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Why Sony PlayStation took over London Tube stations

Oxford Circus Tube roundels (above and below ground) were reimagined to feature the four PlayStation shapes.

Red Consultancy won the ‘Music and entertainment’ category at The Drum Awards for PR 2021 with its work on the UK launch of the Sony PlayStation 5. Here, the team behind the winning entry share the secrets of this successful activation...

The challenge

Tasked with creating a cultural cut-through moment for PlayStation 5’s UK launch, our starting point was the brand’s instantly recognisable imagery (to gamers and non-gamers alike): the iconic triangle, circle, cross and square shapes.

The strategy

What if we paired PlayStation’s famous iconography with other world-renowned icons to create something instantly recognisable, impressive and iconic?

We explored relevant partners/ icons and agreed a collaboration with TfL that would see PlayStation’s imagery paired with a British icon that had never been changed in such dramatic fashion to achieve an iconic brand moment that would highlight the importance of the launch.

We were launching the PS5 in the same month as competitor console, the Xbox Series X/S, so our activations had to win over core gamers and mass consumers alike to generate consumer preference.

We had to deliver the right balance of convincing committed gamers to choose PlayStation while signalling to the wider market that the brand was the major player in the console space.

We needed to create activations that delivered on both above audience goals, always conscious that our mass-market activity could never risk alienating our early adopters. And all against the background of Covid.

The campaign

During UK launch week, we took the London Underground sign (roundel) and paired it with PlayStation’s brand iconography. Oxford Circus Tube roundels (above and below ground) were reimagined to feature the four PlayStation shapes.

Four other London “Punderground” stations were taken over by games:

  • Mile End: an homage to Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales become Miles End.
  • Lancaster Gate: became Ratchet and Clankaster Gate.
  • Seven Sisters: became Gran Turismo 7 Sisters.
  • West Ham: became Horizon Forbidden West Ham.

We sent ‘teasers’ to national picture desks and key media the day before the official reveal, featuring the new roundels in biscuit form. This teed media up that something was happening and encouraged them to keep space free.

On launch day, to generate widespread coverage, we targeted broadcast media, nationals, consumer lifestyle, specialist gaming media, marketing and London-focused titles. As well as the comprehensive proactive sell-in, the team were inundated with reactive requests from media who had spotted the images on social media.

The activation was announced on social via a hero video and imagery dropping across PlayStation’s social channels, attracting immediate and widespread attention and excitement.

The results

Even without the benefit of natural footfall due to lockdown, the reaction was overwhelming. People around the UK were aware of the stunt whether they were a gamer or not.

We generated:

• 84 pieces of coverage.

• All major national titles, broadcast, online and print including Shortlist, Metro, UniLad, Mail Online, Evening Standard, ITV News and Good Morning Britain, delivering 986m+ media impressions.

It was the lead story on Reddit with a reach of over 40 million. Over 34k accounts (106 million impressions) shared the visuals on Twitter in the first 24 hours. On PlayStation’s owned channels, the announcement generated 9 million organic impressions.

The activation had the highest levels of social media engagement ever seen in a TfL commercial partnership. Despite unforeseen restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, the campaign managed to achieve over 3.2 million impacts across the five stations, with 1.8 million passengers at Oxford Circus alone.

There were huge levels of engagement organically on LinkedIn, with hundreds of posts from the creative and communications communities, and shoutouts by brands such as Dominos and Lynx. It even attracted engagement from international titles including The Verge, Wired, IGN, and Jeux Video.

Commentary focussed on the simplicity of the execution and called it out as a bright moment in 2020, including public commendation from the Mayor of London on Instagram.

The mass awareness generated helped PlayStation have the most successful UK console launch of all time. Over 2 million people signed up to retailer ‘Register Your Interest’ pages for PS5.

The PS5 achieved 69% market share compared to Xbox Series X/S (combined) sales in November, despite being on sale nine days later. (Source: GfK Chart-Track Data, November 2020.)

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for PR 2021. To find out which Drum Awards are open for entry, click here.

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