Creative Critique By Barbara Lippert

Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa Del Ray, Calif.
Creative Director: Jerry Gentile
Art Director: Scott MacGregor
Copywriter: Michael McKay
Producer: Kecia Benvenuto
Director: Peter Smillie /Smillie Films
Taking a breather from writing about the marketing biz, as I did from spring 1996 until recently, and from reviewing the “videogaming” industry in particular, it’s as if I’ve returned 100 years later, a regular Rip Van Sega.
Back in the day, man, like 1995, Sega was a powerhouse, with huge market share, advertising that outcooled Nintendo and a tagline, “Sega,” that reverberated like a samurai cry. Now, it’s as if an anvil has dropped on the company (gratuitous violent cartoon joke here), leaving it a strangled chew toy (ditto).
The reasons for the company’s sudden demise in videogaming are complicated, of course, although my 8-year-old son tells me that Sega is coming out with a new platform next fall that seems promising.
A big part of Sega’s loss, however, was the ’95 introduction of Sony’s PlayStation. With mo’ better games and many more titles (Sega was much harder for outsiders to program), a coherent marketing strategy and an ad campaign smartly targeted to the 18-24-year-olds who’d grown up in a video-game culture (and those arrested-development cases who will forever be 15), it was an instant success–and it’s still growing.
But hey, reaching out to the adolescent in us is as American as Steven Spielberg. Last year in The New Yorker, Kurt Andersen wrote an essay about grown-up culture getting more kid-like–from adults eating chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream to wearing sneakers and Gap clothes that are the same as their toddlers’.
So with Nintendo pretty much focusing on the 15-and-under crowd, it’s a brilliant marketing move for Sony to want to expand the demographics upward. The impulse is certainly out there.
Introductory PlayStation advertising included the requisite scratchy sounds, digitized images, instant cuts, exploding typefaces and wrestling-style exhortations, such as “The good news is these games kick serious butt. The bad news is that you’re the butt’!” Still, it was far more elevated than old Nintendo ads, which included such seminal wisdom as: “Hock a loogie at life.”
Most of the gamer ads, which use speed, graphics and headbanger music, do a good job of approximating the “gaming experience.” But there’s limited aesthetic mileage in using cuts of the games themselves.
Once you’ve seen one splat and explosion, a car or two in flames, a tank decimating an entire civilization, you’ve pretty much seen them all. The Sony game campaign that preceded this brand advertising, and will continue to run, found a hilarious way to promote the characters and make the spots more memorable. The creative staffers humanized the action by, for example, having a guy in a Crash Bandicoot suit (to promote “Warped”) interacting with an actual human sports star. In one, Robbie Knievel gives Crash some tips: “Shift, speed, turn, lift, smile.”
In another, Crash goes one-on-one with former Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz (sans le moustache) and complains about having to wear the teeny little Speedo bathing suit. (“Coach, there’s some shrinkage.”)
Another spot, for a game called “Medeval,” shows Frankenstein, the Mummy and a ghost being interviewed, documentary style, assessing Sir Gahan. “Skinny guy, black teeth, one eyeball,” the Mummy says. “He was an odd fellow, clubbing zombies with chicken drumsticks.”
There’s something freshly surreal and compelling about taking the characters out of the context of the videogame and having them interact with people in real time. It’s the opposite effect of trying to make cartoon characters human, which always seems artificial and goofy.
This current strategy, including TV, print, outdoor and bus ads, is mainstream enough to crossover to young women in search of a cool Christmas gift for their beloveds. It could be as far reaching a marketing move as De Beers inventing the idea of diamonds as an engagement basic.
In the print ads, one side of the spread is a plain tabletop shot of the PlayStation hardware (the lighting falls on all the right curves and buttons, making it seem sensuous and, dare I say it, even feminine. It certainly removes the machine from the idea of hard technology. On the other side, there’s one line of type against a plain black background, for example, “If he’s home, he can’t cheat on you.” Indeed, that’s just as manipulative–and marketing-based–as DeBeers three-month salary idea. I hate stuff that conjures up the Mars-Venus war between men and women: “To him, it’s like a dozen long-stemmed roses.” Other lines, such as “shrink the gap between you and your son,” are more benign.
On TV, the simple interaction of the PlayStation characters and actual humans is hilarious. In one spot, Crash and Sweet Tooth drive up in a lawn mower behind a Martha Stewart-like figure and convert her into a gamer.
Making fun of Martha is hardly new, but the juxtaposition of her and the characters, and the move into her context, is unexpected and funny. So is the second spot, featuring a family holiday dinner that degenerates into a verbal shouting match, “I was supposed to get the silver,” and the shock of all time, when a young, Woody Allenish relative gets up and announces, “I’ve got to say I think I want to be a Democrat.”
Crash, Sweet Tooth and Lara Croft–the female adventurer who isn’t all bad, she’s just drawn that way (she is the digital character, not a human in a costume, and appears due to the miracle of post-production)–burst through the French doors. “Where’s the love?” Crash asks. By the end, of course, Grandma’s playing like a maniac.
The third spot makes fun of a guy at a “chick flick” with his girlfriend. “You are so totally whipped,” Crash tells him. “Bazooka or chick flick?” In the next scene, he’s given up the girlfriend for Lara and the bazooka. Perhaps it’s more telling than we know.
Here’s the nasty, anti-social, violent personalities of videogames brought to life. This holiday season, it’s no doubt the gift that keeps on giving.