I’ll answer the headlining question for this article right off the top: Yes, it has improved! For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, you may recall a series of PS3 advertisements and promotional ads that not only instilled viewers with a sense of absolute bewilderment, but also inflicted a sense of fear, annoyance and embarrassment for Sony.
You know us here at CB Games, no topic is off limits when it comes to the gaming industry, and that includes marketing. While we may praise a company for doing something decent (i.e., PS3 comes with a hard drive, Nintendo’s Wii-mote, M$’s Xbox Live, etc.,) we will just as easily put a crosshair between their eyes when they drill their own hindquarters into a hole (i.e., Sony’s marketing strategy for the PS3 launch). And just remember, if the company did everything right, there wouldn’t be a need for articles like this.
Now some of you may have read our article about the PS3 not sharing the Xbox 360's success. And while some of you may disagree, it doesn’t change the fact that there are two very important examples of how you spread success via marketing, rather than falling face down in the heat of competition, like a farmer wearing high-heels while treading through a trench of manure. The first example (despite begging from M$ fanboys) is not the Xbox 360, but rather Nintendo’s Wii, and the second example is Apple’s own iPhone. And I think the latter is even more relevant to this case than the former, only because of the pricing similarities.
But in the first instance, the Wii and PS3 launched at the same time, but Sony had far more commercials, ads and marketing shticks in place than the Big ‘N’. Everywhere you turned there was news about the PS3 this and PS3 that...even far before it even launched. However, after the two consoles launched, Nintendo found a niche with the casual market (how the Wii achieved this feat is a story for a completely different article, and thus, you may refer to Andrew’s article about the Once and Future King: Nintendo, right here on CB Games) and decided to play their hand very hard at marketing toward that audience. They had commercials aired during nightly programs that most gamers could care less about, but the ads captured the attention of the casual market. And the advertisements themselves consisted of two Japanese businessmen invading casual areas where no gaming systems were present, and proceeded to demonstrate the Wii with the simple line, “Would you like to play?” Nintendo’s continued marketing strategy for the Wii has been gong-ho casual, but it’s been done with sincere finesse and intelligence. Not only that, this tactic has been working since the casual market found the Wii favorable since 2006's holiday season.
Alternatively, Sony ran “Play Beyond” ads that were almost on par to getting kicked in the gonads...well, not quite as bad, but you get my drift. A crying, floating plastic doll with tears that rolled back into its ugly little face. What kind of ad is that? What does that have to do with a Cell processor? The “This is Living” scheme was even more embarrassing. A guy in a tub talking nonsense; a sweaty concierge dancing; a naked chick taking a shower (yes, she was actually naked); and a soccer fan masturbating while watching his favorite team score; what the heck?! Even Sony fanboys know this kind of tactic was as senseless and as money squandering as Tecmo’s release of DOA: Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2.
Sony’s ads had little to do with the Cell, and for those who knew nothing about the Cell, the ads did little or nothing to explain its importance. It was the complete opposite of Nintendo’s Wii ads, which clearly demonstrated the appeal of the console. If you’re going to tempt people into spending $600, you should show them why. Hands down, Sony should have started with thirty-second ads that quickly ran through some of the PS3's functions and then stopped, and just directed people to the SCE website. This way people would be inclined to find out more. Also, the last thing you do is list a $599 price next to a piece of hardware most consumers are clueless about. Again, awful marketing tactic for launching a console.
But as stated earlier, Apple’s iPhone is a perfect example of how you sell a $600 product. Realistically, people don’t need a $600 phone any more than they need a $600 console. However, the marketing has been clever enough to build up very positive buzz for the iPhone. During the commercials and ads there’s no conspicuous price tag; no gimmicks; no jargon; there’s just features. The commercials are straight to the point, and contain no flashy screen effects or obtuse symbolic stories. The iPhone is promoted and marketed toward people who want a phone that will cause more car accidents than a drunk Billy Joel...well, there’s also the movie playing, MP3 player, photos, etc. But the point is, even non-techies have an idea of what they’re getting with the iPhone, even though it contains less design functionality than the PS3.
Heck, more people have shown interest in the iPhone than consumers did with the PS3's launch, and the PS3 launched with Blue-tooth support, a free network, backward capability, Blu-Ray, a partial motion-oriented controller and a multi-purpose core processor. That’s not to mention the PS3's HDMI support, or 1080p output. It is the [perfect] home entertainment device, based on its features alone. But all of that was nearly completely forgone in Sony’s general marketing campaign. Instead we had to watch eggs roll across the screen, a mediocre tv-spot for Resistance: Fall of Man, a soccer fan in a jockstrap play with his genitals, and a prostitute putting makeup on wrong.
However, as time has told, all of the shenanigans that weren’t working from the start have faded from the scene (thank goodness). Sony now has a much more docile marketing approach to the PS3...after the unfitting fiasco that started with its launch and carried over into the early part of this year. As many of you may have noticed, the PS3 commercials and ads now consist of the game itself and a simple PlayStation 3 logo. Internet trailers and promotional clips are now far less pointless. There’s no more eggs, no more naked girls and no more masturbating. That alone shows grave signs of improvement on Sony’s marketing end.
It will be very interesting, though, to see how Sony adjusts how they market the PS3 after this year’s E3 event. With no more glitz and glamour being touted during the annual trade-show, maybe this will give Sony some proper leverage for spending those hard-saved dollars on some well-placed commercial ads for some of their top-tier fall titles.
Overall, though, I won’t say that if Sony had adopted a better marketing campaign it would have drastically increased sales (or for that matter, prevented the 20gig PS3 from getting the axe only a couple of months into its launch), but I’m quite positive that many observers of the gaming industry could have at least applauded Sony for taking a reasonable, plausible approach to campaigning the PS3 to consumers; much like what Apple has done with the iPhone. In turn, the supposed “everyone hates Sony” bloggers, gaming editors and independent press outlets could have been more sympathetic to the electronic giant’s new console. And maybe the positive press could have helped sway how the PS3 is ubiquitously portrayed in the media. Because, of course, we all know how the media can affect a product’s marketing position.