DIRECTV wants us to know that we have a choice for our entertainment dollar. There’s cable and its many weaknesses, and there’s DIRECTV and its many positive qualities. But, how to tell us that in a memorable, even entertaining, way? The answer was obvious, at least to them: The many faces of Rob Lowe.
Let me say first that I like Rob Lowe. He was great in that one thing and a few years before that he was pretty good in that other thing. He’s a bit of an ageless wonder and has a built-in smirk to his natural expression that suits a humorous tone. He plays five characters in these spots that, at the very least, poke fun at himself, so kudos, dude. But, are these spots helping the DIRECTV brand?
If you haven’t seen them, there are several and they follow the same formula. The “real” Rob Lowe explains that DIRECTV is vastly more entertaining and sophisticated by comparing himself to an alternate Rob Lowe. The first alter ego in the series is “Far Less Attractive Rob Lowe,” who sports a comb-over, facial blemishes, bad teeth and beer belly. We are greeted in the next spot by “Super Creepy Rob Lowe,” wearing a leather jacket and slicked back hair, and who is maybe one step away from being a sex offender. Next we meet “Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe,” who has pants up to his armpits, a haircut from the 1800s, and bashful kidneys. The latest installment is “Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe,” who, apparently, shares some DNA with Chewbacca and lives with the social stigma of “arm hair curtains.”
DIRECTV could have summed this campaign up with a tagline like “Cable is for losers,” but where’s the fun in that?
There’s plenty of room for effective humor in branding. Southwest Airlines uses humor in their advertising, in the terminal, and even in their preflight safety briefings. They gently poke fun at their competitors around very tangible differences, such as charging for bags or for changing tickets.
GEICO has built a wide variety of humor into its brand, starting with the long-running talking gecko with a British accent, to a series of characters including socially sensitive cavemen, a goofy pig, and a talking camel that loves Wednesdays. (Still the funniest spot in years.) GEICO doesn’t even take a shot at its competitors, except to suggest that 15 minutes could save you…well, you know.
So, what’s the difference between what Southwest or GEICO does and what DIRECTV is doing? In this case at least, it’s in the message underlying the performance. Southwest has one. So does GEICO. But DIRECTV is covering up some pretty flimsy features with Rob Lowe’s self-deprecating characters. Here are some of the reasons Lowe lists for choosing DIRECTV over cable:
“I have the same incredible TV experience no matter where I live.” (The thing is, most people live in one place.)
“You get 1080p and 5.1 Dolby, the industry’s best picture and sound.” (A small graphic disclaims that it is only available from programming that contains it, much as with cable.)
“DIRECTV is number one in customer satisfaction, over all cable TV providers.” (Sounds promising, but tell us more about what you’re talking about, Rob.)
“With DIRECTV, you get 99.9 percent signal reliability.” (I’ve heard otherwise, especially during bad weather, but frankly, cable is up about 99.9 percent of the time, as well.)
The spots make some rather weak claims and gloss over a couple of good ones, leaving us with the broader comedy that labels cable users as, well, just plain creepy in a number of different ways. I’m going to guess that the marketing strategy here has to do with trying to flush out cable subscribers who are particularly annoyed with their cable company right now, enough to make a call and ask about the intro offer that flashes on screen at the end of each spot. But, belittling the very people you want to win over as new customers is a risky move, even if it’s being done in jest by a likable actor playing strange versions of himself.
DIRECTV has been growing steadily and now claims to be the “world’s leading pay TV service.” This campaign probably can’t hurt them too badly, and could continue to snag leads for new subscribers. But, positioning cable customers as losers could end up creating more backlash than they imagine.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.