In the 1990s, video games felt like something of an experiment, a prophetic, rudimentary vision into the future of the 21st century rather than an immersive experience in their own right. Of course, many of these consoles succeeded, with the likes of games such as Goldeneye, Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time earning their place in video game history but their existence represented so much more to come for the industry.
Promising technological innovation and the seemingly ethereal cultural change, the new millennium brought competition, with the likes of Sony, Nintendo and newcomers Microsoft, each vying for the devoted attention of teenagers across the world. With the N64 still proving a popular console up until the release of the Nintendo Gamecube in 2001 and Microsoft not yet in the picture, Sony had to try and capture the market upon the release of its Playstation 2 on March 4th, 2000.
Whilst they could rely on their customer base that had previously purchased an original Playstation console, Sony didn’t have the pulling power of Nintendo, who lured in new players with their blockbuster names of Zelda, Mario, Star Fox, Samus and many more. Sony had such icons, with Lara Croft and Crash Bandicoot leading the pack, though the company favoured an entirely different way to advertise their product, enlisting the help of creatives and experimental visionaries from around the world.
Led by the agency, TBWA, under the control of creative director Trevor Beattie, the advertising campaign for the Playstation 2 was famously bizarre, showing off several unconventional visions that seemingly had little to do with the brand new console itself. Named ‘The Third Place’, the campaign included the works of the advertising Cannes Grand Prix winner Frank Budgen, who won multiple awards for his short Mountain, along with the Aphex Twin collaborator Chris Cunningham, who brought Mental Wealth to life, a strange advert that features a Scottish girl talking to the camera with an unusual bug-like face.
No doubt the biggest name of all attributed to the campaign was none other than David Lynch, however, who lent his expertise for the campaign’s leading commercial. Only one minute long in length, the monochrome commercial features several hallmarks of the director’s style including doppelgängers, an industrial soundtrack and even a callback to Twin Peaks and Dale Cooper’s iconic ‘thumbs-up’.
Despite being only a small, minor production, there is fascinating behind-the-scenes footage from the commercial, in which Lynch appears as animated as ever in the director’s chair. “Dave, start smoke. That’s good, Dave. Fire! Ok. This is so fucking beautiful,” Lynch shouts excitedly across the set at one point, with many of the cast and crew seemingly flummoxed by the filmmaker’s idiosyncratic style.
As the group account director for TBWA, Kieron Monahan, says in the behind-the-scenes video, “David’s approach was just totally different from anything we saw from other world-class directors”. Creating a certain excitement on set, David Patton, the European Marketing Director for Playstation, David Patton, also comments, “There is no else like David Lynch and its reassuring that from his point of view, and he said it himself, he’s been living in ‘The Third Place’ for quite a few years, so if there was one person that was gonna understand what we needed to communicate…it was gonna be David Lynch”.
Capturing the surrealism of his debut film, Eraserhead, Lynch worked with the Mulholland Drive camera operator Scott Billups and his longtime musical collaborator, John Neff, to bring the magical advertisement to life.