The Problem with Kevin Butler
Sony announced this morning that Kevin Butler is back, baby! After taking a job as a VP of Carpet sales over the weekend, Kevin Butler was lured back to the Sony HQ with the prospect of project LLP launching. An idea he claims he came up with! With this announcement, Sony has begun their roll-out of their fall 2011 marketing campaign. And its up to good ole Kevin Butler to lead the charge once again!
I will say upfront, I really do enjoy the Kevin Butler ads. They are some of the most entertaining gaming ads ever. Which in some ways says a lot, but in more ways say nothing. I can’t remember a Kevin Butler ad that didn’t at least get a smirk out of me. He is really an engaging and memorable character, which says a lot when he appears for under a month at a time.
However as the title hints at, I do have problems with the Kevin Butler ads. The biggest problem I have, and honestly so should Sony, is that they don’t seem to work. And what do I mean by work? The idea behind any marketing push should be to build brand awareness and provide growth for the product you are selling. In the two years that the Kevin Butler ads have been aired, it has been really hard to show either of those actually working.
To help this point, let’s compare sales figures of games released before the Kevin Butler era and after. (For the sake of this section, we’re going to use VGChartz numbers. I realize not the most accurate source, but we aren’t looking for exacts)
Let’s start with perhaps Sony’s biggest franchise of this generation, Uncharted. The original Uncharted was released in 2007 (a factor that counts, but really won’t get into it here) and sold 3.68 million copies. Uncharted 2 was released in October of 2009 (just a month after the Kevin Butler ads premiered) and sold an impressive 4.74 million. Which equate to about a 28% increase over the original. Which I must admit is pretty impressive numbers for a sequel. But it is also one of the few franchises to show such great growth under the KB regime.
Killzone 2 was released in Feb 2009 and sold 2.67 million copies. Killzone 3 was released this past Feb and has already sold through 1.78 million units. As I mentioned with Uncharted, release window is also a factor (Killzone hasn’t gone through a holiday season yet for example), but then it becomes a slippery slope of explaining every difference between launches. Killzone so far shows a 33% decrease under the Kevin Butler era.
The original LittleBigPlanet released in October of 2008 and sold an impressive 4.47 million units. The follow-up released this Jan and sold 1.47 million to date. (The lack of a holiday season would also factor in here) This accounts for a 67% decrease in sales from the original title to the sequel. A rather frightening number.
This continues down the line. The Motorstorm franchise has seen a steady decrease over the generation with Motorstorm: Apocalypse being the worst selling one to date. Ratchet and Clank series saw a 35% decrease between Tools of Destruction and A Crack in Time.
The rest of their big franchises (that he has been involved with) are hard to gauge. There’s only been on Gran Turismo for the generation. No Resistance has come out since the advertising campaign. inFamous only has 2 months of sales data and felt that would be cheap no matter how you cut it. There’s only one Heavy Rain. One God of War for the generation so far. Sly was only bundled in a collection.
Anyhow, the point is, aside from the Uncharted series, no other series that has gotten the Kevin Butler treatment has shown growth in that time. Actually, most of them have shown a decrease in that time. As I mentioned before though, there are many factors for each of these games that could help account for some growth or some decline. Though I think some of the % speak highly no matter what excuses we make for them.
Now the one thing that I will note that I will use other circumstances for is the growth of the PlayStation 3 as it is the most popular counter for the success of Kevin Butler’s ads. Yes, it is true the PS3 sales have grown since the debut of Kevin Butler’s marketing campaign. Its true that his initial push gave the PS3 one of its best months on record. It is however also equally true that his marketing campaign was launched at the same time the console dropped 100 bucks to 299, and became just a bit more mass-market friendly. Now you can argue that the advertising helped push the price point or that the price point helped sell the ads, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can accredit it solely to Kevin Butler.
So the question then become, if the marketing campaign isn’t selling the product, what is it doing? The easy answer is it has gotten over Kevin Butler as a brand. he now represents the face of Sony PlayStation to many people. And it helps to have a recognizable figure at times. Its why Nintendo has kept Mario around for so long (other than selling well!) He ignites and energizes the Sony’s core fanbase. I’m sure everyone remembers his rousing speech at E3 2010
He also gains quite a reputation online. Look how many people followed his “adventures” to the carpet industry over the weekend. It was great, free, and easy press for Sony to keep people intrigued.
Kevin Butler has a place in the Sony world, but I do think its time for them to retire his advertisement campaign, and probably use him sparingly going forward, but we shall see. Maybe the future will tell us a different story than the last two years.