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  • Writer's pictureLewis Houghton

What was Sony cooking in the early 2000s?

‘Different place, different time’ was the primary tagline Eric Helias and TBWA\Worldwide came up with. And they weren’t wrong. There’s no chance these kind of ads would be released today.

Just from a glance, you can tell what era this came from.

It’s giving Fight Club, The Matrix and Snatch.

People were donning vests and bleached denim in an attempt to re-live The Fast and the Furious. Only thing missing was a suped-up Nissan Skyline.

But why did PlayStation take this approach? Was it effective? And why did they never repeat a similar campaign for their future console releases?

⏰ Let’s go back a few years.

The original PlayStation released in 1994 in direct competition with the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn, two consoles that weren’t known for power and graphical capability.

Sony was one of the biggest technology brands in the world, but they were the fresh meat in the gaming industry at the time. Their marketing primarily gave exposure to how their console’s performance shat on all other consoles on the market. They stood alone as the console offering the most realistic gaming experience money could buy.

I mean, they even handed out flyers at Glastonbury that said the PS1 was ‘more powerful than God’.

Quite the statement.

102 million consoles later, you could say it went down a storm.

🎮 Which brings us to 2001 and the PS2. Microsoft entered the scene with its more powerful Xbox. Sega brought the Dreamcast. Nintendo had the GameCube. Sony was riding the wave of the success of the PS1 and had incredible momentum.

Due to better third-party support, a larger game catalogue, and DVD compatibility, the PS2 was a console for the whole family. Over 155 million were sold and it remains the best-selling console of all time.

🤔 Which does make you wonder why they went for such isolating and jarring marketing techniques.

The whole ‘sleepless nights’ tagline is obviously problematic, encouraging unhealthy gaming sessions that eat into your precious rest time. And these would, in turn, cause eye strain, which they trivialized into the infamous PlayStation button shapes.

This would clearly resonate with the edge lords and ladies of the time. The kind who believed having American Psycho on VHS was a personality type.

The stats speak for themselves. These ads didn’t hurt sales. But did they increase them? Hard to say.

They would often be shown in gaming magazines and strategy guides. And chances are that if you’re buying a copy, you already have the console.

So here’s my take on this: Sony wanted to separate themselves from the family-friendliness of the GameCube and the corniness of the original Xbox (anyone remember seeing The Rock at the big reveal?).

Sony wanted an older audience and tapped into the underground sub-cultures that the movies were creating. They made their console dark, grungy, and a bit unnerving. Perhaps tapping into an audience they were yet to capture, they targeted the people who thought they were ‘too cool’ for gaming, by offering a peek at the kind of games playable on PlayStation. Sony was trying to portray that if you like the movies that are coming out, you’ll also like their games.

So, why was this abandoned down the line?

Well, it’s just not the most accessible, is it?

Your nan isn’t going to see one of these posters in Woolworths and leg it to the checkout so she can buy herself a copy of Silent Hill 2.

If anything, this campaign probably did more damage to the reputation surrounding ‘gamers’ than it did good.

It implies gamers are moody, controversial, and anti-social.

And if you continue to market yourself in such a way, you’re going to start convincing the ‘average Joe’, who’s buying their son’s first console, to go for Team Green and Bill Gates instead.

So was it effective? Absolutely. A record-breaking console that defined the early 2000s.

And how did PlayStation 3’s marketing look, with all of this in mind..?


Not the best start.

Sony’s Peter Dille claimed it was deliberately vague so the consumer could interpret the message however they liked.

It was a rough start for PS3 sales, so they went back to the drawing board and came up with something a little more straightforward.

Better, but not great.

Luckily for Sony, the world was going digital. Most of their future campaigns would be video-based and a lot more market-y and simple. Bundle deals, seasonal savings, that kind of jazz. Not a man shopping for his new head in Netto.

Sony’s cleaned up their act now and PS4 and PS5 marketing is what you’d expect from a company of their size and influence, but it is kind of nice to see risks like this being taken. Shock factor doesn’t always land, but when it comes from somewhere you least expect it, it can be banging.

P.S. If The Weeknd didn’t get inspired for his After Hours look from that head in the bottom left, I’ll be well shocked.


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