Where do you take your advertising once you have blown £2m shooting paint fireworks at a Glasgow highrise block? This is the question facing Sony’s new European marketing chief for consumer electronics Ben Moore, soon to join the Japanese technology giant from Nike UK.
He takes the hot seat from David Patton, who this week crossed the great marketing divide to become group chief executive of Grey UK.
Patton has built his name on those remarkable ad campaigns for Sony Bravia LCD TVs that have run since 2005. The ads, created by Fallon, include “Balls” where 250,000 multicoloured globes were rolled down San Francisco’s hills and the aforementioned “Paint”, where an entire tower block was sprayed with 70,000 litres of paint.
Some may decry these ads as profligate and overblown puffery, but they have helped shift Bravia TV sets across Europe and Asia and demonstrated the brand proposition “Colour like no other.”
However, such stunning special effects raise the bar so high that it is hard to conceive how they can be topped. A new execution in the same vein featuring bunnies hopping across New York is expected in October, but this could get repetitive. New figures suggest Sony is lagging behind in television sales and that its market share of LCD sets is eroding. It seems some of the gloss may have come off the Bravia ads and action is needed to refresh the proposition.
These ads have certainly added colour to an otherwise dull performance in many parts of Sony’s business. The Japanese giant has fallen behind in technological innovation, its pricey high-quality inventions often out-smarted and undercut by rivals. Some believe the company has never recovered from the 1994 resignation of Sony founder and inspirational inventor of the Walkman, Akio Morita.
Things got so bad for Sony that two years ago it hired its first non-Japanese chief executive, promoting Sir Howard Stringer, head of its US operations, to the top job. Perhaps only a foreigner would have the sang froid necessary to carry out the restructuring and deep job cuts deemed necessary to boost Sony’s margins.
Stringer’s remedies are having some effect: Sony’s operating margins are being lifted above 5%, in line with his targets.
But the company is a shadow of its former self. Sony revolutionised the world of music with the Walkman in the 1980s, but more recently has trailed behind the Apple iPod. Its efforts to catch up have foundered, and it has just announced the closure of its own online music store Connect.
In computer games, the once mighty and pricey PlayStation has been humiliated by Nintendo’s cheaper Wii, which outsells the PS3 six to one in Japan and two to one in the US. Indeed, Nintendo’s handheld technology has taken the market by storm and this summer the diminutive Japanese gaming company’s market capitalisation has overtaken that of Sony.
There are those who have detected a new spirit at Sony under Stringer. Some think its age-old problem of powerful product fiefdoms that failed to share technology and marketing spend across the company is finally being addressed
The Bravia work is an example of how a powerful umbrella brand proposition has been created, promoting TVs over other products. Some see the campaign as partly a testament to the power Patton wielded within the organisation. They wonder whether his replacement Moore will have enough clout to deny marketing spend to other product groups and focus on similar product-specific work that bolsters the entire brand.
One of the trickiest jobs in marketing is following up on a successful ad campaign. The Bravia ads may have been creatively féted, but propelling Sony’s strategy to the next stage is the challenge facing Ben Moore.