Do not underestimate the power of Playstation
The brief for what became Playstation’s International Brand commercial, Double Life, had been sent around the TBWA Network.
Trevor (Beattie – the Chairman and ECD of the London office at the time) had passed it out to the whole department to try and find a speedy solution as the incumbent agency hadn’t managed to deliver anything Sony were inclined to buy.
My partner and I were keen to make an impression – despite network wide competition.
The proposition was ‘A box of mental stimulation’.
The objective, to raise the profile of the category in an attempt to break out of its core consumer base of geeky pubescent teenage boys by bringing a broader acceptability and dignity that was absent from the sector. We had a few days (including the weekend) to submit our responses.
Our instincts were to ignore the preconceptions of the market and head straight for the high ground.
A lot of the games at the time revolved around a basic number of lives restriction. The three strikes and your out paradigm. We were playing with the notion of what real life would be like if the same rules applied. In other words if you knew you had a few shots at it, how would you approach life. It would certainly free you of your sense of self preservation somewhat. It might conceivably turn you into the sort of hard-core extremist that wasn’t afraid of failure – even if failure meant death. If this was reality it would likely translate into and attitude of unfettered, hell-for-leather, go for broke, nothing to lose commitment that would be hard to argue with.
A point of view that would doubtless be the making of a formidable warrior. Or racing driver. Or space pirate, or whatever the order of the day happened to be. When you picture central casting’s version of the devil may care warrior your arrive at the typical Vietnam vet who’s spent so long ‘in country’ they’ve accepted death as inevitable and resigned themselves to it.
As a soldier, for instance, this lack of fear of consequences would give you quite an edge. Things got interesting when you cast against type.
Gamers aren’t Vietnam Vets with scars and a battle-weary thousand yard stare – they are people you meet everyday walking down the street. But via a PlayStation console and games the everyday person can become a battle hardened warrior.
They get to live a thousand lives like they had nothing to lose. That was the beauty of another life to play with.
In the virtual world, as in the analogue world, what that would do to you would be to accumulate a certain wisdom and experience way beyond your years. Beyond your life time. Or lifetimes.
So that’s what we stretched for.
And the more outlandish and unexpected cross casting the better. We wanted people that looked like they could hardly say boo to a goose talking about their proclivity for violence.
A policeman talking about breaking laws without a second thought. That was their crux and the real power of gaming. Not the individual games and graphics but the notion that you can be whoever you want to be.
And being whoever you wanted gave you permission to act out whatever crazy, unsocial, non PC fantasy you so desired and that was just fine. A life in a game was a life without consequences.
If we could have had gotten away with it we’d have had a car-jacking psycho killer vicar.
As it turned out we got a way with quite a lot anyway, and the idea of a life without consequences captured the imagination of a whole new generation of gamers. Several in fact. The ad was shot for TV and Cinema but it’s still clocking up thousands of YouTube views 15 years after it’s bought media has gone off air. It helped that the ad was shot by Frank Budgen. When he first walked in to our boardroom at TBWA he told me the monologue I’d written had caused him to cancel his holiday and return for our meeting. I guess I did ok.
He loved the odd mix of language. I’d thrown in some off the beaten track words and phrases like ‘hoi poloi’ to give the piece a sort of anachronistic vibe. It gave it a timelessness that has served it well over the years and helped it make it in to the Clios hallowed hall of fame in 2007.
And it still feels pretty fresh today.
Respect to Sony for agreeing to go with a piece that simply made for the high ground and believed the public would follow – without the need for game play. Respect to account manager of the time, Gary Lace, for more or less threatening to fall on his sword if the client didn’t concur.
It was a privilege to write a piece to which the public and industry responded so positively. We had requests for the transcript from schools and radio stations and even one or two libraries.
Sometimes the planets align and an opportunity like that comes along.
Then all you have to do is be prepared to believe you can rise to the occasion ever mindful of the warning,