Hype Sheet: Sony's Dead Serious Side

The Pitch On the eve of the new Bravia ad's debut in the U.K., it's worth taking a gander at one of Sony's more prosaic creations. This commercial doesn't hawk a specific product, but rather Sony's entire lineup of high-definition goods—part of the company's ongoing "HD World" campaign (a.k.a. the "Feel" campaign, a.k.a. the "like.no.other" campaign). Confused? The narration in this ad won't help, as the voiceover asks a series of philosophical stumpers such as "What is plain?" and "What is dirty?" The rhetorical questions fly by for nearly a full minute, layered over images of urban decay. Finally, a ray of hope—an adorable moppet in a red raincoat, and the optimistic declaration that all we need "is a new way of seeing...Welcome to a new world." Without the visual aids—notably a closing montage of Sony products—one might think this spot was advocating some sort of utopian socialist revolution. Did Sony step over the fine line that separates high-brow art from contemptible bunk? Or is this an ingenious bit of brand building that'll play well across cultures?


Rip-Off Of The lingering, gorgeous shots of urban minutiae are pure art school, as is the lion's share of the head-scratching narration. There's really no good ad-biz comparison that pops to mind, but whoever directed this spot has likely spent some time watching Floating Weeds. And reading weepy, painfully earnest poetry while sipping port.

The Spin Sony is obviously going whole-hog on the HD bandwagon, as evidenced by its executives' latest statements. The company is committed to making three-quarters of its products HD-compatible by next March. That means getting technophobic consumers comfortable with high definition and its attendant price premiums. This commercial can thus be viewed as part of a hearts-and-minds campaign, trying to inform Joe Q. Public that "high definition" isn't just something to consider when purchasing a TV. Rather, it's a feature to look for when buying any new electronic gadget, from a digicam to a gaming console to a laptop. And Sony is here to kit you out in full—whether you like it or not, since they lock you in with proprietary tech.

Counterspin It's one thing to be avant garde, quite another to be obtuse. This spot holds your interest precisely because it's a little baffling—rather like Sony itself, which has historically undermined itself by insisting on proprietary formats no matter what the market's response. (ATRAC3 and Memory Sticks, anyone?) And thus I'm torn—while I appreciate the artistry of this ad, it's so lacking in humor or humanity that it comes off as fairly cold. Give me the Bravia or great robot commercials instead, both of which do a far better job of associating Sony with cutting-edge tech. The girl in the red raincoat? Not so much, especially if you're viewing her on a non-HD screen.

Takeaway The next 12 months will be critical for Sony. Against many expectations—including those of your humble narrator—Blu-ray seems to be hanging in there so far (despite Paramount's defection to the HD-DVD camp). That's no small feat, given how Sony pretty much botched the PS3 rollout by overpricing. So this may be a case in which Sony's excellent engineering trumps its typical marketing miscues. But with HD-DVD hardware prices set to really come down, can Sony keep cruising on its (alleged) quality edge? As someone who was alive (although not fully sentient) during the VHS-versus-Betamax conflict, you have to wonder whether history is about to repeat itself. And if Blu-ray stalls, what will that mean for this whole HD World strategy?

Hype-O-Meter 7 (out of 10). A hard ad to judge, given its deliberate obtuseness—your mileage will vary greatly. But it succeeds in its goal of spreading the word that HD isn't just for TVs anymore. And I'll confess to sort of enjoying the art-school vibe—makes me feel brainier than I really am.



UK TV commercials are generally less "obvious" than those in the US and frequently attempt to sell an image rather than simply providing the details about a product.

It's all down to the fact that they have to hold the viewers' attention, otherwise they'll just switch over to the ad-free BBC channels, or go and make a cup of tea. At least when I left the UK, TV commercials were only every 20 mins, infrequent enough to allow people to get up, make tea, go to the bathroom, etc. whenever there's a break.

Anyway, back to this Sony ad. It's clearly meant to keep you guessing and intrigued, so that you watch until the end. It's also selling the much battered Sony brand.