PlayStation 2 playing it big

'This will be the biggest product launch of all time.'...

‘This will be the biggest product launch of all time.’

Humble words they’re not, but coming from the lips of Butch Freedhoff, general manager of Toronto-based Sony Computer Entertainment America (Canada), in reference to the impending launch of Sony’s new-generation PlayStation 2 video game console, they can almost be believed.

With anticipation already swelling for the Oct. 26 North American launch of PlayStation 2, and retailers everywhere worried that they won’t have enough stock to keep their shelves filled through the critical Christmas period, Sony’s product marketing personnel can be forgiven for exuding a little hubris.

‘Everyone’s freaking out right now,’ says Freedhoff, admitting that a well-publicized manufacturing parts shortage will mean that only about half the anticipated number of PlayStation units will make it to stores by the scheduled launch date. All the same, he says, demand for the units will be met.

‘Everybody is going to get one,’ he says. ‘It’s just a matter of time.’

Although one would think it’s not necessary given the purported pent-up demand for the product, the launch of PlayStation 2 will be supported in Canada by a national TV ad campaign (created by TBWA/ Chiat/Day out of New York), along with a series of promotional initiatives developed by Toronto-based Segal Communications.

Rob Segal, president of Segal Communications, says the main thrust of the Canadian marketing efforts will be in the form of ‘on-the-ground’ promotions, including interactive game kiosks set up in NHL arenas across the country. The kiosks will allow hockey fans to sample the new 128-bit console, which can play DVDs and audio CDs and can connect directly to the Internet. The arenas will also be plastered with the usual assortment of banner, billboard and scoreboard ads.

To further promote the launch of PlayStation 2, Sony will be updating its national ‘Game Guy’ radio show, an advertising program aired on youth-oriented radio stations across the country, featuring a caustic, irreverent host who reviews a different piece of PlayStation software each week.

In addition, at key events across Ontario, Sony will be deploying a mobile theatre-on-wheels – a big-rig trailer equipped with THX digital sound, a 60-inch screen and eight captains’ chairs, as well as three stand-up units built into the side of the vehicle.

Segal says he anticipates Sony will up its promotional activity – including putting game kiosk units in malls and at video dance parties across the country – as more consoles make their way into the Canadian market.

‘We’re very big into grassroots, into guerrilla-style marketing when it comes to this product,’ he says. ‘It’s just going to take us a month or so to get our allotment of [game consoles] up here to get it all into the field.’

According to ACNielsen’s Canadian Video Game Market Tracker for June to August 2000, Nintendo and Playstation stationary game consoles were running neck and neck in sales, with each commanding 44% of the market, which estimates peg at approximately $1 billion. Sega, which released its next-generation, 128-bit Dreamcast console last year, still stands well back, at 11%. Meanwhile, U.S. software giant Microsoft has announced that it will be getting into the lucrative video game console market next year with the introduction of its X-Box.

With the spectre of increased competition on the horizon, it’s little wonder that Sony’s Freedhoff is eager to position PlayStation 2 as the focal point of consumers’ home entertainment world.

‘With PlayStation 2, we really want to dominate the living room,’ he says. ‘It’s really some machine and we want one in everybody’s home.’