PlayStation2's future shock: It's 2078 techno-edge portal

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Marketer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco
Ad review rating: Three stars

Oh, good. Just what we need. Better video-games.

Because, apparently, the current video technology isn't opiate enough. Or graphically violent enough. Or sufficiently non-verbal. Thank God, then, for the PlayStation 2 video-game console, ushering in a new generation of processing power capable of really fleshing out such new game titles as "Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore."

Pong, we miss you.

But that's only us, and we surely don't matter. The core consumer is clearly in the proper frame of mind. "PSx2 RULESSSSSSSSSSSS," exclaims an articulate user named Chair920 on a PlayStation online message board. And here's another snippet concerning the means of killing two characters in an earlier PlayStation game. (All dialogue verbatim):

Q: "how do you get officer dick and private carrera"

A: "to get them you need the blow out trick for dick it is hold L1,o,right,up,down,O,right,up, square,triangle, then pick dick in single. then pause hold L1 press tri, up,tri,up,O,right,tri"

The answer refers to Sony Computer Entertainment's proprietary game-controller glyphs, but teens need no explanation. Previous technology has given us a boy nation of flaccid, subliterate, viciously competitive gamers with no interpersonal skills but the greatest fine-motor coordination on the face of the earth. Imagine what we can achieve with the addition of a DVD drive and broadband capability. Sony's goal is nothing less than to build our digital future--hardcore and otherwise--around its game console.

Can the e-Hinkleys be far behind?

Ah, but in our abject depression we digress. Back to the new console introduction. How's the advertising from TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco? Well, for better or worse, it happens to be very good.

The truth is, for the above-stated reasons of consumer anticipation, advertising this product is hardly necessary. Sony had announced it would ship 1 million units to the U.S. in the opening phase, but is prepared to deliver only 500,000. Even if this is some sort of Cabbage Patch-like marketing ploy to stimulate buzz (and demand), the situation is that the consoles will be hard for shoppers to come by .|.|. at least for Christmas. By early 2001, word-of-mouth should easily do the rest, at least for the core market.

This leaves for Sony and TBWA a more complicated task: to establish PlayStation 2 as a standard of videogaming and more, for years to come. With Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox poised to appear in the spring--and Sega and Nintendo deep into product development--standard-setting is a tall order. So naturally the first commercial needed to hit hard on features, graphic capabilities, new functions and the Internet interface--right?

Yeah, right--just like in 1984 Apple had to introduce itself by showing user-friendly icons and the clever mouse device.

What the agency has done in its TV introduction, just as it did for Apple 17 years ago, is utterly eschew the obvious, linear, features-demonstration solution in favor of a startling futuristic romp.

The effects-laden spot begins 78 years hence in a weirdly evolved city that looks like "Dark Angel" at First Union Plaza. A young man holds a glass orb containing tiny fragments of we-know-not-what. The voice-over explains:

"New for 2078: PlayStation 9's new electronic spores tap straight into your adrenal gland. PS9 has improved retinal scanning and a mind-control system, holographic-movie surround vision and telepathic personalized music.

"The ultimate just got better. PlayStation 9. Teleport yours today."

Sorry. The spores are on back-order. Program your teleporter for 2079.

But never mind that. The point is that Sony has invited listeners to understand PlayStation as being midway to some astonishing future--a future that you can join in progress. Maybe this ad doesn't portray the brand--a la "1984"--as heroic weapon against the tyranny of the entrenched competition, but it does establish PlayStation as the default portal to the techno-edge.

The risk is that whatever the 2000 gizmo produces will seem like a pale interim stage. No worries. For this audience, anticipation is part of the game. The new generation of videogames may indeed breed a new generation of sociopaths, but while they're being digitally twisted into antisocial time bombs, it appears that they're going to have a whole lot of fun.

Copyright November 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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