PS3: The Game Is On

A mature campaign for Sony’s PlayStation? Sounds like an oxymoron. But how else do you expand the audience for the PlayStation 3? Reduced to $299 and being positioned more as a media center than a mere gaming console, the PS3’s challenge is to appeal to moms, dads and even grandparents (gulp!) without wussing out and alienating hard-core gamers who undoubtedly would flame PlayStation into the next millennium if it came out with hokey ads.

Enter this work from Deutsch/LA, which sidesteps the usual violent, special-effects-packed graphics and sounds to focus on the simple, human and funny.

An ongoing series, it’s built around the fictional character Kevin Butler — a smart-ass manager type with ever-changing and invariably nonsensical corporate titles — and sells both hardware and software. The tone is a cross between ESPN’s sophisticated, deadpan, insider-y ads using star athletes and announcers, and the interaction of the Geico “executive” and animated gecko.

Butler is a faux-looking blond introduced last year in a stand-alone spot for the baseball game MLB 09 The Show. (He had a ridiculous corporate title back then as well: director of game accuracy.) In it, Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia complained to Butler how his avatar can’t seem to hit the high, inside fastball, and asked that the mistake be corrected. “PlayStation gamers demand the most realistic baseball game ever, so we’re just going to keep it as is,” Butler tells the American League MVP. “It’s called integrity.”

The spot was such a success that Deutsch and PlayStation brought Butler back to star in the new campaign. The opening spot, “Rumor Monger,” cleverly addresses the online rumors of possible price cuts on gaming consoles. We see a typical, scratchily bearded gamer-type dude sitting behind his well-appointed desk — a nice contrast with the usual stereotype of gamers living in their moms’ basements. (Still, the jury’s out on whether he has a comic-book collection.)

“I got a tip that you’re making the PS3 $299,” the guy says, cockily. “Confirm or deny.”

In this spot, Butler plays the director of rumor confirmation and the joke of his constantly changing corporate designations never gets old for me. It reminds me of the way The Daily Show gives every correspondent a new expert title for each story. Like a smugger Lee Iacocca mixed with the Isuzu liar, Butler is shown busily walking past various displays, all of which boast the $299 price. “You can’t believe everything you read,” he says. “Otherwise I’d be a Nigerian millionaire by now!” At the end there’s a cool graphic device with a ticker sound that quickly spells out the range of PS3’s Sony-engineered features.

“Candle” cleverly alludes to the machine’s capabilities (downloading movies and TV shows, etc.) and also underscores the increasing feminization of the gaming world, which has been happening for a while, but lately exploded with the concentration of women buying the Wii. A twentysomething woman complains to Butler, now vp of enough is enough, that she bought her boyfriend a PS3 and “he still hasn’t hooked it up to the Internet.” The horrified “vp” responds, “What is this, 1992?” and lists what her boyfriend is missing (PS1 classics, etc.) “It’s like having a bathroom without an aromatherapy candle,” he yells, which might be a line that panders a bit too much to women in a spot that already makes fun of girly men. They bond over her boyfriend’s essential lameness, and Butler adds, “What’s wrong with him?” in a way that sounds like Jerry Seinfeld, but is unexpected and winning. Her acting is great, too.

“Desperate Dad” features a man who can’t get his wife’s attention. At the end, when a dog licks her ear and she laughs ferociously, I laughed out loud.