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RFP: Sony Seeks to Halt 'Erosion'

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NEW YORK Sony Computer Entertainment America's review of its PlayStation account comes amid not only the recent success of rivals such as Microsoft and Nintendo, but also in the wake of an "erosion" in core brand attributes in the past 18 months, according to the company's RFP.

The document, which potential contenders returned on Friday, suggested PlayStation was losing its grip on the cutting edge and its position as provider of the best system/software, despite being in the product's category leadership spot.

"SCEA is at a crossroads in its life cycle," the RFP noted. "The gaming industry has surpassed the $12 billion sales mark for the first time ever, placing it above theatrical and in direct competition with every other form of entertainment.

"For the first time in its history, the company finds itself in a catch-up position with the next-generation consoles [e.g., Xbox 360 and Wii]," the document noted. "While the PS brand health is still strong and the PlayStation brand is still believed to deliver a 'stimulating experience' that 'pushes the boundaries,' it has become more of a safe choice. These indicators are pause for the company to reassess its strategic road map for managing its brand and products over the next ten years."

In June, Wii, with a focus on casual and novice players seeking easy-to-use games, outsold the more graphically focused PlayStation 3 by almost 4-1, and Xbox 360 by nearly 2-1, according to NPD Group. Wii sales totaled 381,800, compared to 198,400 for Xbox 360 and 98,500 for PS3, NPD reported.

SCEA launched the review earlier this month, with the hiring of Select Resources International in Santa Monica, Calif. Both creative and media duties are in play.

SCEA plans to spend about $150 million in major measured media next year, including $25-30 million online, according to the RFP. (Both figures represent substantial upticks from what SCEA spent last year: nearly $100 million total, including $5 million online, according to TNS Media Intelligence.)

The incumbents are units of Omnicom Group, each based in Playa del Rey, Calif. TBWA\Chiat\Day is the lead creative agency, Tequila handles online creative duties and OMD plans and buys media.

The RFP, which was distributed to more than 10 agencies two weeks ago, also defines conflicts broadly, which could limit the company's choices. Beyond other gaming companies and consumer electronics manufacturers, the client identifies "unacceptable indirect conflicts" as companies that make cell phones with video/gaming capabilities and "unacceptable corporate conflicts" as Toshiba, Samsung and Microsoft.

Interestingly, the RFP does not name Apple, though the company fits more than one conflict definition. Apple is a longtime client of TBWA\C\D in Playa del Rey, though last year the team that handles the business moved to a separate building next door and operates as TBWA\Media Arts Lab.

Though the incumbents declined to comment, sources expect them to participate.

SCEA, based in Foster City, Calif., is focusing on West Coast shops ("no exceptions") with a suggested minimum of 150 staffers. Experience in the entertainment, technology or telecommunications sectors is "critical" and "media innovation is as important . . . as creative innovation," the RFP noted. What's more, Web efforts are "expected to play an increasingly important role."

The company, a division of Sony Corp., also is seeking a tighter alignment of creative and media strategy and hopes to "stay at the cutting edge of the latest cross-channel integration ideas and opportunities," per the RFP.

Among the creative agencies that received the document were Publicis Groupe units Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco and Publicis West in Seattle; Interpublic Group units DraftFCB in San Francisco and Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif.; WPP Group units Grey in San Francisco, Young & Rubicam in Irvine, Calif., and JWT in San Francisco; and independents 72andSunny in El Segundo, Calif., and RPA in Santa Monica, said sources.

Not all the shops returned the RFP, however. Y&R, for example, declined to respond. The agencies either declined comment or could not be reached.

Based on the submissions, SCEA plans to select six to eight shops to visit, and from those, pick four finalists, according to the RFP. Final presentations are slated for late September, with a decision expected by early October.