Giles Thomas has just accepted what must be one of the toughest
jobs in marketing. Like a young David pitching against the mighty
Goliath, he is taking Sega into battle against PlayStation.
As its new marketing director, Thomas will be responsible for launching
Sega’s new 128-bit console, Dreamcast, in the UK. Launching in Japan
next month and in Europe next year, Sega hopes the product - backed by a
pounds 60m budget - will return it to its former glory and knock
PlayStation off the top spot.
The battle will be bloody. In recent months, PlayStation has outsold
Sega’s Saturn by as much as nine to one. Sony also has a super-advanced
PlayStation 2 up its sleeve.
Most people would be quaking in their boots. Not Thomas. He is used to
life on the edge after his stint at MTV Networks Europe where he is
serving out his notice as head of marketing communications.
When I meet Thomas, at London’s new bar-cum-MTV venue Sound Republic, he
claims to be having an ’absolute bloody nightmare’. It’s 24 hours before
Sound Republic’s official launch and he still doesn’t know whether the
headline act, Puff Daddy, is going to show up.
Looking at Thomas, you’d have no idea of his panic. He sits on a sofa,
radiating an aura of calm as though he’s overdosed on camomile tea.
’You have to work in this loose, flexible way, particularly when it
comes to unpredictable musicians,’ says Thomas, ’otherwise you’d die of
Perhaps Thomas’ patience with musicians stems from the fact that he used
to be one himself. A guitarist for around ten years, his group produced
an album, two singles and was chosen by John Peel to appear at the ICA
as an up and coming band. But Perfect Vision - Thomas cringes at the
name - never quite got there. They gave themselves a time period to make
it big, otherwise they would get proper jobs. So in the late 80s, when
everyone wanted to get into advertising, Thomas decided to give it a go
His method was innovative. He placed ads in The Times, addressed to
agency chiefs who’d just got promotions, congratulating them and asking
to meet them. They included John Banks, then at Young & Rubicam and
Michael Baulk, then at Ogilvy & Mather. It worked - up to a point.
Thomas got interviews, but no job offers.
’I was incensed. I hate rejection; it’s like a red rag to a bull,’ says
Thomas. Sensing that the blue hair he was still sporting from his band
days had influenced their decision, he got rid of it and tried
A year later he was working as account manager - ’on the glamorous
Allied Carpets’ - at Y&R.
He spent seven years in advertising before going to MTV to launch its
VH1 channel in the UK and Europe. Thomas proudly notes his success at
MTV, where VH1 became Viacom’s fastest breakeven product launch and its
advertising and marketing campaigns won awards. Only time will tell
whether he will be equally successful with Dreamcast, but Thomas is well
aware of the pressure.
’We have a great product, which is four times faster than anything else
currently around, so if it goes wrong, it’s my fault,’ he says.
This is a brave admission, particularly at the moment, as no firm
marketing plans are in place. Research is still being conducted and
Thomas could not say how the product will be positioned or which age
group will be targeted.
’There are numerous routes we could take. PlayStation’s marketing was
clever in that they made the product trendy and then took it into the
mainstream. We don’t know whether we need to take that route. You could
argue that PlayStation, by creating a mass market, has done the hard
work for us,’ he says.
Despite the lack of a plan, he is confident of success. This self-belief
is something Chris O’Shea remembers when Thomas was at Banks Hoggins
’He was very self-confident which sometimes spilt over into smugness.
But I remember him with fond memories. He was hardworking, had
initiative and was a very good cricketer. He’s the sort of bloke that
likes to win,’ he says.
Robert Campbell, partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, also worked
with Thomas at Banks. He believes his strength is keeping level-headed
despite the chaos of the youth market.
’He’s good at being a sane man in a crazy world,’ says Campbell.
’He’s very in touch with the youth market. Sega needs a shot in the arm
and he’s the kind of bloke to do it.’
Account director, Banks Hoggins O’Shea
Marketing manager VH1
Head of trade marketing MTV Networks Europe
Head of marketing communications MTV Networks Europe
Marketing director, Sega UK