The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Playstation Need To Remember That To People Who Use The Machine, ‘Playing’ Is The Last Thing They Think They’re Doing …
November 26, 2009, 6:26 am
Filed under: Comment

I’m a big fan of games systems.

Over the years I’ve had a whole bunch of them … Philips G7000, Intellivision, Atari 2600, SNES, Megadrive, 3DO, Saturn, Playstation [1,2 & 3], Xbox [1 & 2], Wii … you name it, I’ve probably had it or played on it.

Now even though I am not very good, especially compared to a 15 year old kid in South Dakota who kicks my arse on FIFA every bloody night … it’s an activity I love, if only for the fact it gives the whole range of my emotions a bloody good workout.

One of the greatest ads that captured this spirit was this one by TBWA …

Brilliant … in just 59 seconds, they have not only captured the range of emotions people experience when playing a video game, but they have also captured how for many people, ‘life’ is a series of events that highlight their slow descent into conformity, self-censorship and frustration.


Yep … but you can’t be that surprised given we live in a society that says what we do/say/think/wear has more influence in how our lives will turn out than what we achieve, believe and follow.

Anyway this isn’t about that … this is about the ads of Playstation.

In short, the work was brilliant.

Built on real and powerful insights and married to a brand personality bursting with barely contained youthful arrogance – it was the voice of a generation, the closest thing to punk they’d probably experienced.

Now we have to remember this all came from SONY – a brand that has its heart in ultra-conservative [especially in terms of business] Japan.

So how did it happen?

Well, while the guys at TBWA can take some credit – if anyone has read EDGE magazines fantastic article about the background of Playstation’s launch – then you’ll know the real driving force was that SONY’s hierarchy thought the brand was going to fail and didn’t want a thing to do with it, hense they actively encouraged the people involved to not associate it too strongly or closely with the SONY brand.

And now onto the real point of my post …

As we all know, Playstation went on to be a huge success – at its peak, contributing approx 90% of Sony’s entire profit – which is where things started to change because rather than try and deny it’s existence, SONY’s senior management started to take a much closer and more influential interest in how things developed [probably to associate themselves with success given that prior to Playstation, the company was in a bad way] which, in my opinion, ultimately led to the downfall of Playstation’s powerful, pragmatic and insight-driven creative.

I bring this up because I recently saw an ad for SONY’s new portable PSP.

OK, so PSP’s ads were never very good in the first place – and the World is in a different place to when the original Playstation launched – but when I read copy like the stuff being churned out below, I realise SONY don’t care about resonating with gamers, they just want everything to fit in with their adult-orientated, industry-generic, brand voice.


Let’s look at some of the highlights shall we?

“Bored? You must be. You should get a PSPgo. You could be watching ‘Transformer: Revenge Of The Fallen’ instead of reading some ad in a magazine. Brilliant.”

How terrible is that …

No passion, no hunger, no emotion, no nothing.

It’s cold, clinical, contrived, humourless, immature wallpaper advertising at its worst and it becomes even more painful when you compare it to the ‘Double Life’ ad above – an ad for the same company, for pretty much the same product.

[Acknowledging the original PS was purely a games system whereas the more modern incarnations are much more multimedia, even if they are still predominantly used for gaming]

Sure one is a television commercial whereas the other is a print ad, but that doesn’t mean it should be bereft of all attitude, hunger or gaming mindset – afterall, some of the early Playstation print was fantastic as you can be reminded of here and here.

I think the thing that bothers me the most about this awful ad is that the person who either wrote it or approved it, didn’t take any time to really understand what gaming means to people.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, what gender you are or what you do for a living … you don’t play games as an antidote to boredom, you play them as an antidote to life …

So the moral of the story is if you want to do work that will truly infiltrate society, then you have 3 options available to you …

1/ Choose brands that have a heritage of great creative.
2/ Choose brands that are the enfant terrible within the organisation.
3/ Get a planner involved.

Maybe this insightless approach has come about because SONY’s marketing people think the brands new joke of a positioning line Make.Believe empowers them to do whatever they want, regardless of relevance or resonance – and if that’s the case, then God help us all – however there is one bit of light and that is a dear friend of mine has recently been appointed head honcho for Playstation out of Japan and if his first bit of work is anything to go by [with WK] then in the coming months gamers, creatives and planners might be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

I believe.

29 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Fantastic post. I’ve often wondered why over the years the playstation ads have lost their edge and decisiveness and now I know, the grandfathers at Sony didn’t want it.

I agree with you the copy on the PSP Go ad is terrible. It’s like it’s been written to appeal to an 8 year old Disney or Nickelodeon audience but I’m sure they wouldn’t be impressed either.
The Japan ad is a big step in the right direction but its still not quite there yet, maybe because they need to take your great insight more to heart, ‘people don’t game because it’s an antidote to boredom but an antidote to life’. Love it.

Comment by Pete

They’re not playing, they’re being social/human.

Not sure about point 3.

Comment by John

I agree with everything you and Pete said but the great playstation ads you talk about were from the UK because some of the US work was awful. I seem to remember there was a particulary bad spot from Spain featuring a gaming Jesus or something equally as bad.

Ads like the PSGo show more insight into the mind of the client than anything approaching the gamer and it seems it’s not even a client who games.

Great post Rob and the EDGE article is magnificent.

Comment by Bazza

what are you 2 fuckers doing posting before me? havent you got work to keep you busy? written warnings and letters to god jobs are in order me fucking thinks.

what the fuck is that psp shit? unless theyre focusing on middle management sad twats who dream of the day they get a company blackberry then i dont know what the fuck theyre doing.

theres going to be a shitload of disappointed kids this year when santa drops that plastic piece of shit in their christmas bag because sad dad say the ad and thought buying it would make him look cool. that is the best way to say that ad has no positive features. not fucking one.

the tbwa uk ads were fucking brilliant. theyre better than anything sony has done since because theyre not just eye candy with a quirky soundtrack copyright fallon) theyre laced with an attitude that it purposely alienated and scared the sad dads, middle management blackberry dreaming twats, members of parliament and santa and his fucking elves.

punk is a fucking great descriptor campbell but not exactly sex pistols punk is it?

this campaign was british adlands ‘chariots of fire’ but its aged a fuckload better, that psp wank is simon cowell tv. it might not be as overfuckingblown as his pension boosting reality tripe but its still catering to peasants who think anyone who uses more than one syllable to describe something artistic is a wanker.

no theyre not, theyre the wankers for thinking some blokes on changing rooms could of made the roof of the sistine chapel look better for only 5 quid and a can of fucking dulux.

agree with pete the japan stuff has a long way to go. its contrived but at least dragging things kicking and screaming into a gamers mind space, even more when you look at that fucking psp shit.

good post campbell but it also shows you were a spoilt little shit.

only child princess.

Comment by andy@cynic

I pray at the church of Andy.

Brilliant, brilliant comment and it is relevant, Rob will be ecstatic. 🙂

Comment by Pete

you think creeping like a unfaithful husband will get you back in my fucking good books do you pete?

too fucking right it will but remember i dont do anything just to make campbell happy, he should be pleased i talk to him let alone have a fucking bunch of money sucking companies with him.

what the fuck is going on with dodds?

his comments appear from fucking nowhere and then he sounds like some management consultant, the sort who borrows someones watch and then tells them the time and charges a fucking fortune for the benefit.

of course you only needed a few words to say what campbell took 400 hours to write but to be fair to the 4 eyed fool, he did say it first and in a cooler way.

“you don’t play games as an antidote to boredom, you play them as an antidote to life”

luckily you point out point 3 which reminds me why i like you but this might come as a shock but i like planners or i do when they add some fucking value to what is being done and in the playstation campaigns you know they made sure the voice of playstation was gaming true, not that whiny, bland shit thats being done for the go machine.

but dont worry i still think most planners are just presentation writers stating the fucking obvious or the fucking pointless so feel free to keep sticking the knife in even though most of them do a good enough job of that themselves.

Comment by andy@cynic

Bloody hell, these are great comments – and on track. You’re right Baz and Andy – I meant to say the campaign that really rocked was from TBWA London [was it Mr Perm-head?] and whilst I know Mr Dodds is being a cheeky shit regarding his view on point 3 of my ‘check list’, the fact Andy even agrees a planner probably had a huge influence in how this campaign turned out [and, lets be honest, genuine research which probably didn’t feature a focus group] hopefully demonstrates [1] the role a planner can and should make to the finished article [in other words, you can feel/see it rather than just understand it by reading the brief 10 years later] and [2] how poor a lot of the planning that is going on today actually is.

Where’s Age … he’s my gamer man and I want his view, not that yours isn’t valuable I should quickly add, haha!

@ Andy … my parents only got me a G7000, everything else I got myself thank you very much.

[I’m from ooop North – or more ooop North than Southern London wankers – so we started working within minutes of leaving the womb!]

Comment by Rob

Very interesting post, especially the contentious history behind the playstation project.

It appears to me this post and the subsequent comments have more commercially viable and valuable insight than anything Sony and their PSP agency adopted in the creation of the PSP Go advertisement above.

Comment by Lee Hill

Ha, here I am…

There are two things wrong with that “wreaks of client influence – print ad.

Firstly, that an agency would have standards low enough to think that’s good enough – especially the clear absence of a (good) planner who would have saved the copy (at the very least!) from insulting the strategic target and making them feel like shit.

But the more worrying thing is that the PSP Go is a NEW product. An product which is actually quite awesome for Sony against the dominant Nintendo DS. Now WHY THE FUCK they would choose to go AGAINST the PLAYSTATION BRAND of GAMING to focus on a video playback message is beyond me.

Playstation should ALWAYS be about gaming. I would like to know if they had research driving this decision to ignore the key motivator for owning the system in the first place. But I would argue that no one buys a PSP to watch movies. No one. It’s a far second to the gaming.

I agree with your proposition so much. It’s true… I think also Russell really nailed it in this post when talking about “pretending”…

My fav gaming ad is still this one… again… “pretending”

Great post!!

Comment by Age

The playstation games will keep the kids entertained for most part of the journey. If you do not access to any of the devices, you can play these playstation games online as well. There are numerous Websites that allow you to play the playstation games for free. However, there are some Websites that also charge some nominal charges for allowing you play the playstation games on their Website. If you are interested in buying any of the playstation games, it is a good method is to try the games on rent prior to buying the playstation games.

Comment by r4i

Argh… a topic I could spend weeks on.

I loved the original Playstation. I bought the official magazine every month, and now buy Edge, so I have indeed read that article. It’s brilliant, I love the joypad concepts.

There are plenty of things Sony have done wrong recently, the PSPgo looks like being a major folly. The PS3 was sacrificed to sell Blu Ray, and as usual they made a machine that was technically really powerful but so difficult to make use of that it actually performs worse in most dual-format games.

In terms of their ads over here, TBWA produced amazing work for a very long time. But what seemed to happen was instead of taking the good bits out of ads like Lived, they took the weirdness and stopped making it relevant.

Gaming has opened up now, more than ever before. Maybe no games system will ever be as cool as Playstation was for a few years in the 90’s. I just wish they would understand gamers a bit more.

You owned a 3DO? You must have been on quite a wage…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Andy – Amen preacher

Rob – It was Mr big hair I believe

The other issue of course is that when the best ads were made Sony were new entrants fighting for a place. They want some of that Wii and DS market but don’t seem to understand who they are.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Interesting to think about challenger mentality, sometimes it seems the biggest danger is getting big or succesful. That’s why I think Nike remains successful, they’gve kept their challenger attitude, or maybe they know their voice, they know what works and they stick to it.
I thought mountain was amazin as an ad, but it lost the edge and bite. I know they wanted to move to the next level and get more users and encourage people to play together, but turning it all into sociablity and fun just lost it for me.
In my view, the brand wasn’t really about wierdness, it was about drama, tension and quest.

Comment by northern

Naturally though, I support everything TBWA does (for a very short while longer anyway)

Comment by northern

Interesting it’s all boys writing comments … or should I say, men who are 25+.

I couldn’t agree more with you Mr M regarding the loss of focus for Playstation.

Whilst I agree with NP that there was a sense of drama, tension and – in my mind – honour, deep within their communication, I also think Mr M is right when he say’s there was also a fair dose of ‘weird’ mixed in … but at the beginning it was always ‘relevant’ and then it went into David Lynch territory and that was when I think they started to maybe take themselves either too seriously or thought they were too cool.

Eitherway it didn’t work as well anymore … especially when SONY started messing with the purpose of Playstation which might of worked from a strategic business point of view [ie: expand the user base by expanding the use] but it managed to mess with their gaming credentials and their economics – especially when things like the original PSP ‘movie format’ died on it’s arse.

I totally agree with NP about NIKE though.

I wrote about this a while back [] and really respect the fact that after all these years, they still have the hunger and approach of a new challenger.

Tidying up some loose ends …

The 3D0 was a freebie … I wish I could remember why and who from [probably Virgin, most of the free stuff I’ve ever got have been from them, ha!] and could someone tell me why NP is saying he only supports everything TBWA does for a short while longer. Is there another announcement on the way or is ‘new baby tiredness’ affecting his brain?

Oh yeah, last thing …

I know it seems that no games system will ever be as cool as Playstation was for those few years in the 90’s – but who knows – that sort of thing has been said about many brands in many categories only for some left-field entrant to come about and somehow capture the imagination … though I agree that it will take more than just having a bunch of ‘gamer relevant’ ads to achieve it.

So the PSP Go is really screwed … but it didn’t stop me buying one did it. What a tool.

Hang on, I’ve just remembered I didn’t do that ‘Best Game Character’ face-off did I? Have to get onto that …

Comment by Rob

Has anyone seen the Beyonce ad for some ds game? Makes the psp go print look like nike at their peak.

Comment by Billy Whizz

When did Playstation go so fucking wrong!!! They used to be the coolest, darkest most don’t-fuck-with-me games console around, and now they’re this confusing, Disneyesque blu-ray thingy.

I remember the mountain of people ad. Not quite as iconic as the one above, but still very, very great. What happened? Why’d you do it SONY! What went wrong? Did people stop wanting to be cool? Doubt it.

That print ad is borderline retail. All message, no heart. The TV ad is pure brilliance. Anyone with half a brain and no hair can see that.

So why’d they change? More money in the mainstream? No excuse. And northern, I see you work at TBWA – what’s all this about “a short time anyway?”

Sounds naughty.

Comment by Iggy

Oh and yes, I realise the print ad in question is retail, but still, there’s no reason why a retail ad for Playstation should have any less bite than a TV ad or indeed any of their games.

A voice is a voice is a voice!

Comment by Iggy

Agree with Northern about the brand not being about weirdness, the weirdness backed up the cool challenger brand for the gamer tone of voice but when they went into Post modern weirdness it just got stale and lost all relevance.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Hello Iggy, nice to have you pop by.

I am a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge believer that retail ads don’t have to be starburst bollocks … infact I believe that they can [and should] help convey the brand both in personality and behaviour.

Whilst I’ve done a few things I think are pretty good in this area, for me the best are still some Tesco’s ads from a few years ago [] which led me to actually coming up with a fucking terrible expression called ‘brandtail’ communication – which luckily Andy beat out of me within 3 minutes of first uttering it.

And yes I am still working but I’m fine thanks for asking.

Comment by Rob

Have you read into Behavioural Economics yet Rob? Big thing for the IPA over here…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Double Life is my favourite telly ad ever. Quality.

Comment by Will

The “At least I can say I’ve lived” summary is one of the best lines of any tv ad ever.

What was so bloody brilliant is that not only did it completely get gamers, it referenced the fact they often hid the hobby (geekiness and kiddy image), it referenced the scare mongering over violent games “I’ve indulged in violence, even revelled in it”.

It made you proud to be a gamer, proud to talk about it, and in that it made you truly respects Sony’s entry into the market.

Now they are the least focused and least sure brand in the market. Sad.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I come from a link on the almighty blog ‘o Iain.

And I 100% agree with you, as I said, a voice is a voice is a voice. Through the line, one single message. Just like Nike. Get the message right and it should work anywhere.

Has anyone ever seen a bad Nike ad, retail or other? Doubt it, and certainly not from W+K.

Where can I see this offending piece of crap (PlayStation), I’d like to use it to show how a brand can lose touch with it’s core audience. I mean from double life to this? WTF.

Comment by Iggy

Still at work. 2:15am and yet I’m happy and laughing. What the hell is going on, especially as unlike the other times I do work in the middle of the night [thanks to my partners in the US adopting a ‘there’s more of us than you’ rationale] I’ve managed to grab a couple of hours kip beforehand.

Amazing what being excited about work does to you isn’t it. It can’t last. Can it? Ha.

Right – enough of that rubbish …

I haven’t read ‘Behavioural Economics’ but I know all about it and while it mind sound a bit weird – it’s actually quite linked to the work I did studying with Paul Britton … except his looked at motivational triggers rather than just reactionary behaviour.

Bloody hell that’s a long sentence for this time of the day isn’t it.

As for you Iggy …

Don’t know if getting the message right is the holy grail – I think product and distribution play pretty important roles too – but I know what you mean, however rather than just getting the message right, saying it the right way is the icing on the cake which is why “At least I can say I’ve lived” works – because that’s not advertising, that’s straight from the mouth of gamers.

Right, I have to finish this before a certain businessman in the UK calls and asks what the hell I’m up to so hope you’re all having a top day and thanks for all the comments, it’s been great.

Comment by Rob

I see your point. And I agree, right message, right delivery = BRAND NIRVANA.

Also, where can I get a copy of that PSPgo ad? Did it run in EDGE or is it only Asia? I need that ad.

Comment by Iggy

Hi Iggy, I’m not entirely sure which magazine I saw it in but it will be a UK based one and my intuition is leading me to suggest you check out either T3, Stuff, Empire or Four Four Two magazines.

I’m back at home this weekend so I’ll try and dig it out and let you know.

Now do your worst with it. 🙂

Comment by Rob

Thank you very much, I will do my everything to stop this assault on a great and noble brand, (I am a gamer myself you know).

Could you possibly email me a higher resolution pic of the offending ad, (I saved it from your post, but it pixelates when I put I make it full screen. My email is

Thank you and keep fighting the good fight against badvertising.

Comment by Iggy

So sorry Iggy, I’ve looked and I just can’t find it. If it’s in a magazine next month I’ll get it for you.

Comment by Rob

Leave a Reply