How often, on average, does the word “adventure” accurately describe a part of your day? Not including the earthy aromas of public transportation or that time you decided to put Sriracha on your cereal. It’s a big part of the reason we watch TV shows like Game of Thrones, or cry over pro sports, or fry bacon shirtless. Sometimes you need a little more risk and drama in your life, right? That’s also part of the reason video games are no longer the sole domain of teenage boys, but have branched out to include people of all genders and ages, across all manner of genres.
It’s also part of the reason that Sony Playstation’s “Greatness Awaits” campaign is going into its fourth year. The brand doesn’t want its first pitch to you to be on tech specs or price, but rather the kind of action, adventure, and excitement a PS4 can provide, form the comfort of your own couch. In its newest incarnation ahead of this year’s holiday season, we meet a medieval king of some sort who has his own everyday malaise to contend with. And he does it like any other gamer, imagining himself conquering a cornucopia of foes and challengers, with references to games like God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, and more.
Playstation senior VP of marketing Eric Lempel says it’s a big year for the brand, with new software products, launching three new hardware products in 60 days (like the PS4 Pro and PlayStation VR), and this is the fourth holiday season for the PS4, so the goal from the start was to make something epic. “There are so many different approaches to do here, but when we talked to BBH and the team, we said, this has to be something epic, the audience has to love this, and it has to make them feel something,” says Lempel. “We could’ve rattled off a bunch of hardware specs, but that’s not what we do. We’re a company that tells great stories, and we wanted to wrap as many stories as possible into one and really excite the audience.”
BBH New York chief creative officer John Patroulis says that the primary focus from Lempel and Playstation team while the agency worked on the campaign was making it as interesting and entertaining for gamers. “Every time Eric and his team talks to us, that is the only focus. What is going to make gamers excited? And how are we going to give back to the gamers? That challenge is essentially their brief,” says Patroulis.
Depending on the version of the new ad you see, there are up to 100 references to specific games for gamers to spot. The ad was initially released on Facebook, issuing the challenge to gamers to find and identify all those references. Pretty cool stuff, if a tad expected from such a big entertainment brand in the marketing world of 2016. But then the campaign took things a bit further. And did so without any press promotion ahead of time, because Patroulis says the gamers’ enjoyment was the first priority.
As fans and gamers continued to comment, debate, and discuss the new ad online, they started hearing back from The King himself. Sometimes he’d congratulate them on their keen eye, and offer a bit more information on the Easter egg. But in other instances he went a few steps further.
“The kicker was the King started engaging with the audience and started giving away some of his greatest achievements,” says Lempel. “Immediately, the community went into a frenzy, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in a really positive way. That just continues the push behind the campaign, and also the idea behind our brand, the magic, the surprise and delight we’re always trying to achieve, came through all of this.”
It took a team made of people from the agency and brand on both coasts, sitting in a room together, with legal from both sides, a production team, all working in real time to react to comments and make quick decision on what would be fun for gamers, documenting it, and putting it back out there for everyone else to check out.
“Understanding how gamers experience these videos, and always looking for ways to give back, understanding that really how they watch these videos is that they scour them, looking for Easter eggs, almost gamifying the ad experience itself, and then they communicate in the comments,” says Patroulis. “Everyone wants to be first, talking to each other, and the community comes together around this experience of watching the ad. That’s where the insight came from, to take this epic thing to do what Playstation is always challenging us to do, which is to surprise, delight, and give back to gamers.”