The first time I ever heard or saw anything of Kevin Butler, was when I watched the Sony presentation from E3 2010. I felt like I had missed something, as all the way through the coverage of the presentation, this guy kept getting referenced. He then came out on stage and gave a five minute-ish piece about the PlayStation Move, which felt like I was watching a Presidents Speech in a movie. From that point on though, I wanted to learn more about this guy. What I began to discover over time, was that this bloke who kept appearing, was the lead figure in a series of commercials for the PlayStation 3. This series of commercials, whilst definitely weird by comparison to everything else, turned out to be very popular, and made Kevin Butler into a Rockstar of the Video Games industry. But, after a few short years of this run of successful commercials, they were halted; and Kevin Butler disappeared off the video gaming map. But why did he disappear? Let’s start from the beginning!
During the early 2000’s, Sony launched the PlayStation 2. It instantly became a huge hit, and to this day remains the number 1 best selling video games console of all time with over 155 million units sold. Come the midway point of the same decade though, and the tides began to shift away from the PS2. In Late 2005, Microsoft released the Xbox 360, and the following year, Nintendo released the Wii. Sony wasn’t going to be outdone though as soon after both rival consoles were released; Sony released the PlayStation 3. The PlayStation 3 was the most powerful console of it’s generation; however it was also very expensive! As a result of this, (plus a resource shortage pushing it’s release in some countries further back); people flocked to the other two consoles available on the market.
What is sometimes called the difficult third album also happens to video game consoles too, it happens to all the greats, with other consoles including the Nintendo 64 and the Xbox One. It follows the trend of one/two previous consoles dominating their respective market, to be followed up with something that while is a mega machine, comes with a major flaw that turns people away, pushing a company’s newest console into a few legs behind the rest of the competition. Well, this is what happened to the PS3. At the end of it’s run, the PS3 didn’t do too badly, selling over 85 million units, but at the start of the race, it was firmly in third place, and stayed there for a while.
In America, thinking that the only way was up from third place in a mainly three horse race; Sony changed direction on it’s advertising. Advertising in Video games has always been a tricky affair. If you want to see a good video on the potential pitfalls of Video Game Advertising, then checkout Yahtzee’s look back on the history of Acclaim Entertainment. In the UK, at the same time that Kevin Butler first appeared, Nintendo were still doing the rounds by advertising games with a level of celebrity endorsement, which they had done for decades. Meanwhile Microsoft were advertising the Xbox 360 by showing the hollowed out skulls of it’s fans. In America; Sony were about to do something much different to it’s competitors; they were going to throw in the element of comedy.
Jerry Lambert is a seasoned comedy actor with a long list of titles to his names. Possibly best known for his work in the TV series Sons and Daughters, he has also appeared in many major sitcoms and shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, King of the Hill, Everybody Loves Raymond, The West Wing, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Come the end of the 2000’s, he was then hired by Sony to become the face of a new series of adverts for their fledgling PS3, a role for which he would play up until the end of 2011. So who was Kevin Butler?
Kevin Butler was a fictional Sony Executive. He fronted a series of adverts very similar to a series of adverts (Good Call) for Foster’s Lager in the UK, where people would call him up with a question or complaint, to which Butler would answer with as much bravado as possible! The basic theme of these commercials was that the PS3 ‘Only Does Everything!’, and that it was the best console on the market for this reason. The first of these adverts was Dustin vs PlayStation which he would talk about MLB 09: The Show. The first two adverts didn’t feature the tag ‘It Only Does Everything’ as the slim PS3 hadn’t been released at the time. The first proper one was an ad for the announcement of the price drop of the PS3, with Kevin Butler fully taking on his persona, and creating the format for all future commercials of this branding, although it did have one element of controversy in it, so it was scrubbed, and re-shot.
The running gag of the Kevin Butler adverts wasn’t his bravado, or his intense way of telling people about how great the PS3 was; it was that his title kept changing. From the start to finish of the series; at the start of every video, he would have a title that referenced what was being advertised. These titles usually involved in him being the Vice President of something. He gave some explanation as to why his title kept changing in his adverts; but possibly the main reason for his changes was that he wasn’t really any good, so he kept being demoted to dreadful positions. Of course I could be wrong, it was suggested that he was Vice President of ‘Lots of Stuff’, but in one video for the game MAG, he was unknowingly helping someone to apply for the job which he currently held.
Titles he held include (but are not limited to):
- Director of Game Accuracy
- VP of Big Action Moments
- VP of First Person Shooter Relations
- VP of Family Showdowns
- VP of Silent But Deadly,
- Boombassador of Deals
- First Person Sensei
- VP of Sharpening Things
- Gift Giving Guru
- Chief Weaponologist
In any case of his intended employment at PlayStation; it didn’t really matter too much, as Sony kept spinning these videos out. I actually kept checking back to the Kevin Butler YouTube channel so I could see more of them when they got released. They did more and more stuff with him too; things such as other promotional material for games like ModNation Racers, or the previously mentioned stint at E3. They even used him to help launch a new series of advertisements promoting the fledgling PlayStation Portable device, featuring a character called Marcus.
So what happened? How did a successful promotional tactic which helped to turn around the fortunes of an ailing console, suddenly disappear off the map? Creating successful and long term characters in advertising is hard, but when done right, their longevity can last for a long time. Why on earth is it that in the UK we still have Meerkats and a Man shouting Go Compare? But again, for Sony, Kevin Butler could have been argued as a success, so why is he no longer around then?
As someone who followed the channel on YouTube, I remember there was quite a break in uploaded material. For months, the most recent uploaded video was an advert for InFamous 2. Every time I loaded the profile, it would play that video, and I knew that nothing new had been uploaded. He just dropped off the face of the Earth. But then; he returned. For a new series of commercials; gone was ‘It Only Does Everything’, now the commercials were called Long Live Play, with Butler throwing out his new job as President of Economy Flooring, and returning to PlayStation to induct players into the new Hall of Play on Facebook. But this didn’t last long, and once again, after a few short months, he had mysteriously disappeared.
But what really happened to Kevin Butler took place in September 2012. Jerry Lambert appeared in an advert for Bridgestone, where the company makes a promotional offer where customers could get the chance to win a Nintendo Wii system. Now, having just re-watched the video, at no point does Lambert’s character make reference to the name Kevin Butler. There is an element of his character briefly in it, but he hardly speaks at all. Sony however believed Lambert had committed trademark infringement and sued him. A few months later, both parties settled with Lambert agreeing not to appear in any video game advertisements for two years.
And that is what happened to Kevin Butler. A one of a kind advertising production which created a character who exploded and grew for all the right reasons, creating a memorable product; only for it to disappear at the drop of a hat! It’s a pretty sad story now come to think of it; especially as I bet many gamers still have fond memories of this character, only for him to be snuffed out of existence, like many other advertising promotions of his kind. Maybe there could be a future or return for the character?
Who knows, Sony could bring him back to advertise for the PlayStation 5, just a thought!