The PlayStation is Sony’s first foray into the video games market. A huge amount of investment went into developing and producing this new generation games machine, and Sony saw this launch as its most significant since the Walkman.
Following successful launches in Japan and the US, PlayStation was to be launched across Europe in September 1995. The market had historically been owned by Sega and Nintendo which between them spent over 80m in the UK (Register- MEAL) on building their brands following their launches in 1988 and 1989 respectively. This made the PlayStation launch budget- at 2.4m (Media Register) – look small.
Furthermore, the video games market slumped during 1994/95, with sales halving as games systems aged. Players matured and PC games ate into the video console market.
In addition, the growth of the PC games market meant the traditional age parameters for “games” (eight to 16 years) were broken down.
Because of the speed of technological change in the games market, the encroachment of PCs and the subsequent high failure rate of games systems, developing and owning a long-term brand positioning for Sony PlayStation was paramount.
In the games market, the demand for more powerful technology, gameplay and graphics from any new machine is an assumed factor. PlayStation fulfilled this demand but needed to harness it in a way that differentiated it from its powerful rival, Sega Saturn.
Given the budget available, the ads had to generate awareness about PlayStation. The brief was to rapidly build awareness of PlayStation and differentiate it from the competition by creating a “phenomenon” that was bigger than just the advertising. It was based on the “powerful effects” that PlayStation could have on the user.
The core target for the communication was ten to 20-year-old males. But it needed to have broader appeal to target parents who would be buying the product, all on a pan-European scale.
The answer to this complex brief was an anti-sell “launch phenomenon” built around an organisation of volunteers dedicated to suppressing the world’s most powerful games machine, fearing for the well-being of society. They were called SAPS (Society Against PlayStation) and led by a nerdy American, Dwight P Dibbley, who warned potential consumers not to buy this “mind altering” powerful machine.
Several TV and press executions were developed, with the endline: “Do not underestimate the power of PlayStation.” Nearly 15 per cent of the media budget was set aside for guerrilla tactics and interactive media to generate maximum PR.
By the end of 1995, PlayStation had achieved a sterling brand share of 35 per cent of the UK video games hardware market (compared with 15 per cent for Sega Saturn) and PlayStation’s hardware units outsold Saturn’s by a factor of 4:1 (Source: Gallup).
As importantly as hard sales data, the retail trade voted PlayStation the most successful launch of 1995 compared with any other product, including Windows ’95 (Source: CTW). In May 1995, PlayStation was a product in a box. One year later it has achieved brand leadership and redefined the market.
When I first noticed the ad which I’ll assume is titled “Stick”, I was channel surfing and didn’t see it the whole way through. On a second viewing I decided to watch to the end to see who was responsible. That’s when I came across SAPS (Society Against PlayStation). I realised I’d seen that logo somewhere before. Bit by bit I put the jigsaw together, I actually became involved – it captured my imagination.
I had watched the video games market explode in the early Eighties with some great new visual imagery and lots of press coverage. However, by 1995 it seemed to have run out of steam – in a world where leading is all about innovation, it all looked a bit tired.
Here we had something that started to change the rules. Not only was it another format, but it was trying to put life back into a business area that was either becoming complacent or just didn’t have anything new to say.
In today’s highly cluttered media market it is becoming increasingly difficult to cut through without vast sums of cash. What makes it more interesting is that the target market of ten to 20-year-olds is incredibly marketing literate and, unless you bring in something new, it will be seen as boring.
I do believe that by turning the message upside down – not selling, but creating a want, by visually standing out, PlayStation made the market more appealing.
It changed the rules, it respected the consumer, it accepted that many of the target market had probably stopped or slowed down their consumption and by suggesting that over-use was bad for you tapped into that precious seam that we are all emotionally drawn to. Essentially the more simple the idea, the more respect gained from the consumer.
PlayStation is now an accepted competitor to Sega and Nintendo, and in fact may have stolen the show by offering not only a new format or game but the emotional feeling that it is out to get you. Bright, witty, irreverent, focused, it made its mark. The product also lived up to rational expectations, a key part of any communication today.
SAPS also has long-term appeal – look out for the next instalment. Today’s consumer wants, no, expects to be entertained – if you don’t add value you’ll get lost in the clutter. If Sony continues to make the executions interesting, irreverent (less of the specific games advertisements, more stories about users being caught), then not only will it be undisputed brand leader but will probably maintain video games as a desirable pastime and not something that has had its moment.