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LIKE: The PlayStation Adverts

How Sony conquered worlds with provocative and powerful messages that defined an era

Welcome to LIKE, our new semi-regular series where we praise the wonderful oddities, small miracles and flashes of genius that, in their own specific ways, have enriched videogame history.

This series is not intended as an exploration into grand or pioneering games, but instead a focus on one specific thing that the whole medium wouldn't be quite the same without.

We have intentionally called this series LIKE because, if you happen to love the thing we are praising, you can press the LIKE Facebook button as a way of democratically supporting its inclusion into the series. We hope you enjoy!

Our full LIKE archive: Metroid Prime's visors | The Strider from Half-Life | The PlayStation Adverts | Ganon | The Art of Yoji Shinkawa | The music of Rare's David Wise

LIKE: The PlayStation adverts

First appearance:
1995
Created by:
SCEE, SCEA, TBWA et al
Notable directors:
Chris Cunningham, David Lynch

It is said that advertising is the main art form of the modern age; a practice of presenting otherwise tedious sales pitches in a way that is inventive, memorable and sometimes so persuasive that it needs to be regulated.

Such an outlook, if you happen to agree, would make PlayStation a sort of Damien Hirst figure. The company's TV and print adverts, particularly in the nineties, were infamously self-important, farcically abstruse, deliberately controversial and yet, on occasion, surprisingly profound.

In 1995, at a time when the creative pinnacle of video game advertising was the depiction of two painfully white boys screaming "cool" at a flashing TV set, the PlayStation launched across Europe and with it came a radical approach to how consoles would be promoted.

The result not only drove PS1 forwards as the dominant videogame platform of its time, but also triggered a cultural shift in how games were perceived.

Most of the early promotions became folklore themselves; Cards of perforated roach paper depicting a dealer offering a PlayStation pad. A Cool Borders advert enumerating various joys of cocaine use. Prostitution flyers left in phone boxes with the words "Randy Bandicoot, new in town, call me for fun times".

Zoom

David Wilson, PlayStation's public relations director, has his own theory on why the company was free to make mischief.

"Because the Sony mother-company distanced itself a little bit from PlayStation when it first launched, it meant that we could get away with a lot more things," he says.

"Clearly, PlayStation launched into a market dominated by not one but two platform holders. When PS1 released, Sony sent out notices which insisted we would refer to it as a 'PlayStation' and not a 'Sony PlayStation'. There was a real literal and metaphorical distancing of PlayStation from the Sony brand, just in case the system failed."

'The hoi-polloi'

Such fears of failure were short-lived. By the late nineties, PlayStation had become trendsetting brand that was both provocative yet sophisticated; a feat that its plastic toy rivals hadn't attempted. For all the cherished childhood moments provided by Mario and Sonic, it was PlayStation that made games cool and mass-market.

In 1999 another watershed moment occurred. An advert, called Double Life, signified that the PlayStation brand was no longer an icon for the adolescent, but a product pitched perfectly for people of all ages and tastes.

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The sixty second TV spot, created by the in-demand ad agency TBWA, scooped awards and eight years later was inducted into Clio Awards Hall of Fame; a global competition for all forms of advertising and public relations.

"It got to the heart of what gaming is all about," said Mark Tutssel, the chairman of the Clio Awards jury that selected Double Life.

"The TV spot has spawned a genre of its own, but Double Life remains unrivalled."

The games industry entered into its own growing-up phase during the PlayStation 1 era. Publishers and developers across the world sought acceptance and popularity within the mass market's consumer conscience. Double Life, with its string of one-liner vignettes, had created the most striking demonstration of that ambition.

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