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Copywriting & PS4: The Pyramid Scheme

Playstation Ethos

according to PS4…because reality is apparently too boring…

Warning.

This is a long article.

I love long articles.

How else can you really go in-depth?

I love long attention spans, long sentences, long blog posts, long books, long headlines, long commercials, long-tail search, and long hair. My last blog post was merely a pre-amble to a long-planned long-term series of blog entries, but I decided to wrap that crap up now and here, for a few reasons I’ll get into later and somewhere else.

Copywriting, like everything else in the universe, is based on the shape and scheme of a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is the goal of your writing, and the rest of your writing supports that goal. The goal is the eye on the top, the next couple bricks are the headline, the next layer is the first sentence, the next layer is the first paragraph, and if they’re still reading by then you’re lucky, or really good. Each successive sentence and paragraph supports the previous ones.

From the Playstation Ethos commercial

From the Playstation Ethos commercial

Copywriting is writing with a goal. You don’t just write coherently with good grammar, as the SEO clients request, you write to capture attention and influence the reader. This kind of writing takes a lot of time and crafting, and a long attention span, and, incidentally, that’s not really how I write this, my personal blog. I write my personal blog mostly to have fun and experiment and practice writing, and transmit high quality ideas to other people who have long attention spans. But mostly to do my personal work and have fun.

After all, as Noah Bradley says, if you don’t do your personal work, you go crazy. And since my personal work tends to be long, it’s not the best place to advertise my copywriting, which, as mentioned, is designed to capture attention quickly.

Take Twitter, for example, which limits tweets to 140 characters. Copywriting at its finest! The Twitter playground reminds me of the Wall Street stock exchanges, with thousands of loose neck-tied professionals screaming and yelling at banks of monitors. You have exactly 140 characters to capture someone’s attention. If you can’t do it, tweet again. And again. And again. And again. And…oops!

You’ve annoyed them too much and now they unfollowed you. One exclamation point too many. Capturing attention is not an art form, as many internet marketers would fart. To say something is an “art form” means nothing. I prefer the term “craft” over “art.”

Playstation wants you to play

Playstation wants you to play

“Art” in my world means creativity, spontaneity, and the opposite of science, which is calculations based on proof. “Craft” is a balance of both art and science. Carpentry is a good example of a craft. You have a pre-defined amount of space and material to create an aesthetitically pleasing, yet functional object.

Writing can be art, science, crap, or craft, depending on its function. But goal-oriented copywriting is craft, which, because it has goals, implies design.

I hinted at this in my last blog post with the PS4 commercial analysis, For the Players Since 1995. That particular commercial was designed for a specific purpose, i.e., to support the slogan, “This is for the players,” which slogan was, in turn, designed to support the marketing strategy in the Great War of the PS4 vs. the Xbox One.

Let’s take a look at this ad to see why the Xbox One is about as dry as the Arizona desert.

 

Now watch this and see why, in comparison to the PS4, the bland Xbox One does not deserve a place in history or anyone’s living room, anywhere, ever.

 

As we can see, there is a slight difference in the ad campaigns, but some of you might be saying, “What does any of your rambling have anything to do with anything anywhere ever?”

Others may be saying, “Okay, so their ad campaign sucks, so what? Xbox One’s still a good device. It still has cool games and does pretty much the same thing that the PS4 does.”

Hi, I'm old and boring

Hi, I’m old and boring

If all things are pretty much equal, then I would not choose Xbox One, based on how much care and effort they didn’t put into their campaign. I think it’s quite amazing that Sony, some no-name whatever company from some little island off China, has managed to create a gaming device that is outselling Microsoft. After all, the USA dominates the world, and Microsoft has dominated the USA’s technology industry for a long time, yet Sony has created the most amazing place to imagine and play: the Playstation Nation.

Supporting the PS4, powering this David’s rise to meet the Goliath of the Xbox One, lies their energetic marketing campaign, which supports on one copywritten slogan, “This is for the Players.”

At the end of For the Players Since 1995, we see the slogan directly beneath the name of the device, PS4.

Me too.

Me too.

Everything in the ad has been specifically designed to support that slogan, and that slogan has been carefully crafted specifically to support that device, the PS4. In the same way that the slogan supports the name, the whole commercial works together to support the slogan. Therefore, the ad supports campaign supports the slogan supports the device name supports the device itself supports the salaries of the people at Sony etc.

Thus, we can see how the design-oriented disciplines in marketing and advertising, such as copywriting, are shaped like a pyramid, just like everything else in the universe.

PS4: For the Players Since 1995

My last post analyzed a couple commercials from the PS4 and Xbox One campaigns, and in this post I’ll pick up with the PS4 commercial, titled on YouTube, “For the Players Since 1995.” This ad is so detailed and well-crafted that it would take a thesis paper to analyze everything inside it. But we’ll just scratch the surface, to get a rough idea of the kind of work that goes into good copywriting and advertising.

This commercial, of course, represents the culmination of the work of a slew of people, including copywriters, marketers, designers, filmmakers, actors, and so on. These types of commercials are fun to analyze, and a useful way to better understand copywriting. The creation of these commercials involves the same essential process as copywriting: design. In fact, this is the goal of most writing, which is why different “types” of writing skills are so transferable. They all involve the same essential design process.

But on to the commercial.

“For the Players Since 1995” is a coming of age tale, a tragedy, a romance, a bromance, a story of heartbreak, and a story of adventure. We follow Daniel from his high school years to his post-college years, and throughout the ad, the Playstation acts as a centerpiece and an anchor in the storm of Daniel’s normal life. While he grows older, friends and girlfriends come and go, but the Playstation remains.

I can’t emphasize enough the extreme level of detail the creators put into this commercial. To get a glimpse of this, count the number of red and white objects you see in the first thirty seconds. And then count how many objects and symbols you see recycled throughout the commercial. For example, you’ll see a number of guitars, bicycles, Playstations, TVs, Domino’s Pizza boxes, signed shirts, and so on.

 

 

Most of the commercial’s Playstation “eras” are accompanied by band posters — such as Blur, Kasabian, and Tinie Tempah — that indicate the time period. Signed shirts denote Daniel’s graduation from high school, university, and then something else, perhaps a dojo. There are color scheme changes, lighting shifts, and musical shifts, which act to change the mood and transition the story into new life periods. The dialogue bits are windows into the players’ lives, and each little interaction suggests backstory.

Girl’s hand shoots up to Token’s hand. The poster on the wall timestamps this PS3 “era.”

For instance, at around 2:24, as the camera leaves the player party and pans back to the PS3 and TV, the girl’s hand jumps up to Token’s hand at the controller (the black guy). Why? To suggest some love interest, obviously. Maybe this level of detail sounds a bit extreme, and maybe I am reading a bit too much into an innocent action, but the director told her to do that for a reason. When you sit down and actually look at some of the commercials being fed to us on a daily basis, you will start to notice some extreme attention to detail. Lots and lots and lots of work goes into the creation of a commercial like this.

Everything in the commercial is designed with a specific purpose; the commercial has been engineered to support the “This is For the Players” mantra, the latest battle cry of the Playstation Nation. This five-word slogan did not come out randomly at the water cooler or on the toilet. Like all good copywriting, it was crafted over a period of time and takes into account the bigger marketing strategy, the business aims, and the audience. “This is For the Players” is designed to fulfill a specific strategic function, as mentioned in my last post, just as each detail of this ad is designed to create a specific impression on the viewer.

Two red, black, & blue jackets plus a Domino's box

Two red, black, & blue jackets plus a Domino’s box on the left

In the opening PS1 sequence, you may have noticed a large number of red and white objects, which all but disappeared in the later sequences — until, that is, the very final image of the ad, when you see a red and white race car skidding into the future. The PS2 color palette cools down a bit, and in the PS3 sequence, you notice more objects which are red, blue, and black. By the time the final sequence has arrived, Daniel’s apartment is cleaner, more modern, and the modern feel is reinforced by a futuristic blue and purple palette.

Attempts to overanalyze the purpose or the “why” behind the color schemes and significance of the objects might yield some interesting ideas, but it would often just be an exercise in speculation, since only the creators really know the answer to such questions. For example, I could attempt to draw parallels between the red-white-and-blue of the Domino’s boxes and the British flag that appears a million times, or the significance of the guitars and bicycles as objects that thematically suggest playfulness and competition. Such analysis and speculation is a useful way to study copywriting, but there’s no point getting caught up in circumstantial theory.

The abundance of detail put into this ad, and the PS4 ad campaign as a whole, indicate an assertive, knowledgeable approach to their campaign and their target audience. Every time you watch this commercial you will see something new, and that goes quadruple for the Players. I can’t even begin to count the number of game references in this ad.

This ad is one of the more interesting and carefully constructed commercials from which to study high quality copywriting and advertising. I suggest watching it at least one more time. You will certainly notice new things each time you watch it.

 

And after you watch it again, watch this:

 

 

Obviously not all commercials are created equal.

 

 

Copywriting: PS4 & Xbox One Showdown

This copywriting leaves no doubts in your mind. You know exactly what this place is about.

Not the most grammatically correct English, but you know exactly what this place is about.

My little post about why you shouldn’t write how-not-to articles has a parallel in the world of copywriting. The examples I’ve linked to all have something in common with bad copywriting: Don’t Tell it Like it Isn’t,  as Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting so succinctly summed it up. The most vivid example in his article — for me at least — is the gym poster by Nuffield Health, and their dead-end slogan, “The gym. It’s changed.” You look at the poster and have no idea what they’re talking about. The entire ad epitomizes what not to do when writing, copywriting, or designing ad campaigns. This particular design reminds me of a teenager suffering from an identity crisis. “I don’t know what I am but I’m not that. I’m different. But I’m still cool.”

A piece of writing, copywriting, or an ad campaign should know what it is about and be able to sell itself to you. Let’s take a look at some better examples of copywriting.

 

Good vs. Evil, Right vs. Wrong, PS4 vs. Xbox One

Kids are cool and different, adults are not. This is the reason video game companies shouldn’t advertise to old people. Albrighton noted that almost half of PS3 owners were over 34, and suggested a few reasons why old people would be a good demographic to target. There’s a number of problems with this, I think, and they all revolve around age and the perception of cool, video games as being a “kids’ thing,” and adults as being uncool. There is a certain age where we all begin to lose our cool, until one day you wake up, look in the mirror, and realize that you are old and not cool. So if you run a campaign that markets to uncool old people, that console’s market might implode. Video game companies would alienate younger generations if they showed middle-aged folks behind a controller with beer and pizza. Sure, it happens a lot, but usually behind closed doors.

Kids don’t want to play a machine that old people play, because old people aren’t cool. Old people who play games don’t want other non-gaming old people to think they’re kids. And old people don’t want kids to think they’re not adults. The only way to fix this problem is to overhaul the worldwide perception that video games and Trix are just for kids. A multi-year, multi-lateral advertising campaign by all the major tech giants, video game companies, and eSports venues should be enough to convince the world that video games aren’t just for kids, they’re for everybody. But until that utopian age arrives, and people of all ages play video games together in harmony, we must live with the knowledge that only kids are cool enough to play and “get” games.

In his piece comparing iPad Air’s and PS4’s ad campaigns, Albrighton criticizes PS4’s “This is for the players” ad for being too busy, among other things.

 

 

At the time of this writing, the top comment under the YouTube video reads, “Playstation makes the best ads ever.” I loved this ad and I think it’s quite appropriate for its target audience: gamers. If anything, the ad needs more adrenaline, more action, more budget, more everything. The PS4 commercial should be compared to the Xbox One commercial or the iPad Air commercial within the context of their respective campaign strategies and audiences. PS4 shoots for younger, cooler gamers, but Microsoft’s strategy is much more ambitious.

Xbox One’s Invitation ad opens up with a twenty- or early thirty-something businessman being invited into the cockpit of a giant robot, but his smooth skin and babyface still don’t make him seem too old. This campaign is shooting for a broader demographic, positioning the Xbox One as the household appliance used for all your entertainment and communication needs.

 

 

Each ad campaign has a different approach to this virtual world of entertainment. The PS4 ad thrusts you into a vortex of gaming worlds (the type of chaos that many games throw at you), which would appeal to a young, imaginitive gamer. The Xbox commercial rather politely brings one world at a time into our mundane lives, invites “a new generation” to step into that other world, then brings that other world into the living room.

And both worlds become one…if you buy an Xbox.

 

Copywriting Serves the Marketing Strategy

And the marketing strategy serves the business’s overall world domination strategy. Microsoft takes on the family omni-device and PS4 takes on the hardcore gaming device. Looking at the big picture, we see that Microsoft aims for the more family-friendly-yet-still-edgy-enough approach to dominate the omni-device market while keeping its foothold in the gaming market via the household. Sony competes by being cooler and entering via the gamer brain.

Since brand or product must define itself clearly in order to appeal to a certain market, it can’t be two things at once. The PS4, by targeting the young gamers and defining itself as a gamer’s machine, can’t appeal to the uncool old people, for instance. The Xbox One has to maintain a more politically correct and calmer approach so as not to disrupt its family-okay image. Therefore, it can’t target adrenaline junkie gamers like the PS4 can.

Obviously, by defining their target market and focusing on that, they make certain sacrifices, because you can’t be everything. But they avoid the trap that befell Nuffield health, which failed to define itself at all — at least in that example. A brand differentiates itself by saying it’s not something, but doesn’t tell you what it is. From our case study of the console wars, we can see how each product shows and tells us exactly what it is, who it is for, how it defines itself for a target market, and how it uses copywriting and ads to serve its marketing purpose.

Resources for Further Study

This post owes inspiration to the above-linked posts by Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting. For those interested in learning more about copywriting, head over to his blog and be enlightened. Other good copywriting resources include the Ad Contrarian and Unmemorable Title.

Here is another one of PS4’s cool ads, which follows cool from then till now. In this ad we can see the age boundaries of cool being pushed slightly upwards. Perhaps by PS7 or PS8 we will see senior citizens playing from their wheelchairs, with the slogan, “Players Forever.”

 

 

 

Probably not.