Matt Coombe, marketing chief for Sony in the UK, might be in charge of bringing entertainment to millions but he remains resolutely unstar-struck. While his day job involves leveraging his parent company’s assets to shoot ads with celebrity footballers and using James Bond films to promote his products, Coombe himself seems unaffected by the showbiz sparkle.
He is more concerned with working behind the scenes to bring together Sony’s multiple divisions to work with each other and create what he calls one “total entertainment package”. While AC Milan footballer Kaka kicks balls in ads to show off Sony’s smooth TV screen technology, Coombe is more concerned with getting the group’s diverse units to act as “one Sony”.
“It’s a big ambition of the company to be one Sony. It seems a much bigger, more powerful message to consumers than me just marketing a television to an audience. That’s really where we are heading,” he enthuses.
Jonathan Campbell, group account director at agency TBWA, who first worked with Coombe at his previous employer Honda and now at Sony, describes Coombe as a “brave marketer”, who is unwilling to follow a standard strategy that others could be tempted to take. He cites a recent campaign that TBWA worked on for Sony’s retail brand Sony Centre. With retailing under pressure to deliver returns in a recession, some marketers might be tempted to concentrate on short-term tactical pushes. Coombe chose to focus on the Sony brand.
“Retail is very price oriented and he went out with a brand oriented message and started to give the centres more of a ‘Sonyness’ feeling to them,” explains Campbell.
But making “Sonyness” equal “total entertainment” will be a challenge for Coombe in a climate where consumers are cutting back on expensive items. Coombe says this is why it is so important for him to leverage all Sony’s assets to make sure consumers understand that the brand can offer them entertainment at every level. They can watch the company’s films on its TVs, listen to acts from the music division on mp3 players and record their parties with Sony camcorders.
He points to a cross-department Sony partnership that promoted the last James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. The film was made by sister company Sony Pictures and Coombe made sure he got a piece of the action.
“Bond is a huge asset to anyone involved with it, so we looked at a synergy campaign with as many of our sister companies as possible,” he says, suggesting that the entertainment potential of the spy movie franchise excites even the most strategy minded marketer.
Bond was seen in the film using Sony products and Sony Music produced the theme tune. Bond was also used to front an ad campaign for Sony’s Bravia television and a limited edition 007 Vaio laptop was produced.
Coombe says the campaign was a good demonstration of Sony’s total entertainment package, adding that he is very keen for this type of promotion to become the way that Sony marketing acts in the future.
The James Bond campaign also helped Coombe develop his current advertising campaign, running around the World Cup qualifying matches. Sony has been using a “heart” ident on its TV ads, showing a beating heart made of numerous products from multiple Sony divisions.
This cross-department strategy is something Ben Moore, the head of communications for Europe, alluded to when he was interviewed by Marketing Week in September 2007, asserting that “some of the walls had been broken down” between product groups.
Coombe now needs to take this strategy further. “Sony is renowned for some fantastic advertising. My role is now to make us renowned for all our communications,” he says.
This does not mean, Coombe hastens to add, that he is thinking of ditching some of Sony’s famously spectacular ads of recent years. The Bravia TV ad, created by Fallon, was launched by a campaign showing 250,000 brightly coloured balls bouncing down a San Francisco street. The ad became so famous it was parodied by Tango, which ran a campaign featuring fruit rolling down the same hill.
Another ad in the series involved Sony covering a rundown tower block in Glasgow with 70,000 litres of brightly coloured paint in over 1,400 explosions to Rossini’s classical music anthem The Thieving Magpie.
This “breakthrough advertising”, as Coombe calls it, will continue to form an important part of Sony’s marketing strategy. He argues that creating ads that intrigue and interest people helps him have more impact than rivals.
The latest Bravia TV campaign attempts to provoke “pub talk” among consumers with a major integrated push. The “drome” ad, also created by Fallon, features Brazilian footballer Kaka showing off his skills in a giant zoetrope – a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures – to promote the visual qualities of Sony’s new range of televisions.
Coombe says that while the TV element of the campaign is important, not least because it aims to show off Sony’s TVs, it is the behind-the-scenes marketing that aims to maximise the results.
He has worked hard to engage with the online community providing content that is exclusive for bloggers and social networks in an effort to provoke more online conversations about Sony. He says seeing a branded ad being spoofed online is the ultimate expression of how consumers enjoy entertainment in this day and age.
This kind of interaction with consumers is one way that Coombe hopes Sony can stay ahead of its competition. He believes that if a brand can creep into conversations, it will become a familiar choice when people come to buy their home entertainment.
He explains: “We spend time now thinking about not just how people will get involved with the advertising and what it means to them but how they can actually act upon it. Not just act upon a sale, but building a relationship and talkability around their friends and family.”
Coombe learned the importance of creating a community around marketing when he was a communications manager at Honda.
The award-winning 2003 Honda Accord “Cog” ad, created by advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy, broke the mould of usual car ads, depicting a domino effect involving various car parts over a two-minute commercial slot.
Following the ad’s launch, Cog went around the world as a viral overnight. Coombe says the ad remains the “talk of the decade”. He is not even averse to admitting to a little showbiz moment, telling the tale of turning on one of the “world’s best ad” type programmes – years after the campaign – and seeing himself as a talking head, explaining the thinking behind the spot.
Coombe says these successes gave him the confidence to pitch a communications strategy around Honda’s “Power of Dreams” strapline.
“It was at a time when the Power of Dreams had been a global mandate and the whole world of Honda was revolving around the Power of Dreams without much strategy around it apart from it being to do with our philosophy of making great things happen,” he remembers.
The strategy eventually became a global one and Coombe describes the Cog ad and the Power of Dreams strategy as “life changing moments” that allowed him to step up to more senior roles with great speed. This time in his career is still his proudest moment to date.
While he took a detour to Vodafone, where he was head of the brand for two years between 2006 and 2008, Coombe says it was his experience at Honda that helped to give him a good grounding in how to develop consistency across a massive portfolio of products.
He even claims to have had his eyes on Sony long before his current role came up. He recalls: “Honda had won two Cannes Gold Lion awards in successive years and we were aiming to be the first company to win three in a row. When David Patton, who was then the director of marketing for Sony, won with “Bravia Balls”, I remember thinking ‘one day I’d like to work for Sony and take its communications one step further’.”
The dream came true for Coombe, and he admits that developing Sony into an entertainment behemoth and leveraging every element of its brand and product range is an ideal role. He even reminisces about a recent technology show where he got to try out “big boys’ toys” with glee.
But will Coombe’s determination to “think and act differently” be enough to keep Sony acting as “one” entertainment giant through a recession? He claims the company will keep aiming high. “You’d think I was leading a team of 30 or more people but actually I have 15 working for me, which is a lean team for the amount of output that we have,” he says.
Like any good entertainer, James Bond or celebrity footballer, it appears the key to success at Sony is all about overachieving.