This week, amid all the formal and Frenchified events in Cannes, PlayStation will be named advertiser of the year. It's a natural choice; in print, TV, outdoor and online, the global work has earned an estimable total of 26 Lions since 1998. In the U.S., its creative is consistently top notch, and last year, a spot called "Mountain," from TBWA London, was awarded the film Grand Prix.
Big, beautifully filmed and even a little show-offy, "Mountain" exuded a U2-ish urgency about bringing citizens of the world together on an urban rooftop. It was a perfect message of inclusion for online gamers and award-show judges alike.
Of course, crowd scenes have been big in advertising lately—it's one way of making a production feel grand. But with the increasing use of CGI, sometimes it seems as though there are more people in the spots than there are watching them. (People who watch people are the luckiest people?) Still, nothing about "Mountain" was pat. Aside from featuring Brazil as a gritty global village, telephone wires overhead and all, it showed a hyperactive and messy human festival (including that unforgettable Asian kid in the swim cap and goggles). But the best part was the music—the unexpectedly joyful 1936 version of "Get on Board," sung by Shirley Temple. A little girl's innocent spiritual, sung long ago, juxtaposed with some visually arresting 21st-century crowd-scene footage—now that's fresh.
But I recently had a conspiracy-theory moment about the lyrics (and I haven't even read The Da Vinci Code!). Instead of "Get on board, little children!" I heard, "Get on, bored little children!" As in, "Do something with yourselves, chop chop. Go to your dark room and play in there for hours! Be gone!" Certainly that's what my son, a dedicated PS2er, does. And if I could tear him away from his latest game of Halo on the Xbox (oops!), I could confirm that.
The American work for PSP, from TBWA\Chiat\Day, is all about hypnotic music and the user's experience. The spots promoting Ratchet & Clank for the PS2 come off as Punk'd meets Jackass, but cleverer. We see kids using the game gizmos in their backyards. In one, a kid shoots, and a human form becomes a ewe. Then we hear, "Dude, that's my mom!" The sheepinator is sold as "yet another weapon not fit for this world." All the spots bear the tagline, "Live in your world, play in ours."
This year's English entries for PS2 are much more metaphorical than the American stuff. There's an umbrella theme that not only blurs the line between reality and gaming but also suggests larger questions: What is learned behavior? What is human nature? What is environment? What is entertainment? It all makes for a mighty abstract connection. But lest your head begin to hurt, they make it easy for you: The first spot features a garter of scantily clad porn stars (that's my made-up classification for three or more of them).
At first, I really didn't get it, and I thought "Golfers and Porn Stars" was just a gratuitous way to show some naked female ass. (And does it ever. This would never get past the censors here.) Plus, the idea of observing humans as if they were gazelles or warthogs in a National Geographic documentary has been done. (Current spots for DSW and Oil of Olay use the form amusingly.)
But as with most English humor, it goes a tad further. Open on a wide shot of "Life on the PlayStation." An African-accented narrator tells us even-handedly that "life on the PlayStation can spell great danger for the golfers. To survive, they must overcome the threat of great enemies, like the porn stars." Naturally, the wedge of golfers (I made that up, too) is dressed as goofily and outlandishly as possible. Lined up and holding their bags, they try to ford the river, as the porn stars (who are as outlandishly underdressed as possible and sunning themselves on the banks) suddenly get on all fours (a patented Paris Hilton move) to attack. In terms of visual shock value, nothing beats three almost-naked strippers taking down a saddle-shoed golfer. For aural shock value, try repeating "a large male takes a golfer from behind." (There are also Fabio types in the garter.) They go at it, as the announcer says, "Such is life on the PlayStation." The tagline is, "Fun, anyone?"
I actually like the second spot, "Athletes and Traders," better. There isn't the shock of the porn aspect, so we can enjoy more of the funny details. This time, the narrator tells us that the plain is "alive with groups coming together—boy-band groupies mingle with football mascots." Meanwhile, a hedge (!) of stock traders compete with each other by screaming and looking like their heads are about to explode. One overexcited guy gets a hose down from a pit-crew person trying to "defend his territory fiercely."
Without the naked people, the link is easier to see: It's about specialty groups of gamers coming together on the Internet. There's also the clever idea of how the most unnatural, artificial act—gaming on the Internet or at your console—becomes normal behavior (second nature?) in your own natural habitat.
In other words, we're not supporting a bad habit imbued with hostility, sex and violence. We're feeding the ecosystems of humanity.
Somehow, I think the judges will just focus on the garters.
Daniel Kleinman, Large, London Producer
Steve Gandolfi, Cut & Run
Production service company
McKenzie Rudolphe, South Africa