“Weee!” the adorable stuffed bear proclaims as he jumps on a plush pile of laundry. Second only to snuggling, laundry was the bear’s favorite thing to do — he loved how the soft, warm blankets felt against his off-white cottony fur. Then, in his sweet-as-sugar voice, he speaks to the camera, “For the brightest colors, always —”
Suddenly, he’s interrupted. The laundry room starts to shake. “What the…?” he shouts as a massive tank crashes into the house. We see the bear again just a moment later. This time, his ear, pretty pink bow and arm are missing, and he’s in a field being chased by the tank. The tank fires a missile, the bear catches fire, and a moment later, his cuddly little body is flattened by the tank. He’s undoubtedly at death’s door, but he utters one final word as he coughs out a cotton ball: “BattleTanx.”
It’s been more than 20 years since I first saw the commercial for the Nintendo 64 game BattleTanx, but I continue to think of it often. In fact, every time I go down the laundry aisle and see the Snuggle Bear, I picture him on fire and getting trampled by a tank. The funny thing is, I never even played BattleTanx. When the Nintendo 64 came out in September 1996, most of my friends got it, but I was stuck playing my old Sega Genesis. Because of this, my memories of the system are mostly commercials for games like Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye. My very favorite N64 commercial, however, was definitely for BattleTanx.
BattleTanx was a 1998 Nintendo 64 game where you drove a tank and blew shit up. It also had a multiplayer option that kind of made it like Goldeneye, but with war vehicles. But while it looked cool, my interest in the game paled in comparison to my reverence for the commercial. It was everything a teenage boy could want — it was violent, funny and directly parodied a mainstream product mascot. Sadly though, the commercial’s run was short-lived, as it would soon be ripped from the airwaves thanks to a lawsuit. As it turned out, it wasn’t just teenage boys that recognized the similarities to the cuddly Snuggle fabric softener mascot. Snuggle’s parent company, Unilever, noticed, too.
The commercial was the brainchild of the late ad-man Joey Jodar, who passed away last year. He worked for Warner Bros. and other big companies, but in 1998, he was the in-house marketing guy for 3DO, which made a wide variety of video games in the 1990s. “Joey was a great guy,” says Trip Hawkins, who was the founder and CEO of 3DO, as well as the founder of Electronic Arts. “He was incredibly creative and a lot of fun to work with. You were always looking forward to his ideas. He was the epitome of the zany guy in the writer’s room.”
Hawkins adds that Jodar “had been very successful with a series of ads for the Army Men games, the most notable of which was one that featured a Barbie doll being driven around by Ken and then being blown up. That was the start of a bunch of great creative successes.”
As for where the exact idea to blow up Snuggle Bear came from, only Jodar could say, but edgy ads were already the norm for video games at the time, as Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were actively calling each other out in their advertising and many Game Boy ads were surprisingly sexual. For the BattleTanx ad, Hawkins says, “It was totally my kind of commercial, and it was a fun way to introduce the line. A lot of gamers back then were young teenagers who were entering that rebellious phase where they wanted to give the finger to the mainstream, and this ad really appealed to that.”
BattleTanx hit stores in late December 1998 and the ad began running at the same time. Hawkins says that the response was incredible, but the commercial only ran for a month before being pulled. As IGN reported in late January 1999: “3DO has pulled its hilarious BattleTanx commercial featuring a little teddy bear being chased down by a tank, set on fire, run over and finally coughing up some of his fluffy innards. [Unilever] filed for an injunction against 3DO Corporation, claiming that the little bear infringed on its trademarked Snuggles the Bear.”
Hawkins was incredulous: “The laundry company got really bent out of shape about it — they acted like they owned teddy bears! It was a parody, which is legal in a democracy, but they decided they wanted to fight a big battle over it. It was all pretty unreasonable and unpleasant.”
Still, the ad did what it was supposed to do — it got BattleTanx out there. “After that initial launch, you don’t need those ads as much,” Hawkins explains. “At that point, it’s more about the reviews and word-of-mouth, and it was a good game, so it did well.” As such, when the lawsuit hit, 3DO stalled for a bit, but they eventually agreed to pull the commercial, which ended the matter — at least until the BattleTanx sequel came along.
In October 1999, 3DO released BattleTanx: Global Assault, and they weren’t about to forget their notorious mascot. This time, the bear — officially named “Tready Bear” — is retrieved by doctors from where we last saw him, still flattened like roadkill. The doctors bring him to a laboratory and proceed to make him “stronger, faster and softer.” But, despite his new powers, Tready is quickly hit by another tank.
While it seems like 3DO was looking for trouble the second time around, they did take some precautions. For one, Tready never speaks and the story was mostly a parody of The Six Million Dollar Man. Or, as Hawkins puts it, “If you’ve got a robot that looks like a bear, that’s got nothing to do with their product.” Regardless, Unilever filed another lawsuit and the ad was pulled once more — after a month, though, and after it had done its job again.
Hawkins says that the sequel did well, though not quite as well as the original (which is common for video games). Regardless, BattleTanx: Global Assault was pretty much the end of the franchise aside from a scaled-down Game Boy version that came out in early 2000. The Game Boy release didn’t have any TV advertising, so 3DO never made another ad with Tready Bear.
Our last image of him, though, is a fitting one — stuck on the front of a tank.