JMC: Sony made PlayStation a mainstream brand recognised across the world. How did Sony achieve this in Ireland since 1995?
NOH: Well it’s probably through a number of factors. .. we opened up an office in Ireland, which I think was one of the key factors in establishing Playstation in Ireland. To run a sales and marketing operation in Ireland, you have to have a presence. One of the things stemming from that (was) we were able to take our central European marketing plans and localise them and make them relevant to consumers within the Irish marketplace. So most importantly was the establishment of an (Irish) office and secondly the bringing of the whole marketing plans to a local level and changing them completely where it was relevant to do so.
In terms of building a brand, it was always going to be a huge challenge, coming into a market that was in huge decline with the decline of the SNES from Nintendo and the Mega Drive and Sega. Between that and the launch of Playstation there were a few other console launches such as the Atari Jaguar, 3Do from Panasonic, CD-i from Phillips. It was a difficult period to come into the marketplace.
JMC: In the early days when Sony was attempting to challenge the mighty Nintendo and Sega, what hardships did you come up against in opening up the marketplace?
NOH: If you look at various different consumer electronic companies, like Phillips and Panasonic, it was always going to be a difficult task to get the retail support, because ultimately building a big brand depends hugely on the retailer distribution to bring it to the consumers so the consumer has the ability to purchase it. So basically when we started in 1995 we started with a team of one, me.
So I pretty much had to do everything; from setting up the operation to setting up the physical warehousing and distribution, transport companies, physically keying in the product into the system, down to selling the product to the retailers and getting retailer support backed throughout the 32 counties of Ireland, putting the marketing plans together, appointing an agency, working with the agency, localising the plan. It was a huge task and a huge challenge, and I would have to say it was a risk as well coming into the business. I had to make the decision of do I go for this or do I stick with the company I was employed with at the time, but I think a lot of hard work and effort worked and I’ve no regrets about the decision.
Basically through time the team built up. By the time of the launch there was Sinead Lynch, who’s still with the company, and it was hard work basically six months on the road going to the retailers trying (to) win backup and support for them to stock the product at launch, and after. I think that one of the key factors for getting them on board was the fact that it was Sony; albeit Panasonic and Philips had failed, well certainly CD-I had failed and Panasonic was launching in around the same time, so it hadn’t really been a failure as such, but it was certainly encouraging to see the level of support from the electrical retailers knowing Sony, and the products that Sony produced, certainly helped gain the support at the retail level. Then it was really down to getting the support of the likes of the traditional video game outlets like Smyths toys and FutureZone, as it was then, which was to become EB and now Game. So even the retail environment has gone through a lot of change in the timeframe.
JMC: How did you get involved in Sony Ireland?
NOH: It’s interesting the way Sony Computer Entertainment approached the Irish market initially. They weren’t sure about opening up an operation in Ireland, (but there) were existing Sony companies already operating (here): Sony Electronics, Sony Music and Columbia Tristar. So basically what they decided to do was to appoint Columbia Tristar as the SCEE representative company in Ireland- it was a safe bet really because rather than physically establishing an entity it was an easy option to go into an existing operation.
The sales manager of Columbia Tristar at the time was an ex-colleague of mine who had worked in the same industry as me, the capital equipment industry. He rang me to say there was a position coming up so I went along to meet the relevant people both from SCE and Columbia Tristar, Andre Graham was the MD at the time. I had several meetings, they had several interviews, and they offered me a position. I had a think about it. I had a conversation with my wife. I was working in a completely different industry at the time, I’d never worked in the industry, didn’t really know an awful lot about it. So I did a bit of research about an industry that was in massive decline but ultimately I made the decision that I’d go for it.
JMC: What was Sony’s initial marketing plan for the Playstation when it launched, and how did this change as the console gained a foothold in the country?
NOH: It changed hugely. I’ll never forget our first campaign, which was SAPS – Society Against PlayStation. (We) basically ran an anti-Playstation campaign with some really good TV commercials using a bit of a geeky character who was the president of SAPS. It lent itself to a campaign because it was very campaignable. So we had this guy with the glasses and all the rest who had a strange salute sign-off and the tagline ‘Do Not Underestimate The Power Of Playstation’ and it was great.
The Christmas one was also great because he had this great song – it basically said parents don’t buy this for your kids, it’s a bagel toaster and called it all these things. This is not what they want, buy them a stick and he had this little song which went ‘its not too thin, its not too thick, its stick, stick, stick. It’s got some bark, it’s good for a lark, its stick, stick, stick.’ It was totally different and it stood out hugely and that was the initial launch period and after six months of that Playstation had really established itself. The TV creative was memorable, was discussed everywhere in marketing magazines, the main press, the business press, it was all over the place. We got a couple of actors and actresses who were the evangelists of SAPS and we put them on the streets and they were the real Holy Mary’s saying your kids will be demonised and corrupted by this device and we had a lot of fun with that in the early stages and it certainly was fresh at the time, but obviously that was a campaign that was purely to establish (the brand) and we had to move on from there.
So central marketing for Europe came up with a campaign that we felt was too advanced for our consumer at that time, so we embarked upon creating our own TV creative which is unusual for Ireland because of the cost of production. We used a young guy who is still on TV, Kevin O’Connell, in our commercial and at the time it was the right thing to do for the Irish marketplace. We developed a campaign which was culturally on top of the Irish market .. and that was the turning point where people stood up and took notice, appreciative of the face that SCE and PlayStation (were) very much a global brand but at the same time were very local.
In year 3 we then moved back to the central creative which was very strong and very different again and each year after that too, but all along the tagline for PlayStation was ‘Do Not Underestimate The Power Of PlayStation’ and I think that was a very strong line and worked really well.
JMC: How long did it take SCEI to ‘make it’ in the Republic?
NOH: Well that depends on how you define ‘make it’. To establish itself, year 3 was probably the big year, and that was through a combination of marketing campaigns that we initiated on the ground.. ..We had a lot of work to do basically to educate the Irish public as to what video gaming was and what it was about and that it wasn’t just for teenage kids in their bedroom. So that was a challenge and .. in the first three years we did a lot of educating of the public with a lot of on the ground stuff like road shows and work in-store and I think that all paid off and the third and fourth years really were big years for Playstation in Ireland. In year four we sold 182,000 consoles which was quite phenomenal.
JMC: The Playstation has become a cultural icon for the under twenties. How has Sony achieved this?
NOH: Again I think its in the brand’s presentation, PlayStation was always targeted from day one at the 18-24 year old marketplace, and through various different research and our understanding of that youth market we positioned ourselves as being one of these ‘must have’ brands of the 90’s like Nike. That was always core to us, with lots of underground guerrilla marketing techniques focused around students, nightclubs, pubs. I think they grew up with PlayStation, going from school to third level with this brand as part and parcel of their whole existence and we worked very hard at that. Having established ourselves as being that cool, edgy new brand, (we) had that aspiration factor, and once you have that the early and mid teens and even younger will always aspire to be part of that. So it really is getting the opinion formers, the hardcore gamers and the influencers on board and then they’ll bring everyone else with them.
JMC: When the PlayStation 2 was released what changed in your marketing strategy?
NOH: Well I suppose when we looked at PS2 we had to look at what differentiates it from PlayStation. Basically we decided that it was a completely different device offering so much more. PlayStation was for gaming and for gamers. PS2 we believe was much more so we were looking at a much broader market. It has DVD playback, (was) future ready for Internet connectivity, online gaming etc. Having looked at that we basically came up with an essence of the brand, which was that PS2 was in marketing terms an open gateway to a living future and out of that marketing speak came ‘The Third Place’.
JMC: Can you explain to me exactly where ‘The Third Place’ is?
NOH: A lot of people say what is ‘The Third Place’, where is ‘The Third Place’e, how do you get to ‘The Third Place’. It’s interesting because everyone has a different take on it, which is brilliant because that’s what it’s meant to be. It’s individual, it doesn’t exist, there is no place per se, it’s somewhere that exists within a person’s mind and different experiences will bring people to their own Third Place. It exists individually and different games and different PlayStation experiences will bring people to different places. So it’s a fun kind of nirvana between your work place and your home place you’ve got this space that you live in.
JMC: On to the games, how do you decide on what strategy to use when a new game from the Sony stable is released?
NOH: It’s something that’s constantly evolving but a lot of it stems from the development studio, which would have its idea for the game, which it’s passionate about so they’re the best people to speak to when deciding how to bring this game to market. We have a central product manager who manages the whole transition from the studio and the development cycle into developing all the various materials to bring the title to market.
Then on the ground you have local product managers who work alongside the central product manager and develop a marketing strategy for that particular title. It’s a combination of individuals who bring the title to market. Different games will have different things that you can do with them. We would have a look at the game and the type of content in the game and see where the core market is. If it’s the 18-24 year olds, if it is older, such as (for) a golf game, while a Disney game would be targeted a younger age group. Then you might have a Disney type game that would have gameplay that would be relevant for a much older age group even though it’s Disney, such as Kingdom Hearts which was a Squaresoft & Disney collaboration which was very much a Disney meets Final Fantasy even though it’s not a Disney Final Fantasy game. That’s bringing kids and late teens together in one environment and it worked very well. It really depends on the gameplay and the content, and if it’s a licence it depends on the licence. You can’t say there’s a directory of instructions to follow, it really is title to title.
JMC: Your most recent football title, This Is Football 2003 used an extensive beer mat campaign across the country to generate awareness. What made you decide to use this sort of advertising?
NOH: Well one of the things we constantly look at is alternative media. TV hits a lot of people in a short space of time but it’s expensive and we have limits to our budgets. So we constantly challenge our media agency, we have a separate agency specifically who looks after our media and media buying, to look for new opportunities and different opportunities to market our products. One of the things they came up with was beer-mats. However it wasn’t the first time we used beer mats.
We had a brand campaign using a computer distorted female, the strange headed woman called Fifi, and we had a lot of fun with that as well. We did the voiceover with an Irish accent, we also did the voiceover with a male voice, which was really weird, and we did one as Gaeilge which we ran on TG4. And we used beer mats for that. We are very much targeting an older age group, we’re not going after children and teens, like our competitiors, and beer mats are ideal for targeting people in pubs. We also use a lot of washroom advertising: behind toilet doors, urinals and cubicles.
JMC: The Playstation.ie website carries an extensive range of information for any PlayStation enthusiast. How effective have you found this, or do you put most of your focus on the micro-sites contained within it?
NOH: A combination of the two. We are one of the few countries where we have a dedicated web content manager whose sole purpose in life is to look after the website. We put a lot of emphasis on the website, update (it) daily and it’s got pretty high traffic. A lot of effort goes into the mini sites however we mightn’t necessary do all the work on them, relying on the central web team to do a lot of the editorial work for us. Certainly on the Irish specific content we do a lot of work. We build a lot of games and and we use a local agency to do that. In fact to promote the launch of the music game Frequency, our agency locally produced a game called Sequency which was a music based game. It’s still on the website and it’s good fun for instant gratification spending five or ten minutes creating your own tracks. Our central web team thought it was so good that they actually bought the rights to use it in Europe on all the individual European websites.
JMC: What is Sony’s outlook towards online gaming, and how will this be dealt with in Ireland?
NOH: In Ireland at the moment it’s non existent, and our approach to online gaming is wait and see. We’re in contact with the main operators about it, but until broadband penetration reaches a point, our hands are tied. We’ve launched elsewhere already but we’ll launch when it’s available. As for our outlook, it’s open. If a 3rd party publisher wants to launch a game on its own servers that’s fine. Our competitors insist on ownership of the servers and this has led to Electronic Arts signing all their online offerings exclusively to PS2.
JMC: Sony has had two great successes with peripherals: the boom microphone for SOCOM and more recently Eye Toy. Historically peripherals attached to games have been met with a lukewarm response, how has this changed with these two titles?
NOH: SOCOM can be played without the headset, but using it has opened up a new gaming experience for consumers (and) we’ve launched it at a competitive price point. We’ve had successes in the past with both the light gun and even the dance mat, and Time Crisis and The Jungle Book show this. The main thing about peripherals is that once they are priced competitively there will be take up, but if you price it out of the market it just won’t well. On the other hand, Eye Toy can’t be played without the peripheral but we’ve priced it as the same price as a normal software title so it’s reasonably priced as well as being great fun and I think our chart position shows this.
JMC: Many of our readers on gamedevelopers.ie would like to know if Sony will take the lead in picking up Irish development teams?
NOH: If there are any Irish companies interested in developing for our range of consoles, we can be approached. We have been approached in the past, and have given funding, but also work on the basis of upfront payment and royalties. We do have a 3rd Party Liaison Group within the company for dealing with these companies. We can and have done publishing deals with Irish companies to sell, market and publish with these companies. If any companies are seriously interested in developing for a PlayStation console, I can be contacted directly about it.
JMC: Finally, what do you think needs to happen in Ireland to get the our development industry going?
NOH: It’s a difficult enough question as there are a huge number of Irish people working in various different development studios across the globe. Most of these people learned their trade outside of Ireland and stay out of Ireland. The economic environment in the country will simply dissuade people from coming back because it’s just too expensive. Enterprise Ireland needs to put more emphasis on the fact that the games industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. They need to put a cohesive plan together to draw in investment from both the publishing and development community.
A little more emphasis also needs to be put on games design in the education system in the IT’s and even at second level. It’s a large business like the movie business and needs to be recognised as such. Importantly it needs to be recognised as a viable career.
The chief of the IDA recently said the future of investment will go to traditional ‘old economy’ companies instead of new economy companies, which includes games companies, and statements like this are not very encouraging.
Author Bio: Jamie McCormick is the former editor of the Irish Games website IrishPlayer.com, as well as a freelance writer for a number of magazines and sites around the country. He is currently studying Marketing in Dublin Institute of Technology.
community/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=121Discuss this article in our forum