OPINION: Mills on ... PlayStation 2

So, David Lynch directs the PlayStation 2 launch ad. Are we supposed to be impressed by that? Big names are sometimes big disasters. I remember a huge fuss back in the early 90s when some Italian bank hired Woody Allen.

So, David Lynch directs the PlayStation 2 launch ad. Are we supposed to be impressed by that? Big names are sometimes big disasters. I remember a huge fuss back in the early 90s when some Italian bank hired Woody Allen.

We expected something like Hannah and her Sisters. What we got was something dark, existential and thoroughly miserable.

As for Lynch, I'm not one of those earnest goatee-strokers who can discuss every aspect of his oeuvre. In fact, I only know him from Twin Peaks (loved the music, got bored with the plot) and Blue Velvet (ditto). But I know enough about Lynch to know a) it's a pretty big deal to land him and b) he has a signature style based on subverting the normal. If there's a unifying thread to his work, it's that he likes to go where the sun don't shine - the innermost parts of our souls where the struggle for identity is fought out. Of course, a large part of the putative PlayStation target market (my youngest son, for example) won't give a stuff about the director: they just want the machine. And nor should we necessarily give a stuff either because, in the end, the only things that matter are the idea and its execution.

At this point I should, I suppose, try to describe the ad. It's at moments like these, however, that you realise the inadequacy of words. Suffice it to say that the ad, shot in black and white, is surreal. A man wanders down a corridor. He meets himself, an arm emerges Alien-like from his mouth, and then he walks through steam into another room where another assortment of characters resides. One of these is a man with a duck's head (or possibly a duck with a man's body) saying: 'Welcome to the Third Place.' It's entirely arresting, entirely memorable and very David Lynch in an Eraserhead kind of way.

But what of its merits as an ad? Well, the first thing to say is that idea and execution are seamlessly integrated, which is why the decision to hire Lynch was inspired. I'd guess the briefing was incredibly simple.

'Look Dave,' says Trevor, 'it's all about the experience of creating your own world. We've got this line 'Welcome to the Third Place' and that's really all you need to know. Here's the budget, don't mention any games and, er, we'll see you in a few weeks.'

The other point is that there's a clear continuum of advertising based on the idea that PlayStation isn't just a games console but an alternative way of life. Thus we go from the famous 'double life' series to last year's techno pixie extolling the virtues of 'mental wealth' and now the 'Third Place'.

However, to understand the real inspiration behind PlayStation's advertising, you have to go further back to the decision to break the then conventions of the computer games market by targeting not the nerds and spotty 12-year-old boys, but an older age group starting with 17-year-olds. Boy did it work, giving PlayStation its own space in a crowded market and opening up the console sector to a far larger target group.

At the same time it allowed PlayStation to create an entirely different sort of proposition that focused on emotions rather than functionality.

And, of course, the console then became the one that the younger age groups aspired to. Strategy, creative idea, execution - TBWA and Sony joined them all up.

One problem, though: my 10-year-old son thinks he's in the target market.

I showed him the ads and now he's confused. 'Dad,' he said, 'if parents see the ad they won't buy it for their children.' Too right. It's a cruel world.



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