When the dawn of the video game era happened in the 1970s, advertising still used gimmicks that seem wildly outdated in today’s marketplace. Introducing the new concept of an electronic screen that you interacted with was a difficult challenge for the ad department of these electronic companies. Worse yet, how do you convince bar and arcade owners to order this kind of expensive piece of equipment when it was next to impossible to photograph the screen to convey the gameplay?
To hawk their new wares, the marketing execs turned to the tried and true: use pin-up models to attract the buyer’s eye. And when the games proved to be a hit with the patrons, the arcade companies kept going back to using curvy models to pose with their quarter-gulping machines.
Even with its sometimes cringy ad copy and imagery, this golden age of video game pin-up advertising holds a special place in both the annals of marketing and pin-up culture. Here is our selection of the best of the best, and a little more info on each ad.
Released in 1971, Computer Space was the first commercially produced arcade game. It was made by Nolan Bushnell before he went on to create Pong and found Atari, one of the biggest makers of video games in the 1970s & 80s. Computer Space was also the first video game to be featured in a movie, 1973’s Soylent Green starring Charlton Heston.
Standing in front of an Atari Centipede cabinet, this photo was used as the cover art for the May 1982 issue of Electronic Games Magazine. EGM was one of several monthly magazines that covered the arcade and home video game marketplace. In the days of pre-internet, this is how you found out about new games being developed. EGM’s cover story for this issue was “Women Join the Arcade Revolution”.
At the height of Pac-Man‘s popularity at the arcade, it was estimated that 7 billion quarters had been deposited into the slots of 350,000 units worldwide. Pac-Man popularity was so big in pop culture that a pop song had been released, an animated TV show was being aired, and a billion dollars in merchandising sold. What this all has to do with a woman wearing white lingerie and wearing high heels playing Pac-Man, we haven’t a clue.
In the mid 1980s Konami used pin-up models extensively for their promotional flyers the company sent to arcade owners. They relied on the traditional marketing formula that sex sells. If they had a curvy pin-up model with big teased hair playing their arcade games, then more units of the game would be bought, right?
Defender was one of the top arcade games from its release in 1981. Featuring a complex control system and heavy action, Defender was a tough arcade game to master. To capitalize on the game’s outer space setting, Williams used this futuristic clad pin-up model in their promotional flyers.
When Pong was a hit in 1973, Atari moved quickly to try and capitalize on the interest. They released a Pong game cabinet that looked like a barrel to try and fit in better with the decor of a neighborhood pub. The barrel Pong cabinet wasn’t really a hit, and we suspect that the model’s too casual style of dress didn’t help hype the appeal of the cabinet variant either.
If Barrel Pong went too suburban with its pin-up look, Bally’s Road Runner doubled-down on the stereotype of women being bad drivers. This early 1970s game isn’t too well remembered. Chances are that the female business owners and managers that saw this piece of marketing come across their desk weren’t impressed either and passed on the sale.
Want to see more? Let us know in the comments below along with which game pin-up ad is your favorite.
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