Video game branding deals aren’t exactly new. Just this year we’ve seen a mountain of toys, clothing, and even junk food; walk into a grocery store and you can pick up energy drinks and pop-tarts housing Destiny 2 DLC codes and pizza rolls branded with Shadow of War. In Japan, it goes even further with temporary pop-up stores and even entire restaurants dedicated to selling games. Landing somewhere in-between is a new in-restaurant marketing collaboration, between Sega, pushing the upcoming Sonic Forces, and... uh… Hooters.
First of all, and this is very important, I can’t believe Japan has Hooters. That’s just breaking my brain. That’s not even a moral judgment on either the nation of Japan or the nation of Hooters, I’m just genuinely surprised such a thoroughly American thing has been a successful enough import that Sega is tossing marketing dollars at it. I’ve been in a Hooters once; it wasn’t pleasant, even with a giant plate of curly fries. Imagining a Hooters, in Japan, with Sonic the Hedgehog decorations all over it makes me feel like I’m having hallucinations brought on by a fatal brain injury.
From this report on Kotaku, you can tell that there isn’t a whole lot to this promotion. It was announced months ago, and you’d figure that Sega of Japan would do it big. Instead, it appears to be a new chili dog on the menu and a nondescript blue drink. There are character standees and Sonic plushies hanging from suspension points. The staff also seems to have a mandated dance to Sonic Forces’ "Fist Bump" theme song, and customers are given Sonic Forces coasters.
Honestly, I’m a bit worried about our boy, Sonic the Hedgehog. We had a brief respite from the hateful perpetuity of the Sonic Cycle, thanks to the actual brilliance of Sonic Mania. But success in one realm does not translate into another. Sonic Forces looks like it could very well be another shot in the dark from Sonic Team, although it seems to be retaining well-received features from games like Sonic Generations. The character-creation gimmick raises some eyebrows, as does the budget price. Is it a goodwill gesture from Sega or a sign of lacking confidence? The Persona 5 DLC is hilarious though, almost as hilarious as a bunch of Sonic stuffies hanging from the lighting fixtures at a Hooters.
So what do we do with this promotion? Obviously it’s being passed around as a joke, and it is pretty funny. But it’s also sad. Hooters is not associated with quality, as far as I know. One may wonder if a more aggressive marketing campaign for Sonic Forces would involve a more notable, or at least popular, fast food chain. Or maybe Sonic the Hedgehog just isn’t a huge commodity, even in Japan. Saying that Sonic has a bad reputation or has declined as a brand isn’t controversial, but it’s also worth noting that a lot of this stuff doesn’t happen in real time.
It wasn’t a guarantee that Sonic Mania would be received as well as it was. It was a digital-only release with a smaller marketing push. It was definitely a grassroots title, something relying mostly on word of mouth. Sonic Forces is something that has been pushed along almost at the same time, but clearly received more of a proportionate “AAA” treatment. We likely won’t see what effect Sonic Mania has on the brand until the next game or set of games rolls around. Either way, for now, we can just appreciate the absurdity of Sonic the Hedgehog hanging out with Hooters' staff.