Innovation & Design

Sony's Urban PSP Campaign Irritates Residents


Sony has apparently been paying artists to paint "fake" graffiti images of the PSP in some of the most populous U.S. cities. The marketing stunt, by and large, has not been appreciated by residents or the "urban gamers" it seeks to target. Some, however, believe it's a creative approach to modern marketing.

Hardcore gamers can be an almost frighteningly cynical and jaded group of people. This is a lesson that Sony is learning the hard way this week, after numerous influential blogs and message boards began calling the company out for paying artists in over a half-dozen major metropolitan areas to spray paint images of kids playing with PSPs.

It didn't take long for the gaming community to get to the bottom of the marketing, however. Within days gamers had sorted out that the images appearing across the country were in fact identical to one another. Artists began modifying the graffiti images to spout anti-Sony messages, calling the company out for their "urban" marketing attempt.

Sony Confirms Involvement

Initially much doubt circulated that Sony was behind the images at all. The ads lack any Sony or PSP branding, and show dizzy-eyed youngsters licking a PSP, riding a PSP like a skateboard, or other bizarre imagery.

However, Sony representative Molly Smith recently confirmed to Wired News that the company was indeed behind the graffiti, and mentioned that it had been commissioned in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and other cities.

"With PSP being a portable product, our target is what we consider to be urban nomads, people who are on the go constantly," Smith said.

It's worth noting that none of the graffiti is appearing illegally, however. The ads have all appeared on private property, and the owners were all paid for the rental of the wall space.

Strong and Swift Backlash

Although there are certainly examples of worse marketing in the video game industry (Acclaim's tombstone advertising comes to mind), one has to wonder just what Sony was thinking, and why the company believed the graffiti would not raise the ire of local citizens and the nationwide gaming community.

One message board poster on Gaming-Age went so far as to claim that the graffiti was so obviously going to incite anti-Sony feelings that it might in fact have been commissioned by one of the company's competitors. "No way Sony payed(sic) them to spray that crap. I smell a smear campaign," the poster speculated.

Popular gadget blog Popgadget received a letter from Los Angeles resident "Michelle" who was also upset about the advertising:

"Is anyone else concerned that Sony Playstation paid someone to vandalize our neighborhood to sell their latest toy, the PSP? ...For some strange reason, I'd rather see my friendly local gang lay claim to that wall then have it given over to some crappy corporation and their urban marketing campaign..."

Not All Attention Negative

Despite the defacing of some of the graffiti and very loud outcries from some within the gaming community, one has to wonder just how widespread this criticism really is. Piers Fawkes, who runs marketing trends blog IF, liked the campaign.

"It's a cheeky wink toward a savvy audience who are already familiar with the product," Fawkes told Wired. "It's reflective of modern approach to marketing. The creative classes are sick of marketing when done badly or blandly, but when it's done in (an) intelligent manner, we appreciate it."


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