Yet we often settle for good, because good is easy and great is hard. There's no agreed path to greatness, and few reliable measures of it. An ad's ability to endure is one of the few: does a certain vintage resonate, excite or otherwise move the viewer ten or 20 years on? There's plenty of good work on Sony's historical reel, but the great stuff still works. And is maybe still working in consumers' heads.
"Lifespan" is a TV ad about TVs, as durable as the product it's about (1). Trinitron is designed for life, so we see life's comings and goings from the TV's perspective. It's the granddaddy of ads that run from cradle to grave, and of ads about sofas (every self-respecting campaign must have one). A bit of post-production on the haircuts and it could run tomorrow.
Fastforward a decade or so and our product demos get served up with added aspiration but no less wit. "The unexpected" is the best of a good batch of camcorder executions extolling the virtues of Sony's superior battery life (5). Camcorder battery expires as dog runs into the road. The ensuing mayhem (cars fly through the air, man falls from a diner roof) is straight out of Hollywood, albeit served up with tongue firmly in cheek. Faultless direction exaggerates the folly: it's an ad about a film-maker who misses all the action by a film-maker who captures, crafts and gilds it.
From one diner to another. To say that "face" is understated is an understatement itself: the only action is the casual flick of a remote control (2). "So lifelike you'll think it's real" is the staple proposition of the category; here the creative imagination - and the way it puts our imagination to work - renders it absolutely fresh again. One moment we fear for someone's life, the next we understand that Sony's TVs are brilliantly lifelike.
The flick of the remote is basically the comma in that last sentence.
For a generation that post-dates my own, PlayStation is the single biggest source of respect for Sony. Like Walkman before it (and iPod today), it's debatable how much of that equity flows from the product itself and how much from its communication. "Mountain" is amazing on the eye, an idea rooted perfectly plausibly in the thrill of competition and the joy of finishing on top (6). PlayStation ads walk a tonal tightrope and this one does so with aplomb.
"Double life" is less of an executional thrill; it draws from a deeper well (3). The notion that PlayStation gamers lead double lives is arresting enough today, let alone at launch seven years ago. It's even got a hoodie, though this one has "conquered worlds" rather than Bluewater. "Everything bad is good for you" is the latest academic sentiment on gaming; "double life" got there years ago.
"The power of TV. Do it justice" is a towering thought whatever company it keeps (4). Watch it and banish those "death of TV" demons from your new media heads. Here on Planet Commercial, television isn't Celebrity Love Island or price-drop TV, it's the stuff of life. Kids sit in thrall to it, the world stands awe-struck as man walks on the Moon, an elderly couple watch the Berlin Wall fall. (More predictably, perhaps, boys hug as penalties are slotted.) It's a film that's executed as ambitiously as it is conceived: all grainy documentary stuff and not a foot put wrong.
It's brand storytelling - and TV advertising - at its best.
1. SONY TRINITRON TV Title: Lifespan Agency: BMP Year: 1984 2. SONY WIDESCREEN TV Title: Face Agency: BMP Year: 1997 3. SONY PLAYSTATION Title: Double life Agency: TBWA\London Year: 1998 4. SONY WEGA TV Title: The power of TV Agency: BMP Year: 1998 5. SONY HANDYCAM Title: The unexpected Agency: BMP Year: 1999 6. SONY PLAYSTATION 2 Title: Mountain Agency: TBWA\London Year: 2003