Sony, which came out of nowhere in the category four years ago to nothing short of ubiquity, is plotting an ambitious drive to transform its machine from a mere videogame player into a powerful digital entertainment center. And although that's not coming until next year, Sony isn't writing off fourth-quarter 1999.
In planning its launch of the PlayStation II, Sony Computer Entertainment America will leverage the 60 million units already sold worldwide in positioning its next-generation system as a hub for online multiplayer gaming via broadband connections, DVD movie and CD-ROM capabilities, hard-drive storage and enhanced content and connectivity.
It will work with sister company Sony Electronics to link PlayStation to the other consumer electronics devices in the living room.
"PlayStation II will allow us to deliver new kinds of experiences and digital worlds. We'll be changing the way people relate to their TV set," said Andrew House, VP-marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America.
As this holiday season ramps up, Sony has unleashed a high-profile ad campaign via TBWA/
Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif. It also sponsored a "PlayStation Mall Invasion Tour" to stimulate console sales and extended its popular Crash Bandicoot franchise with Crash Team Racing, a new title.
The activity comes after Sega of America launched a $100 million marketing blitz for Dreamcast, its 128-bit videogame console that went on sale in September (AA, June 28).
TV viewers will be surrounded by PlayStation ads this quarter, as the brand continues to hammer its entertainment message to the masses.
"What we've looked to do is to leverage a huge variety of entertainment experiences that were possible with PlayStation, a variety of great games each with their own individual personality, while also doing balanced communication with umbrella-branded PlayStation TV," Mr. House said.
When Sony first began marketing PlayStation four years ago, it targeted hard-core gamers.
"Once we had the buy in, we saw how big that potential market was-people who played the games as teen-agers, but who still saw them as part of their entertainment mix," Mr. House added.
Two years ago, Sony began broadening its target audience and expanded communications, lowered the price of its game console and created low-cost "greatest hits" software packages to create impulse purchases. It also blanketed the airwaves with fast-paced, edgy advertising, and supported it with direct marketing and national promotions with high-profile partners, such as Pizza Hut and Nabisco Biscuit Co.
Sony annually spends $150 million marketing PlayStation.
The PlayStation Underground, a loyalty program introduced at that time, boasts a database of 2.5 million people. Sony targets Underground members via direct marketing, e-mail and its Web site.
It further extended its reach by aiming ads at women and grandparents with gift-giving themes.
As it keeps the momentum going through Christmas, Sony will continue its mass focus, all the while preparing for the transition to PlayStation II.
"We are trying not only to launch a new system, but to communicate to consumers