimately great) titles. Still, considering how crappy Sega's advertising for the console was, in hindsight it's no surprise why nobody seemed to have gotten excited about it. Spend another $160 to play a slightly less shitty version of Doom and Virtua Fighter? No thanks, I'd rather teach my pet hamster to swallow $20 bills whole. 

And perhaps nothing shows the ineptness and cluelessness of Sega's marketing brass more than the mystifying squandering of cash that was Absolutely Rose Street. Never heard of it? Well, that's probably for a good reason; because it was a half hour long infomercial that aired only a couple of times in 1994 at like 3 in the morning on The Golf Channel. That somebody out there actually recorded this thing for the sake of posterity is pretty much a miracle in and of itself - and, in my eyes, prolly the greatest evidence of a higher power anybody can ever drudge up.

It's pretty much impossible to sum up what Absolutely Rose Street was in one sentence without making it sound like the ramblings of a peyote addict, so just bear with me, kids. You need the full picture to grasp this one, and trust me - this is a trip down memory lane I guarantee you won't regret.

Honestly, I WOULD rather watch this for half an hour instead of a bunch of hipster turds talking about video games. 

The presentation begins with a huge-boobed blonde woman wearing dark red lipstick with a nasally voice like Harley Quinn's saying the following infomercial is a paid advertisement from Sega, although she thinks it should've been her show, Stylin' With Stella, instead. We get a bunch of rapid, MTV-style flash cuts of surfers, skaters and dudes just hanging out by the beach juxtaposed with gameplay of Virtua Racing Deluxe and Doom. Then, for some reason, we get a REAL Environmental Protection Agency P.S.A. with a whole bunch of nature shots and tips on recycling paired with a proper 32x commercial showing a guy going to a carnival, getting knocked out, having visions of the Sega CD and waking up in a hay pile beside a bearded man dressed like a woman. So, yeah, they actually put commercials inside their infomercials, because - hell, I have nary the foggiest idea. So we get these two guys sitting in a room (who sound just like a bunch of guidos from Goodfellas) and they strategically shut off a TV right before some broad says the word "Nintendo." The executive tells the producer he wants them to produce a show pandering to the video game playing demographic and the producer says video gamers are all a bunch of losers whose brains have turned to mush (man, what a way to celebrate your target audience, huh?) We learn the producer's name is Joe Whitehead, and he visits the crew behind Game Beat, some indie local access TV show and holy shit, there's a Dreamcast logo spraypainted on the wall because sometimes, predictive programming is real

Joe wastes no time before berating the crew, stating "headline, your show sucks." He says they need to radically overhaul the program or they're cancelled. By the way, if you want 1990s enforced-multiculturalism at its best, you can't beat the Game Beat cast, which includes a white dude, a black dude, an Asian dude and a kinda Hispanic looking token gamer girl. They ask Joe for a higher budget and new equipment and he describes video games as "the bing, the bong, he's up, he's down, he's in and out" and there is NO WAY to make that interesting. He also insults one of the kids by sarcastically calling him "a genius" and saying he bets he plays video games - then the cast hangs out by the beach during sunset while sad, grunge ballad music plays.

The Asian kid says he will have to go back to his job at Radio Shack, while the white guys say's his dad will tell him he should've gone to school instead. The white guy and the maybe Mexican chick walk down a side alley (at a slanted angle, of course) and she asks him what he thinks the biggest news in gaming is these days. She says Doom and the guy make a joke about everything being doom with her. Then, she says the greatest line I have ever heard: "Doom is coming to video games" (which, for those of you who need some retard script translated into English, means "Doom is being ported from the P.C. to home consoles." 

So she talks about the new 32X being a "power charger" for the Genesis. She claims it can make the Genesis go "40 times faster," while the dude thinks it's all marketing hype (holy hell, why would they even hint at that in their own advertisement?) Regardless, the girl (who does remarkably look like a 20-something Tara Tainton) thinks the matter should be investigated further and circles some video game magazine copy about the 32X while the rest of the crew (wearing the most 90s-ish clothing you could imagine) hit the streets to interview teens about Sega's latest and greatest hardware. 

Some talk about their fears of the "Sega or the Genesis" becoming obsolete. I'd like to say they are obviously plants, but at least paid plants would be able to properly name the systems they are talking about. Then the white dude wearing a shirt that just says "radio" on it starts doing this thing where he goes "heh, heh" while snapping his neck in and out like turtle. For absolutely no reason whatsoever.

The girl then sends a really passive aggressive instant message to Sega's media point person and when she hits the send button, her CRT monitor EXPLODES with a mini 32X commercial. Then it's time for an Incredible Crash Test Dummies commercial (man, how weird was it to hear Garfield's voice coming out of a fatal car crash victim?) and a Sega Game Gear ad where a fat retard hits himself in the head with a dead squirrel so his Game Boy will show more than two colors. The announcer trumpets games like "the new Ecco and Mortal 2" but all I can think about is how they were able to not only use in-game footage of Super Mario Land 2 in their commercial, but even the music from its soundtrack. Not that it's that effective of an ad to begin with - shit, I did a top 50 Game Gear games of all-time countdown and I can safely say SML2 is way better than anything Sega put out on its handheld.

Oh, the 1990s - when not only was making fun of the obese and retarded OK, it was practically encouraged!

At this point, a graphic pops up on screen asking you to vote for the show you would rather see: Game Beat or Stylin' with Stella. Then the girl gamer meets Sega representative "Brad Granger" and the dude who designed Tomcat Alley in a warehouse and they tell her everything she saw in his email was confidential. Then they tell her about Midnight Raiders and how the 32X boosts the graphics and sound of live-action Sega CD games ... somehow. Brad and the chick exchange Shakespeare quotes in front of a giant Sonic and Knuckles cardboard cutout and the sexual tension is REAL, ya'll. She brings up Surgical Strike and Wirehead on the Sega CD and Virtua Racing, Doom and Eternal Champions (which never actually was released) on the 32x. She says she NEEDS to play and review these games because people are afraid they will make the Genesis and Sega CD obsolete and they finally cave in and agree to show her come software.

Cut to the rest of the nerds interviewing AMERICAN MCGEE in an arcade in front of an old school Outrun machine. He's wearing a Doom shirt and says practically nothing has been lost in the translation from the PC to the 32X and the graphics, sound and speed will be virtually identical. Well folks, there you have it - the greatest lie ever perpetrated against mankind. Also, he says you don't want to know what his dreams are like and the white guy cackles like a maniacal retard.

Now the chick is in a dark warehouse nook wearing a belly shirt and this feels so much like a mid-1990s softcore Showtime porno that I already have a boner. She shows off a 32X and a demo of Virtua Racing Deluxe (which, to be fair, is actually a really, really great port that's better than even the Saturn version.) Then we get a montage of them pretending to play the game and acting like 'tards while gameplay clips play over the picture-in-picture nonsense. They show the footage to Joe and he says he ain't impressed and that games are just "a phase" like the Hula hoop. The gang goes back to their warehouse studio thing and the black guy says he hopes Joe dies "a slow, slow painful death." I just noticed, the white guy kinda looks a little like Frank Mir. He says he has "every reason to be pissed" because his show got shit-canned and he thinks his girl is boning a 32X programmer. Then the black guy says "ego is the devil" and the kinda' white kids (who are probably dating, although it's never explicitly confirmed) chit chat for a bit. The guy apologizes for being a jerk earlier and she (wearing a skin-tight silver spandex shirt and coveralls) says to focus on finishing the show because revenge is a dish best served cold.

A telephone number flashes on the screen. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it was a hotline back in 1994 were you could vote on whether or not you liked Game Beat more than Stella's show. Because man, was that the kind of thing Sega really should've been spending its money on. So, Joe meets Stella backstage and they conspire to give her show the old Game Beat time slot and she smooches him and smears blood red lipstick all over his face. Now it's time for an anti-drug commercial with a dealer going to a basketball court and a fat black kid saying he doesn't need drugs because he needs to graduate and laugh and have a good life, but most of all, because he needs his punk dealer ass to leave the area right then and there. Then we get a fake commercial for Stella's show. She's wearing a sparkly red dress and her hair is up in a bun thingy and the show's logo is written in lipstick on a mirror behind her. Then we get a BIZARRE Genesis commercial in black and white with a surfer guy going to a morgue and being shown a competing console (I think it's supposed to be the SNES, but it looks way too blocky underneath the sheet) and everybody recoils when they show its remains offscreen. The commercial announcer says you can always add the 32X and Sega CD to your Genesis and footage of Jurassic Park and one of the later Joe Montana football games rolls. The ad concludes with the kid asking the mortician to burn the unnamed console, because nothing says "hardware sales" quite like creeping your customers the fuck out.

Now we get to watch the newest episode of Game Beat with Kristen Savage and Max Jackson. Yeah, those fuckos have actual names, but eh, like you or anybody else cares. So they walk around this "underground party" on Absolutely Rose Street holding mics and asking people random ass questions about the 32X. He's wearing a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons while she's wearing a shimmery gold dress and dark brown lipstick (man, do I miss that look.) They talk about the heavily hyped 32X unit and wonder if it's' worth the hype or just media buzz (again, why in the fuck would Sega put doubt inside the heads of consumers in one of their own commercials?) Despite the white guy saying "Sega is the king of 16-bit," he's skeptical about the new hardware, ay one point asking if Sega "shot themselves in the foot" with the console add-on. And that, kids, is the definition of a "self-fulfilling prophecy." 

Nope, it's not a screen shot from a random 2005 G4TV show. Like anybody could tell the difference, though.

Max shows you how to put a 32X in your Genesis, list its $160 MSRP and lets you know you can STILL play your Genesis games through it. He says he gives the 32X "two fists up" while footage of Virtua Racing on a CRT atop a column plays. Get it, because of Columns and shit? Eh, that's probably giving the people who made this turd way too much credit

We get a few seconds of the new Star Wars game and Savage says "all you Doomers" can be happy because Doom is on the 32X and it's "faster than a 486" and it's "going to put you in interstellar hell." Then Max holds a random CD-ROM and says the 32X is going to turbo boost your Sega CD games. The only problem, though, is that they don't actually have any live-action CD games to show off yet, so here area few cuts scenes from Midnight Raiders, Wirehead and Fahrenheit (the firefighting sim!) to tide you over. "What have video games gotten to?" Savage remarks. "Now we're saving people instead of killing them?"

Savage rhetorically asks whether the Genesis is dead and he keeps doing a Dr. Frankenstein impersonation saying "it's alive" over and over again while pointing at the 32X. To show the Genesis ain't dead yet, we get footage of NFL '95 and Sonic and Knuckles, complete with a demonstration of its much ballyhooed lock-on technology.

Good lord, this is the greatest parody of X-Play ever, except it came out a decade before X-Play was even on TV. Oh, there's also the new Eternal Champions game on the Sega CD, which is marketed as having the bloodiest deaths ever in a video game. Funny how they censor one of the fatalities, but don't bother blurring out the after-effects of said fatality with the bloody corpse fragments splattered all over the stage. Then the sorta' white girl busts the definitely white guy's balls by saying it's for mature audiences only so he can't play it

She preps "Brad Granger" for an incognito meeting with Joe at the studio. He leaves a copy of Game Beat in a huge video box with the name of Stella's show written on the label. Joe and Stella (wearing a blue evening gown and looking like a way hotter version of Elizabeth Banks) are watching her show on TV, but just moments into the program it is interrupted by Game Beat. The next day Joe is called into the producer's office and he tries to explain what happened but the producer tells him he loved the show and the sponsors thought it was great. He tells him they want 26 more episodes produced and that they loved the joke "about the bimbo." We cut to the Game Beat crew hanging out on the beach discussing ideas for the next episode. The girl proposes "virtual reality theme parks in Japan" and mull ways they can bilk Joe out of money to send them on a paid vacation. Max thanks Brad (who now is rocking a Hawaiian shirt with his hair shagged out) for helping them put the show together. Then Joe gets on his knees and begs Stella to forgive him (if she cut her nails, she could play games, too, he tells her) and then she hits him with her purse and he screams "Sega!" because you'd expect him to scream "Stella!" because that's a reference to a preexisting work of some kind.

We cut to Stella taking phone calls while the phone number from earlier flashes on the screen. She thanks a caller for voting for her show and then she berates another caller for voting for Game Beat. We get one more paid advertisement notice from Sega and learn that Game Beat and Absolutely Rose Street are copyright protected by some non-Sega firm and - mercifully - that is all she wrote

Well, I guess that pretty much speaks for itself, don't it? For those of you wanting more insight into the program, there's not a whole lot of info out there on the Intrawebs. Per some Sega wikis, the infomercial aired on Comedy Central, MTV and ESPN2 in November and December 1994, and believe it or not, it was actually promoted by a few Sega-backed magazines back in the day. While there is an IMDB page for the infomercial, it really doesn't have much in the way of information, and since literally one person in the cast is listed, I'd venture to guess the black dude on the show is the person who wrote the whole thing. Purportedly the thing was put together by the advertising agencies Patrico-Sinare and Impulse Productions, but there really isn't Jack Shit out there in Internet-Land with any hard data about who and what they were, either. And since the infomercial doesn't have end credits, the identities of virtually everybody in it sans one remains a mystery to this day (and that's a shame, because there are at least two people on the program I'd love to see naked in straight-to-DVD B-movies from 2002.)

Such an undistinguished piece of Sega history, most people didn't even know Absolutely Rose Street was "lost media" when it was "recovered" after 20 years of obscurity. Needless to say, very, very few people likely ever saw the infomercial during its initial run, and of those who did, I can't imagine a large percentage of them were persuaded into purchasing a 32X. In fact, I'm willing to guess that Absolutely Rose Street didn't inspire a single goddamn person to buy a 32X, which means Sega LITERALLY squandered hundreds of thousands - perhaps even millions - of dollars on a pointless marketing campaign that didn't net them even $160 worth of profit.

And at the end of the day, I'd venture to guess that these "small" advertising disasters is what really put Sega out of the hardware manufacturing business. Yes, the disappointing Saturn and Dreamcast sales played a role, but had Sega not wasted millions on stuff like Absolutely Rose Street or the Sega Star Kids Challenge or Macy's Thanksgiving Parade balloons, there's a possibility they could have at least scraped by for one more console generation. As evident by the monumental turd that was Rose Street, Sega was no doubt a repeat offender of one of the greatest no-nos in business; OVER-PROMOTION. By sinking so much money in pointless marketing gimmicks, the company put itself in an even bigger software and hardware hole that they could have possibly surmounted had they not spent such an astronomical amount on publicizing their shit. The over-advertising boom is what caused the great dotcom bust of 2000 and we're still seeing companies today make the same fatal mistake of investing too much into marketing that nets minimal market gains

Perhaps we can all look back on something as misguided as Absolutely Rose Street and laugh at the cheesiness and absurdity of it all. But rest assured, as nostalgically terrible as it may be, it was "small" mistakes like this that wound up depriving us of a Dreamcast successor. Hardware and software manufacturers, do take note - if you want your company to go belly up in a real hurry, squandering capital on needless, pointless and ineffective publicity ploys of the like is the quickest way to make your I.P.O go D.O.A.

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