Video games are no stranger to product placement. From games based on real-life sports chock full of it to… Sonic the Hedgehog wearing Soap shoes, you can usually find some kind of real world advertising tucked away somewhere in games. While that’s not always the case, one company in particular almost never has product placement or branding in its games, and that’s Nintendo. Even Mario Kart, which would be Nintendo’s easiest vehicle for advertising, opts to have a bunch of in-universe ads to poke fun at sports sponsorships instead. Sure, you could count the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games series, but that feels like more of an edge case. But with Nintendo exploring more and more of its own branding these days, it felt inevitable that we’d see something creep into one big Nintendo game or another. Enter Splatoon.
You probably know what Splatoon is. But if you haven’t played it, you might not be familiar with the game’s Splatfests. A Splatfest is a limited-time event in which players are presented with a choice, and then must do battle amongst themselves until the event is over, at which point the camp with the highest point total is declared the victor. For a while, many of the choices have been silly stuff such as ketchup versus mayo, or a choice between two superpowers, or other goofy battles. But a few times, the choice has been between a couple of non-Nintendo branded options. Featured in the past have been Transformers, Square-Enix, and even some fast food brands. These were fun little surprises, but things are about to go a step further.
In September 2018, Nickelodeon is going to launch a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Called Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the show is a big relaunch of the brand, with a distinct art style and a wild new look for each of the iconic characters. It’s following on the heels of a popular show that had run for several seasons, and is in need of some serious marketing as a result of its nontraditional schtick. Before the show even comes out, one of the first big marketing pushes for it will be within Splatoon 2, with a huge Splatfest.
It’s not just a Splatfest though, it’s a Splatfest tournament. This is something that has not been done before in the format. Instead of happening over a single weekend, the Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Splatfest will stretch out from the tail end of April to over halfway through May. The brackets will see players battling over their favorite turtles between the four, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and of course the obvious best one, Michelangelo. Over the course of three weeks, the top turtle will be decided through buckets and buckets of ink, all while the brand new character art for Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is on display through new in-game gear.
This feels like a big deal to me despite how silly and cute it is on the surface. Sure, brands have been a part of Splatoon events before, but it’s always been stuff like, “Autobots versus Decepticons” or, “Spongebob versus Patrick.” This is the first time a Splatfest has been about a specific product before its launch, and of course the first time a Splatfest has been stretched out over the course of several weeks. It feels like a miniature marketing campaign isolated to one of Nintendo’s biggest multiplayer platforms, one of its most marketing and esports-friendly titles. The brand awareness of this specific show stands to benefit a lot from this, as Splatfests always bring players back to Splatoon, and the larger scale of this one will definitely have people talking.
This event reads like another chapter in the book of New Nintendo. Traditionally a more isolated company that caters to its Japanese markets first, now we’re looking at a game stopping to promote an American cartoon premiere for the better part of a month. I doubt we’ll be seeing stuff like this happen across the board for all of Nintendo’s IP, but games like ARMS and Splatoon feel perfect for these sorts of branding opportunities. Nintendo has spent a lot of energy on advertisement and IP leveraging since the Wii U performed so poorly, and most if not all of these efforts have been successful. If games like Splatoon become boosted and have extended shelf-lives because of cross-promoted events, I’m all for it. Games like Splatoon, which are often supported well after release with free content, deserve that kind of attention.