This recent controversy rekindled the memory of all the horrible ads that have appeared in promotion for both the PS3 and the PlayStation Portable. But, it hasn't always been this bad. The general consensus on PlayStation One and PlayStation 2 ads were favorable; however, as 2006 rolled in with the PSP already under fire and the PS3 on the way, a new direction was emerging for the corporate giant. Was there such a need to be edgy Sony? You were doing so well.
We had thought the era of Sony's marketing fumbles had ended, but apparently it hasn't. So in honor of the embarrassing and often painful ad campaigns over the past few years, we present this look into the top ten worst PlayStation brand ads ever. We're sure Sony won't be too happy about us digging up old skeletons, but this is history and an interesting one at that. It's also one that's hard to forget. And besides, early next month we'll have a top ten best PlayStation ads list just so we're not being lopsided here. So get clicking, and see what NSFW atrocities we've compiled.
10. PS2 - Golfers versus porn stars
The PS2 rarely had any controversial ads when compared to the PS3 and the PSP. That's mostly due to the fact that the PS2, including the PS1 preceding it, incorporated tamed conventions in selling their products. However, the PS2 did show signs of an upstart for more experimental marketing in Sony's games division. Take this questionable ad for example; it's an absurd PlayStation take on Geico-like juxtaposition. This commercial pretends that the PS2 is a wildlife territory where porn stars prey on unsuspecting golfers. Right, and we're the Pope. Scratch that; he won't approve of that comment ... and he especially won't agree with the ad you'll be seeing next.
9. PSP/PS2 - Passion of the PlayStation
Celebrating ten years of PlayStation in 2005, Sony had this religious flame-bait ad made for Italian print publications. The original Italian text "Dieci anni di passione" translates to "Ten years of passion." The image of the man and the short text are seemingly inoffensive at first; however, when paired with the crown of thorns, the meaning changes entirely. Obviously, "the passion" is a reference to the film The Passion of the Christ which came out the year before, and this associated message generated the idea that PlayStation is, to put it bluntly, Jesus.
The ad struck a chord with devout Christians, infuriated religious groups, and even had the Vatican ready to exercise its excommunication powers. Charged with blasphemy, Sony promptly pulled their ads. Fortunate for Sony, the company pulled the ads before they could feel any real backlash from disgruntled Christians. The next marketing campaign, however, wasn't so lucky.
8. The perplexity of UK PSP ads
British commuters probably remember seeing these confusing early 2006 PSP posters plastered around train stations, buses, and the London Tube. The one advertisement pictured here, which reads "Your girlfriend's white bits here," has been interpreted as sexist due to the vagueness of the words and the lack of an image to bring the thought around full circle. Even worse, was this ad suggesting one should "Take a running jump from here." Alone, the ad doesn't sound so bad; however, when you put the suggestive slogan prominently at train station platforms ... then there's something amiss.
Other such posters read "Strong language and scenes of a sexual nature here" and "Saucy emails won't get you fired here." The randomness of the words never gave passersby a clue that these ads were, in fact, referring to the PSP's functions: store photos (white bits), gaming (jump), movies (scenes) , and web browsing (saucy emails). Of course, that understanding only became crystal after an explanation.
Despite receiving 45 public complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority didn't ban the ads. And while the campaign was controversial, it certainly didn't compare in disruption magnitude as another European PSP ad that would appear months later (and a few spots down in this article).
7. PSP - Graffiti fiasco
Sony's graffiti art advertisement campaign started appearing in major cities all across the United States back in 2005. As you can see from the defaced image above, the campaign rubbed many people the wrong way. Why all the hate? For starters, denizens were angry about the unsightly blemish that these ads left on their city landscape. On a deeper level, the fact that a major corporation was in charge of something like this enticed those true artists, who found the whole idea annoyingly ironic, to react. Thirdly, the images themselves could be seen as controversial -- images that depicted hypnotized children hooked on their PSPs. When you put all these thoughts together and attach them to an already boiling animosity towards a wider controversy regarding Sony's DRM practices, then that's when the excrement really hit the fan.
6. City of Lost PlayStation Commercial
This French ad is strange to say the least. Its dark atmosphere and black humor are reminiscent of the French film Cité des enfants perdus (City of Lost Children), but of course that won't come across clearly for everyone. The sexual innuendos are certainly tacked on for French tastes but none of this explains what walking boobies and clown heads in a cannon have to do with the PlayStation brand. As the ad would suggest, these images are the construct or the thoughts of a man who represent PS gamers. It's actually quite insulting to think that the advertisers believe we're all psychotic and perverted.
More strikingly, and more important, can you see the huge difference between this PS2 commercial and the one higher up on this list? It's obvious that from this we can see the machinations of a new breed of PS3 ads to come. This French commercial, while terrible on its own, is made far worse when you realize this is what trumpeted the beginning of the impending PS3 ad apocalypse.
5. PS3 - "Mama" Play Beyond commercial
This Play Beyond commercial featuring a demonic-looking baby doll is one of the creepiest commercials we have ever seen. There's no logical explanation how something as bizarre as this would ever persuade us (let alone anyone) to want a PS3 -- and we're the ones who've bought systems, love it to this very day, and have made it our preferred console of choice. With that said, imagine what all those casual-gaming baseball fans were thinking when they first saw this. Imagine rooms full of beer buddies or baseball families with children sitting around the tube waiting for the game to come back on -- but instead of watching the next pitch, there's silence as this commercial plays. A collective "WTF" is felt across the nation.
4. PS3 - If "This is Living" I'd rather be dead
The confusing "This is Living" commercials from around Europe's PS3 launch last year were probably the most pretentious marketing campaign that Sony has ever done. At the time, the internet was buzzing with news about these horrible ads, yet, these ads completely failed to do their job -- move console units into homes. We chock it up to the nonsense imagery of bald guys in tubs, tap dancing hotel managers, and cute blondes on toilets which, on their own, left little for people to make associations with the PlayStation brand. Even more so, when these eccentric characters opened their mouths to speak ambiguously metaphoric lines, that's when any sense of rationality was thrown right out the window, along with sanity, and the will to live.
Now, this campaign bore a resemblance to a previous commercial done for the PS2 titled "Double Life." This old PS2 commercial was actually good and made quite a lot of sense. So why did "This is Living" fail where "Double Life" succeeded? The major difference between the two campaigns is that the latter PS2 ad didn't solely rely on pseudo-artistry and obscurity to confuse people into buying the product. It spoke directly about what happens when you play a PlayStation game and clearly took that other world as a metaphor for life itself. What was "This is Living" about? Absolutely nothing. But even then, some Sony ads about nothing have worked. This one just doesn't.
3. PS3 - Thumb-Penis ... because sex sells, duh
Ah, this one. It's the Austrian ad that took a man's livelihood and replaced it with his thumb for apparently no reason other than for the sake of "irreverence." Interestingly enough, this thumb-penis ad is also what inspired us to write up this feature. And because of that, it would be a shame to place this completely pointless, confusing, and incredibly ugly advertisement anywhere than a less respectable spot. Pun intended.
By now, you've probably already seen this TBWA\Wien creation, and the image has most likely given you night after horrific night of sleeplessness. Though we know you'd rather not see this man's deformed junk again, here it is one last time before you're compelled to gouge your eyes out. What is being accomplished here is an enigma; however, we do know it sure got people talking. If only Freud was around to explain things, then perhaps this might not have been a disaster.
2. PSP - Controversial "racist" billboards
Without a doubt, just one look at this billboard and you can clearly see what the whole commotion was all about. This ad from Holland sparked scores of controversy way back in 2006. While the various images of this ad campaign were certainly not intended to be racist, they definitely did very little to give people any reason not to interpret it that way. The fault here rested in Sony's naivety to have not thought that people would associate these images of human beings with historical sensitivities rather than the lifeless machines they're supposed to portray.
Sony defended their campaign as "clever marketing" but ultimately pulled the campaign out completely. Sure, it was clever to use powerful and provocative images like this as a metaphor for the PSP's color schemes, but it doesn't mean that it was tasteful. Just one tip, marketing/advertising isn't just about how clever you make your ads; what matters most is how people understand it and act upon it. Try to figure that out Sony, and then maybe this feature wouldn't have existed.
1. PSP - "All I want for Xmas is a PSP" Flog
The absolute worst marketing blunder ever done by Sony was the "All I want for Xmas is a PSP" flog from the holiday season of 2006. The reason why this one reigns supreme as the worst is because this was the most insulting to consumer intelligence. The idea of the flog itself was to pose as two regular Joe's (Charlie & Jeremy) who post amateur videos and supposedly personal writings in an attempt to get Jeremy's parents to buy the "teen" a PSP for Christmas. However, not a shred of content on the site was real (including some faked visitor comments); the flog was a complete lie and undermined consumer trust as the site was registered and run by viral marketer Zipatoni. When the jig was up, the internet was ablaze with both shock and disgust.
The aftermath? Well, within the same month that the "All I want for Xmas" flog went down, the Federal Trade Commission started to finally take notice of the issue on unethical marketing tactics endorsed by Sony and other alike corporate giants. From then on, it was necessary for companies to fully disclose any viral campaign plans. This campaign was so bad and ill-received that Sony won an award beating out McDonald's and Walmart for "Best flog of 2006."