Sony's Audacious "Mountain" Ad Pushed PS2 to New Heights

Sony's 2003 "Mountain" ad for PlayStation 2 used a $5 million budget and groundbreaking VFX to rebrand the console

Sony's Audacious "Mountain" Ad Pushed PS2 to New Heights
Sony was, quite literally, on top of a mountain in terms of PlayStation 2 sales when this aired. Source: Sony / TWBA / Gorgeous

When you think of iconic video game commercials, Sony's 2003 "Mountain" ad for the PlayStation 2 is probably one that comes to mind.

It was ambitious to say the least.

The live-action/CGI spot depicted a massive crowd forming a literal mountain of bodies, all clamouring to reach the coveted top spot. A metaphor, if you will, for the always fun and sometimes competitive nature of online gaming on PlayStation 2.

Part of the broader "Fun Anyone?" marketing campaign, "Mountain" aimed to expand the PlayStation 2's appeal beyond its core young male audience to families and casual gamers. With a staggering $5 million production budget, it was one of the most expensive ads ever made at the time.

Source: PlayStation Europe

The 60-second blockbuster commercial opened with a man teetering on a skyscraper ledge, as the 1930s Shirley Temple song "De Gospel Train" inexplicably played. Suddenly, hordes of people filled the streets below, rushing towards a growing human pyramid scaling the side of a building.

Source: PlayStation Europe

Through frenetic editing, the crowd transformed into a literal mountain, with people violently shoving each other aside to briefly claim the peak, only to be unceremoniously knocked off as the next contender took the throne.

Source: PlayStation Europe

The audacious visuals portrayed the connected PlayStation 2 community as an admirably competitive but welcoming gameplay environment, encapsulating the ongoing friendly struggle to dethrone each other's high scores and achievements.

Source: PlayStation Europe

Directed by Frank Budgen of Gorgeous Enterprises, "Mountain" was an unprecedented logistical challenge. Over 1,500 extras were employed, including stuntmen and acrobats, to film the elaborate crowd scenes in Rio de Janeiro over six days.

However, the most impressive aspect was likely the CGI crowd replication by VFX house The Mill, which created a whopping 146,000 digital characters using Weta Digital's groundbreaking MASSIVE software. This allowed for stunningly realistic wide shots of the titular human mountain.

Source: PlayStation Europe

The final product was a tour de force melding the latest VFX technologies with audacious concepts and ambitious live production values. It paid off with ubiquitous airplay and over 40 major advertising awards, including the elite Film Grand Prix at Cannes.

For Sony, "Mountain" and the accompanying "Fun Anyone?" push successfully rebranded the PlayStation 2 as a mainstream, family-friendly platform without alienating its original audience.

PlayStation 2 sales spiked during the 2003 holiday season, increasing its console market share from 74% to 77%.

More than 20 years later, "Mountain" remains a milestone for video game advertising's increasingly cinematic scope and production values. It proved that even for mature gaming platforms, innovative, family-accessible marketing campaigns could substantially expand the consumer base.

Sony's daring investment briefly allowed it to tower over the competition.