[RIP PS2] Sony Made Art Out of Ads

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[The PS2 is now officially discontinued! We wanted to give this mighty system a proper farewell so we're dedicating an entire week to it.]

In 1994, Sony marketing reached out to the TBWA advertising firm to begin selling their Sony Playstation.  It was a relationship that would last 13 years as they would be the main firm used for Sony’s US and European branches.  This partnership would lend to some interesting and creative ads in the Playstation era, but with the PS2′s debut, TBWA seemed to branch out more towards the outlandish.

They sold art to the general public disguised as advertisements. It would distinguish the brand, from just about anything. 

Now we’re not going to get into what describes art, that’s a debate for another time.  What TBWA began to push in the PS2 era were themes in their print and video advertisements that largely had nothing to do with the console.  This concept is branded by the company under the name Disruption. You can follow the logic of it on their website, but the idea is simply defined by that one word: Disruption.

It is a disruption to the normal concept of advertising. That’s an odd thing to represent in a commercial product, but the company made the attempt…and succeeded some of the time.  TBWA however has left a very large impression in game advertising for the best selling home console of all time.  I’m not sure how much of that success can be attributed to them, but it does give us some great ads to look at in retrospect.

TBWA America

The best way to start TBWA’s American campaign has to be a showcase of the wonderful PS9 launch trailer you see above. This video came at the launch of the PS2 and was perhaps one of the best ads in the generation on what Sony was as a company.  They were offering innovative projects that will one day revolutionize how we play video games.  That ad came across quite well and much like most of TBWA America’s advertising, it was understandable.

From here the company would move forward with their catchy “Live In Your World, Play In Ours” campaign from the PS1 years.  They would find their strength in mixing real people or events on top of their commercials to great albeit somewhat safe success.  For the most part, these would be comical like in the case of Ratchet and Clank or SOCOM. We’re Americans, so we had to largely play it safe with our ads.

Though we weren’t without our peculiar ones.

In America we saw TBWA focus on promotion of the games outside of the initial push, which was good.  Sony Europe on the other hand went about things in another way.

TBWA London

PS2 ad2Europe is an entirely different beast than the Americas. That much is clear. Sony at the time of the PS2 had started to pay a lot more attention to the European marketplace after the adoption of the Euro and their strong determination proved to be quite fruitful for the company. TBWA I would assume had a lot to do with this, though I really can’t tell from some of these ads.  That first one sort of kicked things off above and then followed down the weird rabbit hole that is European experimentalism.

This proceeded to get weirder until they finally thought enough is enough and brought in David Lynch to put the icing on the cake with their “The Third Place” campaign.  That’s not to say it was all weird.  He began with what would be an excellent car insurance commercial and even followed it up with a dog.  However, after a while his inner surrealist finally had to break out like a wild beast.

His stuff was so bizarre that they decided not to even run his original concept.

From here, however, Sony would produce what is arguably one of the best PS2 ads created which ran alongside the Fun, Anyone? campaign.  Gathering Frank Budgen again after that double life ad to turn a Shirley Temple song and a simple children’s game into brilliance made Mountain something amazing to view.  Producing a print campaign called “Because Your Girlfriend Bores You Shitless”…not so much.  Sony Europe then began to shift their more experimental campaigns on to the PSP and let FIFA sell itself.

London did some really experimental things from the beginning with their TV ads and then decided to hand over the crazy to David Lynch for a while. France however wasn’t about to be out crazied by the Brits.

Obscure surrealist shock advertising is their bread and butter.

TBWA France

I’m just going to start this section off by saying that if I link to something in this section, it’ll have a high probability of being not safe for work. Just throwing that out there for those of you that have real jobs.

So America was somewhat tame with a focus on light switches and balloons while London let David Lynch run wild.  France decided to shift their focus on to the human body (or lack thereof) with an assortment of campaigns.  The one you see above with the head and the flogging is from the in your head campaign that is as fascinating to look at as it is insane. This is what we are dealing with when we leave the French to sell video games. Nothing but sex and weirdos.

That’s pretty much how the campaigns started and they were awarded quite handsomely for it.  When TBWA won a Cannes award for Best Print Ad in 2003 with Rebirth, it opened the floodgates for the company.  Where do we want to start.  Let’s try mixing a bit of feminine hygiene pads with religion. Too easy? How about throwing together a campaign called Freaks?

If that seems too normal, maybe the panty sniffers and meat blob sex dolls are more to your speed.

What TBWA France did was make absurd art a calling card for their campaign.  They found big success and then tried to outdo themselves in amusing fashion.  That isn’t to say that all of the ads TBWA did for France were controversial as this Sleeping Beauty campaign seems to take a nice nudge to their competition. Though to walk off with their final campaign being a contorted blob of naked bodies combined into awkward display (huh, no link for that one?) somewhat reassures their stance as the most absurd electronics marketers around.

I spent all this to highlight the artistic side of these advertisements.  The messages, often times undefined verbally or written, often illicit some kind of response about what they have to do with Sony’s Playstation brand.  Some times it works, some times it doesn’t, but it’s in these risks that we saw Sony as a more mature advertiser for their little console. They disrupted the way we view video game advertising and that is something.

I don’t know how many copies of F1 04 that cheetah would have made me buy, but the imagery certainly remains with me.  I honestly couldn’t unsee the meat blob pillows if I wanted to. Ugh.

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About Author

(Senior Writer)

I have been gaming for 20 years and have seen this industry go from one geared towards children, to one that has grown to accept all demographics. I've grown up side by side with video games and I've seen it turn into this phenomenon. Of course I also enjoy entertainment in all mediums whether it be film, book or sports. I'm just a huge nerd that loves writing about his hobbies.

  • MikeEaton

    I liken many of those ads to pretentious perfume commercials. I guess I have to give Sony some credit for at least trying to express something other than “Let’s put boobs and guns in it”.

    • http://twitter.com/manasteel88 Mana

      I do love my boobs and guns, but those ads were really cool in a “wait, they were trying to sell video games?” kinda way

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andres-Ruiz/1349119083 Andres Ruiz

    I still want to forget that one with the baby in the room for PS3. Then the commercials went from what to please end this.

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