PlayStation 2 blitz is only beginning

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With the launch of its PlayStation 2 videogame console looming, Sony Computer Entertainment America is looking beyond a fourth quarter sales spurt to entrench the next-generation system before Microsoft Corp.'s X-Box enters the fray.

A provocative TV spot that breaks Oct. 23, via TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco, sets the stage for the upcoming battle. It also marks the beginning of a $150 million, multimedia marketing blitz being unleashed even as Sony deals with the complex challenge of how to excite consumer demand while managing a potential holiday-season product shortage.

"What is key about the PlayStation 2 is that it is not a fourth-quarter 2000 play. It is the beginning of what should be a five-year cycle," said Edward Williams, senior VP-research analyst, Gerard Klauer Mattison. "I suspect this will remain a very popular gift item for Christmas 2001, and possibly beyond that."

A CRITICAL FIRST YEAR

Mr. Williams and other analysts said Sony must establish a dominant market share with PlayStation 2 in its first 12 months, maintain loyalty among software developers and accelerate proprietary content development in order to stave off what's likely to be a formidable challenge from X-Box due next fall. Rivals include Sega of America's Dreamcast and Nintendo of America's forthcoming Gamecube console.

"The next-generation game console battle is Sony's to lose," Mr. Williams said.

Sony has revised its pre-launch estimates. Last month, it announced it will only ship 500,000 units at launch, half the previously announced number.

The company then plans to ship 100,000 units per week through the end of 2000, for a total of 1.3 million units. Twenty-six software titles will be available at launch, 52 by yearend. Sony hopes to ship 3 million units to retailers by March 30, the end of its current fiscal year.

NO MARKETING PLOY

Despite the media attention generated by the shipment shortfall, Sony Senior VP Andrew House said it's not a marketing ploy to whip up holiday demand. "I wish we had greater supply," he said, noting that two retailers he declined to identify have pre-ordered more than 200,000 units combined.

Despite the shortage, Sony will not rein in its aggressive marketing plans for the launch. A TV spot, produced in 30- and 60-second versions, will run in heavy rotation on prime-time broadcast and cable TV. It represents a whimsical flight of fancy into a virtual world, circa 2078, where a future generation of PlayStation is used. The special effects-laden commercial starts with a man in a futuristic setting opening a glass orb. The orb releases spores that send him on a surreal journey into virtual experiences.

`PLAYSTATION 9'

Voice-over notes hypothetical features of "PlayStation 9," such as 3-D holographic imaging. The words "The beginning" appear on the screen as the spot closes with the voice-over, "The world's best entertainment system just got better." A dramatic PlayStation 2 visual then appears.

"We wanted to go beyond conventional videogame advertising to envision a futuristic experience," Mr. House said.

Sony this year has the double-pronged task of marketing its original PlayStation, now redesigned and redubbed PlayStation 1, along with the new system, which has advanced graphics, a DVD player and Internet capabilities. "The major step for us is going from a single format to multiple formats and multiple brand messages," he said.

In addition to TV spots, the PlayStation 2 campaign includes extensive outdoor, interactive and print efforts, as well as viral marketing, direct marketing and sponsorship elements.

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