2016 marks the 25th anniversary of one of video gamings most beloved icons. But did you know Sonic the Hedgehog was conceived as a marketing device first, consumer product second?
Forever immortalised as Sega’s official mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog took the mediascape by storm in the1990’s, turning the Japanese video game company into a household brand practically overnight.
Whether you are old enough to remember playing those games as a kid, or a little older to recall being pressured into forking out your hard earned cash at the persistence of your own children, it will probably leave you dazed and confused to learn that 2016 marks the spiky blue hedgehog’s 25th birthday.
That’s right, Sonic the Hedgehog is now a quarter of a century old. Mind blowing, yeah?
But get this: If you thought Sonic was just another IP to entice consumers then you’d be wrong. He started out as something far more strategic in nature, conceived as a marketing device to improve brand communications between audiences and Sega.
Here’s 3 reasons why Sonic the hedgehog is the king of marketing.
1. He’s the ultimate ‘blueprint’ of brand recognition
One of the biggest struggles that Sega faced in the early days, was a barrier in brand communications. Whilst bigger rivals Nintendo had already established themselves within the market, Sega lacked the same level of recognition with consumers.
They had just a 6% share in the home console market when they first arrived on the scene. Nintendo dominated because they had already built a loyal customer base, helped massively by one of their biggest, most recognisable characters — Super Mario
The name Sega didn’t carry enough clout and needed its own figurehead that audiences would be able to instantly associate with the company. The outcome of this endeavour was Sonic the Hedgehog.
Whereas Mario was plump and cutesy, Sonic was fast and cool. This is exactly how Sega saw themselves compared to Nintendo, revelling in an identity that was decidedly edgier, now personified in Sonic’s electric blue quills that matched the company’s logo and fierce attitude.
2. Values and personality — connecting with target customers
Even before Sonic’s conception, Sega had already established their own identity within the company, audiences had simply yet to realise what that identity was exactly. Compared to Nintendo’s family-friendly values, Sega was edgier and more mature; producing games targeted to teens and older audiences.
These values were reflected in Sonic the Hedgehog, aligning Sega’s values with those of an entire generation that no longer wanted to play games for kids. They wanted to be cool like Sonic. They wanted their parents to buy them Sega products.
3. Multi-channel marketing
Sonic transcended the games he starred in almost immediately. While other characters were only defined by what appeared in their actual games, Sega gave Sonic the Hedgehog something more: multiple, diverse platforms to amplify brand communication.
In the 25 years since the creation of Sonic it’s easy to image how social media, content marketing and mobile would have been used today. Back then, such platforms didn’t really exist, but the same concept of multi-channel marketing (comics, cartoons, toys, etc.) was implemented to ensure Sega reached as many audiences as they could.
All this merchandise and licensing would turn a profit, sure, but that was never the objective — in fact, Sega even bundled a copy of the game in with consoles as a way a way of getting Sonic into people’s houses. What Sega really wanted, was to make themselves omniscient. Their strategy was purely about marketing and promotion, and it worked, eventually giving them a share of more than half the video games market overall by the mid-90’s.
25 years later — What can today’s businesses learn from Sonic?
Having your own identity is one thing, but customers will never understand what that identity is and why it’s important to them unless you make it clear in your marketing. If you can find a way of aligning your values with those of your customers, then you create a connection that transcends customer satisfaction — emotional attachment.
This is what establishes the relationships that truly last, and enables even the smallest brand to stand apart and take a meaningful, important place in the hearts and homes of your customers. Then it’s about using the right brand communication and digital marketing tools at your disposal to get your message across in the right ways, to the right people.