Cards on the table: I’m a confirmed Sony fanboy, having owned all three generations of PlayStation so far. But, like many other fanboys, I’ve been frustrated at the way the company has marketed the platform, which at times has seemed almost wilfully perverse.
In the last generation, Sony’s early determination to position the PS3 as a ‘does everything’ platform (music, video, social) saw it ceding advantage to Xbox 360’s simple, focused proposition of ‘affordable games machine’. PS3 had more power, and was far less likely to end up bricked, but Microsoft won the battle where it counted – in stores. Xbox 360 outsold PS3 for six years, until PS3 finally overtook it in lifetime sales earlier this year.
Sony learned from those mistakes, and most commentators agree that it has comprehensively pwned Microsoft in the run-up to the PS4/Xbox One launch. This ad is in line with its all-about-the-games philosophy, with the line ‘This is for the players’ catering nicely to the Facebook generation’s self-regard and sense of entitlement. But while the content is bang on, I still feel the tone sells the brand a little short.
We start out in the back of a taxi driven, for some reason, by Ryu out of Street Fighter. Thereafter, we careen through a disorienting cityscape populated by characters from a raft of games including Killzone, Infamous, DriveClub, Street Fighter and Assassin’s Creed, with nods to some older titles (PaRappa the Rapper, Crash Bandicoot and possibly Ico).
I guess the execution is supposed to evoke an adrenaline-fuelled headlong dive into gaming action. But with so much happening on screen, it ends up evoking stupidly eclectic titles like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, where characters from completely separate universes implausibly meet up to punch each other in the face. Since such titles are normally released at the end of a console’s lifecycle, when big franchises are looking to the next gen, it’s an unfortunate comparison.
There’s also a notable lack of actual gameplay footage, which, in an era where game engines are more than equal to the task of filling a minute of TV time, feels like a mistake.
The madcap, last-day-of-term vibe is accentuated by the increasingly demented voiceover, which ends up bludgeoning the tagline into your head like a murder weapon in Manhunt 2. Overall, it doesn’t feel like an appeal to the (cough) more mature gamer – which, again, is an interesting decision when you consider that 47% of PS3 owners were over 34. Older gamers are also those most likely to have £349 in the bank ready to drop on a console on 29 November, rather than waiting for Santa. But as I noted in this post, brands are always happy to neglect older demographics if it makes them feel good about themselves.
Let’s move on to another brand I love. In contrast with Sony’s, Apple’s new ad for the iPad Air feels like a breath of fresh air. (Watch the ad before reading on.)
Obviously, the chief feature of this ad is the twist in the tail. We suspect from the outset that the ‘extremely simple tool’ might not be the pencil – this stonkingly expensive ad probably wasn’t made by Staedtler – but the dénouement is still pleasing.
Once the reveal has been made, we can retrospectively reappraise the copy in the light of what we know, on subsequent viewings perhaps. It’s a far cry from Sony, who just throw everything at us from the first second. Thereafter, they have little to offer apart from turning up the volume, which practically guarantees audience irritation on subsequent viewings, even with the hidden nods to older franchises.
Apple’s continuous slow zoom, along with the gently narrated ‘list of things’ copy, serves to draw us deeper and deeper into the ad, generating closer attention rather than diminishing interest over time.
The final few seconds are sheer genius, with the iPad appearing from behind the pencil on the word ‘thinner’ and being picked up in one hand on ‘lighter’. At this point, the pencil takes on a new role – having been a metaphor for universal utility, it now becomes a reference point for physical dimensions. The implicit point is ‘thinner than a pencil, and just as useful’, but it just doesn’t need to be said – in keeping with the product, the ad’s touch is wonderfully light.
I’ve noted before how Apple’s launches are becoming incremental rather than revolutionary as their dominance grows, and that their marketing has slipped back a couple of notches as a result. But for me, this ad is a fantastic way to dramatise an incremental improvement (thinner, lighter) while emphasising the authority and achievements that only an established category leader can have. Overall, I think it’s a brilliant piece of work and a lesson to Sony in how to strike the right tone for a brand in a position of commercial and technical advantage.