In 2009, I found a youtube video which at the time had only a handful of views, the video showed an old Italian TV advert which was a promotion for Sega and the release of Sonic 1 in Italy. The promotion was basically ’Buy a Sega Megadrive and get a free pin badge which gives you the chance to win win Sega prizes.’
The advert quickly became quite notorious, mainly due to the ending which featured an out of tune Sonic theme and an animation of a miscoloured Sonic with glowing red eyes pulling a goofy expression. Even TSS featured it, lovingly calling it ‘The Hog with the Death Ray Eyes.’ To date the pin badge is known as ‘The Sonic Baydge’ by various merch collectors and amazingly, they still work as they did back in 1992, when you consider this is over 20 years old, thats quite impressive.
Since 2009 the details of the promotion have remained a bit of a mystery… Until today…
I’ll say right now that this might not be 100% accurate. I do not speak Italian and I do not know exactly whats been said in some of the videos, but from what I’ve been able to put together, I assume that this is roughly to fact as best as it can be.
Anyway… The year is 1992 and Sega in conjunction with toy distributor Giochi Preziosi were planning a big push with the Sega MegaDrive, the Game Gear and the Master System in Italy. The plan sounded quite ambitious and when you hear the details the phrase ‘SELL! SELL! SELL!’ might come to mind.
Giochi Preziosi were the distributor of all Sega products in Italy back in the early 1990′s and its plan to sell even more was to give every single buyer of the Mega Drive a special Sonic pin badge. At some point in December 1992 Giochi Preziosi would hold a competition in which those people who had one of the badges would be able to win even more Sega prizes.
Now you might be thinking ‘this is a bit of an expensive competition isn’t it? The cost of entry is a Sega Mega Drive?’ Well you’d be right, but it makes sense in a strange way. Due to the dates on the TV advert, it’s safe to say the competition was going to end at some point in December… Christmas time.. odds are Sega and Giochi Preziosi were hoping to sell a ton of units in Italy at this time, so lots of people would automatically be entered in the competition. I might be wrong with this, but back in 2010, I did find an Italian ebay listing in which the seller was selling a Sega Mega Drive and the pin badge, which I might add had its own compartment in the MegaDrive box and the Giochi Preziosi logo was on the box (you can see this in some of the videos too). So whilst the badges might have been available by other means, it’s almost a certainty that buying a MegaDrive in 1992 got you a badge.
The promotion was very high profile, toystores had instore banners and promotional stands, TV adverts ran regularly and they even hired comedian and filmmaker Jerry Calà to front the campaign, he was quite big in Italy back in the 80′s and 90′s. The competition would even take place on live TV and the winners would have to call the studio/Giochi Preziosi to claim their prizes.
Now you might be asking ‘why do you need a badge?’ and since 2009 when this video was first found, many people had been asking the same question. The advert didn’t offer any specific details other than it was a TV competition. So why did you need the badges? The only clue was the ‘TV’ mode that was shown in the advert, flipping the switch to there shows the lights on the badge turn on.
The second clue however came from… me… again. In December 2011 I was lucky enough to purchase a boxed pin badge that was in full working order and I tested it out as best I could. The badge had 3 modes.
When turned to the ‘on’ position, the badge would play the sonic title theme music and the eyes would flash on and off. ‘Off’ turned the pin off, when I switched it to TV, nothing happened. So I then placed the pin beside and old TV and turned it on, I even connected a Sega MegaDrive to it and plugged in Sonic 1. Nothing happened. Figuring this mode was broken I didn’t think much to it.
Since then, other collectors have managed to get the badge and they also reported the same problem, the TV mode didn’t do anything. So the mystery remained, why did you need a badge to enter the competition? There was obviously a link between the badges and the TV promotion, but even with working badges, nobody could figure out what it was.
Youtube user pincarneossa2 uploaded a small segment from an Italian childrens TV show called ‘Bim Bum Bam’ which appears to show not only how the badges work, but might actually be the competition in action.
The video shows the hosts talking about the promotion along with a… giant pink rabbit, wearing a tuxedo and tie… … alrighty then. However during the show the male host looks at the camera and makes this ‘gesture’ as if he’s… trying to take over your mind (just watch the video it makes more sense), after he finishes the badges they’re all wearing suddenly start to play the Sonic theme.
It then became clear what ‘TV’ mode was and why you needed the badges to win. When the badges were switched to ‘TV mode’ the show would broadcast a signal to which the winning badges would respond by flashing and playing the Sonic theme tune, if yours activated, you had to call the number which appeared on the screen in order to win your prize.
Just… stop… stop for a moment and think about this.
This promotion involved giving out pin badges to people who bought a MegaDrive, it used celebrities and had a massive TV campaign as well as a big in store advertising campaign and the winners were selected when a live TV show would broadcast a special signal to which the pin badges would respond to.
This… is… AWESOME! It’s also terrifying if you’ve seen the movie Halloween 3.
Though when you think about the logistics behind it, it’s also a crazy idea. You had to rely on people buying consoles just to enter, that they’d be watching TV at the right time and that the technology worked. I can’t even understand how it worked either, though from the clues on the pin and from this show, this seems to be what was going to happen. I’m guessing it was an audio or some kind of frequency played during the show which triggered the pin to light up, only I can’t imagine what else they did to make it work.
Now because I don’t speak Italian, I might be completely wrong with that last conclusion, but from what the presenters do in that video and the TV mode on the badge, it’s my best guess. Though if anyone can understand whats been said, I’d love to know if I was right or what is actually being said in the show.