Feature: The Third Place - A Brief History of PlayStation Hardware Marketing
Posted by Sammy Barker
Live in your world, play in ours
With the PlayStation 4 now mere weeks away from release, Sony is starting to oil its marketing cogs ahead of the all-important holiday season. The next generation console has sold out on pre-orders alone, but the platform holder will want to ensure that every single gamer around the globe is aware of its latest piece of hardware. To enable that, it’s already released two commercials, each targeting a distinctly different audience. The dramatic ‘Perfect Day’ spot is designed to build upon the firm’s ‘Greatness Awaits’ campaign, as it attempts to turn next month’s North American launch into a colossal event. Meanwhile, SCEE’s much more muted ‘For the Players’ commercial is built to pluck at the heartstrings of fans, as it champions the brand’s ever evolving place at the centre of popular culture. With the next generation fast approaching, though, we figured that it was a perfect time to look back at how the Japanese giant has advertised its various systems over the years. Sit back while we take you on a trip through some of the best and worst hardware commercials from PlayStation’s past.
A double life
It’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time when the PlayStation brand was just a contender. In the early-to-mid 90s, both Nintendo and SEGA ruled the video game industry, and Sony was merely the latest in a long line of electronics organisations trying to muscle in on the market. By the middle of the decade, Panasonic had already tried and failed to maintain any momentum with its own iteration of the manufacturer agnostic 3DO system, while Dutch multinational Philips had somehow got in on the action following Nintendo’s shady business dealings and backstabbings. At the time, nobody really knew what to expect from the Walkman maker, and it opted to use that uncertainty to its advantage in North America. While the first batch of Japanese commercials settled for fairly simplistic sequences – and timeless sound effects – SCEA plumped up for something a little more cryptic. The first advertisements introducing its inaugural console revolved around the tagline ‘ENOS LIVES’, with a red letter ‘E’ ambiguously representing the word ‘ready’. The ‘NOS’ part of the acronym stood for the 9th September, which was when the PSone launched in the United States. Keeping up? No, no one at the time was either.
Despite the bizarre nature of the advertisements, Sony’s burgeoning gaming system swiftly attracted a strong following, and it continued with the strange spots long after launch. Later commercials employed the tagline ‘UR NOT E’, with the red letter ‘E’ once again representing the word ‘ready’. This time the platform holder employed imagery of some of its bigger games, such as Destruction Derby, WipEout, and Tekken – the likes of which had never been seen on previous platforms before. With characters from these popular franchises beginning to become ingrained in popular culture, SCEA opted to eventually step away from these cryptic commercials, and it later launched a line of spots showing real-life people dressed as stars such as Sweet Tooth and Crash Bandicoot acting lewd in a variety of comical scenarios. The most famous of these ads is arguably the one where the aforementioned orange-haired hero turns up at Nintendo of America’s headquarters and starts taunting “plumber boy” with a megaphone. While cringe-worthy from a modern perspective, this clip is memorable purely because it dates back to a time when console manufacturers weren’t afraid to trash talk each other in their marketing materials. Unfortunately, those days appear to have largely passed us by.
As the excitement of the millennium approached – and the fear of a certain computer bug escalated – Sony had cemented the PSone as the console of choice. The platform was stomping its competitors globally, and it afforded SCEE the freedom to concoct some of the most ambitious commercials in the medium’s history. Not all of these spots were a success. One, dubbed ‘Tonsils’, saw a family sitting around a dinner table, making PlayStation-esque sound effects instead of engaging in traditional discourse. Another quirky advertisement named ‘Le Petit Chef’ encouraged customers to stay indoors, as it showed a reckless restaurateur spitting on food and adding to the flavour of a meal with mucus. The company struck gold towards the turn of the decade, though, with Frank Budgen’s award-winning ‘Double Life’. Closing with the now infamous slogan “Do Not Underestimate the Power of PlayStation”, the spot encapsulated the spirit of gaming through a poetic script and vivid imagery. This is still widely considered to be the greatest gaming commercial of all time, and was recently inducted into the Clio Awards Hall of Fame. Despite multiple attempts over the years, the company never quite managed to capture the same magic ever again.
What's your favourite PlayStation commercial of all time? (20 votes)
'Kevin Butler' series
'The Third Place'
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Do not underestimate our staying power. Click through to the next page while we take a look at some of the weird and wonderful spots from the PlayStation 2 era.