Vita marketing

With the PlayStation Vita launching in just over a week, one might have expected the amount of advertising for it to have been greater than what we’ve seen in recent weeks, but that will soon chance. With Sony in a pretty rough situation financially, we know the handheld getting off to a strong start would be a major boon for the company. That’s likely part of the reason why Sony is making the marketing campaign for Vita its largest ever for a videogame system. And although Sony does not face all of the same problems as Nintendo did in marketing the 3DS at launch, it does undeniably have a challenge ahead.

You may have noticed the flood of Vita-related content both here at 1UP and elsewhere today. With the embargo lifted we’ve got a detailed breakdown of the system itself, a review of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and a look at many of Vita’s other launch day games, with more to come as the week continues. While Sony can be sure all of this will get Vita on the minds of many gamers (for better or worse), it will not necessarily reach as broad of an audience as Sony would like. That’s where ad dollars come into play.

Speaking with the New York Times, John Koller, the senior director for hardware marketing at Sony, revealed $50 million is being spent on the Vita’s marketing campaign, which is “the largest platform launch in terms of marketing investment we’ve ever had.” By now you may have seen the Taco Bell promotion where Vitas are being given away to lucky customers, but that is only one facet of all this. Television commercials, digital advertising, billboards, and retail partnerships are among the ways Sony is hoping to get the word out on Vita with its “Never Stop Playing” tagline. It will also try to harness the power of Twitter with promoted tweets and by pushing a hashtag, #gamechanger, in those advertisements, as seen in the image above.

Sony finds itself in a similar position to where Nintendo was a year ago. Nintendo had the challenge of trying to convey the concept of glasses-free 3D through non-3D advertising methods, which was no easy task. At the very least, the company could partially rely on people knowing 3DS was a system you would eventually be able to play games like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 on. Sony doesn’t have that luxury, but it still has to deal with what Nintendo did: trying to market a new handheld to consumers who now have access to alternatives they did not when the PSP and DS debuted in 2004 and 2005, respectively. And now devices like the iPhone and iPad have had an additional year to penetrate the market, with Apple rumored to be preparing the iPad 3 — a product that will be competing for the same entertainment dollars as the Vita — for a March reveal and launch.

As much as some gamers like to be snobby about the games available on iOS or Android platforms, there is no denying a segment of people are now content playing games that are free or no more than $0.99, and this isn’t only true of people who would have never had any interest in a dedicated handheld gaming device. Last night I laid down in bed with my 3DS and ended up not using it because I got sidetracked playing Scramble With Friends on iPhone and PopCap’s new Facebook game, Solitaire Blitz, both of which are free.

Whereas Nintendo had to explain glasses-free 3D, Sony’s ads have to sell a system that is upwards of $80 more expensive than the 3DS and lacks the phone-calling features of an iPhone, plus the screen size and battery life of an iPad. What it does have going in its favor is the ability to offer a more console-like gaming experience than the competition, although the existence of a game like Infinity Blade II hurts Sony’s ability to rely heavily on the Vita’s graphical capabilities. That could ultimately be a blessing in disguise for Sony; graphical capabilities did not cause the technologically-superior PSP to outsell the DS, and it’s unlikely to be enough on its own to catapult the Vita to any significant degree of success. If Sony instead tries to push Vita’s social connectivity and the software, which seems to be quite strong for a system this early in its life, it could strike a chord with consumers that PSP was never able to.

By Chris Pereira