Why Don't We Play Together?

The American Dreamcast launch has gained something of a mythical status in this zeitgeist period of celebratory retro-overindulgence. The whole 9.9.99 campaign was a major success as far as console launches went up until that point, and the advertising slogan (It's Thinking) was a fairly interesting tagline that implied that the system was so advanced that it could become self aware at any moment, unhook itself from the TV and bludgeon you to death with an iron while you slept soundly in your cosy warm bed. Happily, reports of this type of occurence were swept under the rug by Sega of America's black ops dept and so life just went on as normal for the vast majority of us. The UK release of the Dreamcast was intended for the first half of September 1999, but due to British Telecom's testing of the Dreamcast network running over deadline, the system didn't launch until October. That's not really relevant here though - what I want to look at in this post is the marketing stategy Sega Europe employed in place of the mighty 'It's Thinking' campaign waged by their US colleagues. The story behind the Dreamcast's various UK and EU advertising campaigns is a muddled one, and involves a plethora of different agencies fighting for a slice of Sega's reported £60m marketing war chest.
This man will happily eat your soul. With Cianti.

The company responsible for the launch at least, appears to be a firm that is still going strong today - London-based advertising house WCRS - and they are credited with coming up with the whole 'Why Don't We Play Together?' and 'Up To Six Billion Players' slogans. Both of these are, on the face of things, pretty good and project an image of a console designed to be fully hooked up to the world wide web and built from the ground up to be functional online. To be honest though, back in 1999 this really wasn't the case and as such Sega were forced by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority to remove these claims from it's adverts both in print and on TV. So far, so disasterous. That said, the system did have a largely successful launch period, selling 300,000 units in the period up to Christmas 1999 and while the campaign created by WCRS can hardly be considered as successful as their earlier collaboration with Sega ('To Be This Good Takes Ages, To Be This Good Takes Sega'), the TV ads featuring a barber duel and a load of kids chucking stones at a buoy did at least help to shift a few consoles; and even convinced Sega to open a call centre to deal with the influx of expected customer support calls. On a personal note, I really like the 'Up To Six Billion Players' slogan as it just says 'this is massive' to me. Obviously, six billion Dreamcasts could (and should) never actually exist, lest we be overrun by a totally different form of grey goo (yellowing goo?) and beeping VMUs. Nice thought though.
The Sega account passed from WCRS in 2000 and was taken over by Bartle Bogle Hegarty - the team responsible for the slightly racist series of TV and print ads that invited online gamers in the UK, France, Germany and Spain to spank 'Johnny Foreigner' during an online game of Chu Chu Rocket. Once again, the Advertising Standards Authority stepped in and told Sega to pull the ads. In this era of 'cyber bullying,' that was probably quite a wise move and a bit of a blessing in disguise for Sega - who knew that the Dreamcast was also the birthplace of racist trolling?! Take that Xbox Live - yet another feather in the cap for Sega's magnum opus!

Other firms involved in the pan-European marketing included Carat UK and Initiative, and they both had different roles in the rollercoaster that was the short and tempestuous life of the Dreamcast.

This is by no means an exhaustive look at the various advertising blunders by Sega Europe during the Dreamcast's life, you understand. I just wanted to look a little deeper at an aspect of the console's life that is very rarely investigated by any anyone who isn't already invested in the advertising sector. The one thing we can take away from all this though, is that SoA's campaign kicked ass; while SoE's campaigns were - although quite humourous - something of a misfire.


Aaron said...

Living in the US, and being 12 at the time of launch, I've never seen the EU/UK ads. Man, those are pretty bad. Cruel even (I love my Dreamcast, but give away my dog for one? Never!).

Game console ad campaigns nowadays are too bad, and at their hearts even hearken back to the 'It's Thinking' campaign, but there was something...alive almost about the 'It's Thinking' campaign. I don't think it's been matched yet.

Tom Charnock said...

Yeah - that campaign was pretty great in all truth. Don't know what SoE was doing back then to be honest. From the game case design to the advertising to...well, everything really!

ian said...

The worst thing was Sega Europe spunking what seemed to be 99% of its advertising budget on sponsoring umpteen football teams. Including Arsenal who wore Dreamcast shirts when it became clear our beloved DC wasn't long of this world.