Feature: The Third Place - A Brief History of PlayStation Hardware Marketing
Posted by Sammy Barker
The third place
By the time that the PlayStation 2 cast its deep blue aura on store shelves in 2000, Sony’s complete and utter domination of the market was no longer in question. Both Nintendo and Microsoft were late to the party with the GameCube and Xbox, while the Japanese giant more or less killed off the SEGA Dreamcast by merely informing consumers that its own successor was on the way. Such strong brand appeal, coupled with the success of some of its crazier commercials from the previous generation, prompted the platform holder to jump off the deep end with a bunch of its early noughties marketing materials. For the launch of the PS2 in Europe, the firm recruited renowned American director David Lynch to concoct one of the craziest commercials in its history. The result – a baffling 60 second clip starring talking ducks, corridors, and sirens dubbed ‘The Third Place’ – remains one of the most divisive ads in gaming. For some, it serves as a reminder of the outlandish confidence that the platform holder possessed at the time, while for others it's just an indication of the firm’s snowballing arrogance. Unbelievably, the commercial was heavily focus tested over a period of 18 months, and was chosen by selected consumers ahead of four other ideas. Considering that no one really understands the spot thirteen years later, we’d love to know what the other options consisted of.
Despite the commercial running in numerous theatres around the time of the platform’s launch, though, Lynch famously distanced himself from the spot due to a disagreement with the PlayStation maker. Legend has it that the Twin Peaks man was unhappy with the firm’s decision to broadcast the commercial in black-and-white, as it had originally been shot in full colour. Nevertheless, the director was convinced to create another spot during the early PS2 days, this one focusing on a deer and a road traffic accident with a twist. The tagline – “Different Place, Different Rules” – built upon the otherworldly vibe of the eccentric filmmaker’s previous ad, though its comparatively more grounded approach meant that it didn’t resonate quite as strongly as its predecessor. However, the crazy bug that was surging through SCEE at the time rubbed off on SCEA, with the platform holder bizarrely opting to advertise the PlayStation 9 overseas. The company’s curious glimpse of the future – which involved electronic spores – was designed to show that its latest console was merely the latest stepping stone in an even grander vision. The awkward look forward didn’t put consumers off, as its brand new system enjoyed the biggest launch day in video game history, selling over 500,000 units in 24 hours when it eventually deployed on 26th October in North America.
Sony continued to release weird and, in some cases, unsavoury commercials right through the PS2’s lifespan. With the system effortlessly eclipsing the sales of its competitors, the firm’s marketing department was given the freedom to go nuts. One particularly ridiculous mockumentary in 2004 depicted a herd of golfers attempting to escape the clutches of carnivorous porn stars. The ad was supposedly inspired by the British comedy Big Train, the creators of which reportedly considered suing over the similarities between the spot and one of its sketches. Despite courting controversy throughout much of the generation, though – seriously, this banned French video was something else entirely – the manufacturer did also attempt to return to its roots. For its ambitious ‘Mountain’ spot, it re-recruited Frank Bugden, who previously directed the PSone’s legendary ‘Double Life’ commercial. Launched as part of the platform holder’s “Fun, Anyone?” push, the clip showed an enormous crowd of bodies tussling with each other to reach the top of a competitive pile. Set to a Shirley Temple soundtrack, it was one of the most successful advertisements in the PS2 era, winning over 40 awards following its debut around about a decade ago.
What's your least favourite PlayStation commercial of all time? (2 votes)
'Golfers versus Porn Stars’
'Le Petit Chef’
'Play B3yond Baby’
'The Third Place’
'This Is Living’
Please login to vote in this poll.
It's all downhill from here. Stick with us for one more page while we plot the PlayStation 3's dramatic fall from grace – and its eventual resurrection.