I expect that most of the issues with the Rob Lowe DirecTV campaign have been hashed out in various places over the last few months, but I don't think we could start posting here again and not talk about these ads.
That's the first in a series that has now extended to seven different spots, which is some Geico-level shit.
Rob Lowe: "Hi. I'm Rob Lowe, and I have DirecTV."
Super Creepy Rob Lowe: "And I'm Super Creepy Rob Lowe, and I have cable."
Right from the outset, this is kind of a weird pitch. Because... what is the pitch? People who have cable are creeps? Someone who is creepy definitely would have cable?
RL: "With DirecTV, you get 99% signal reliability."
The fine print here says "Based on a nationwide study of representative cities." Which seems kind of vague and evasive, but I don't know. Maybe it's true.
RL: "Now that's reliable."
Thanks for interpreting that figure for me. As the kind of creep who has cable, I'm far too busy taking upskirt photos to do math.
SCRL: "My cable's out, so I'm down at the rec center, watching folks swim."
Wow, I guess cable must be terrible. Oh, wait, this part of the ad is based on absolutely nothing. I mean, is there some figure you could be quoting about how cable is out way more of the time? As it stands, it could easily be the case that cable's signal reliability is actually 99.9%. I always get suspicious when advertisers hide figures like this. Why doesn't DirecTV want to talk numbers all of a sudden? Doesn't matter, right? The guy with cable is a creep! That's the important point. I guess.
RL: "I love that I can watch my shows and be worry-free."
Couldn't even squeeze in a second actual claim, huh?
SCRL: "And I love the smell of other people's hair!"
Well, I guess they had to set up that "I love" parallel somehow. Had to.
RL: "Don't be like this me. Get rid of cable and upgrade to DirecTV."
Of course, there are a lot of ways not to be like "Super Creepy Rob Lowe." Having cable would be about nine thousandth in terms of importance on the list of "Things that this fake person does that you should really not do." But implicitly insulting your potential customers for their current purchasing habits is always a really good way to move product. Like, if you were walking into a McDonald's, and some guy in a Burger King uniform started yelling at you from the sidewalk that you should eat at Burger King because only jerks and losers eat at McDonald's... is your next move to go to Burger King? I will answer that for you: it is not. (Side note: I would not have put it past Crispin Porter + Bogusky to try that when they were in charge of BK's marketing campaigns.)
So anyway, either this ad was somehow "popular" or DirecTV already had a bunch in the pipeline, because then they brought out several more. The second one was... problematic. Okay, more problematic.
It's funny, because he has terrible social anxiety! Oh wait, that's not really funny at all. That's a diagnosable psychiatric condition.
RL: "DirecTV is number one in customer satisfaction over all cable TV providers."
Okay, actual claim. Not bad so far?
PARL: "With cable, you wait forever for them to show up! I hope it's not a girl."
"And I'm Super-Lazy-Joke-Making Rob Lowe. I have cable."
PARL: "...or a guy."
Social Anxiety Disorder, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association: "A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. ... The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress." Sounds like a laff riot! Suck it up and get DirecTV, you pussy!
RL: "Fact: DirecTV has been ranked higher than cable for over ten years."
PARL: "Fact: I can't go with other people in the room."
Paruresis. A relatively common phobia. Also, a PHOBIA. Like, a legit psychological issue. Not just something that only happens to weird fey losers like Painfully Awkward and Probably Not Coincidentally Kind of Effeminate Rob Lowe.
Anyway, it goes on like this. The remaining list of Fake Alternate Rob Lowes not to be like: Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe, Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe, Meathead Rob Lowe (so apparently you suck if you have no muscle but also if you have too MUCH muscle?), Overly Paranoid Rob Lowe, and Peaked in High School Rob Lowe. Laugh-a-minute jokefests all.
So let's try and figure it out. What is the pitch? What is it? If we take it seriously, the pitch is, "These weirdos have cable. Which means everyone who has cable is a weirdo! Do you wanna be a weirdo? No? Then you'd better get DirecTV, weirdo!" If it's more of a joke, then all you really have is DirecTV going, "We're better than cable! Also, have a look at these at best mildly amusing alternate Rob Lowes we came up with to tell you that."
You know what these ads remind me of? Apple's "I'm a Mac" ads. There are quite a few similarities: you've got one company treating a bunch of different companies as a single monolithic entity ("cable" means different things depending on where you live, much like how there are various manufacturers who produce "PCs"); you have the company not just claiming to be better than its competition but also depicting that competition in the form of someone intended to be less appealing; you have usually pretty vague descriptions of what the differences actually are; and, of course, you have the advertising company with a substantially smaller percentage of the market share.
I understand that whoever's behind tends to feel the need to go on the attack. It's why Pepsi goes after Coke but not the other way around; it's why Taco Bell couldn't just say "Hey, we've got breakfast food now," but felt the need to go after McDonald's in the process; it's why the political races in which the most mud-slinging goes on are the close ones. It makes sense in principle - if most people are going with your competitor already, you feel like you can't just say "Here's what I've got." You have to say "Here's what I've got and HERE'S WHY IT'S BETTER. You should change what you're doing." Again, in principle, this works. In practice, however, it comes off as insulting far too often. Taco Bell's ad attempts to suggest that Egg McMuffins are old and tired. But if you're the sort of person who eats Egg McMuffins all the time, it's probably because you like Egg McMuffins. And hey, maybe you're not going to appreciate being called old and tired for your taste preferences!
DirecTV doesn't have that same kind of problem - no one uses cable because they just fucking love cable so much - but nevertheless, this campaign implies that people who use cable are somehow inferior. Which is just sort of weirdly insulting, and hardly the thing that's going to get people beating a path to your door, especially given how strong the pull of inertia is. DirecTV may indeed be more reliable than cable, but as long as your cable is pretty reliable, I can't imagine that being compared to Super Creepy Rob Lowe is doing much to convince you to switch. There may be a subset of people who are so unhappy with cable that literally any pitch will sway them, but I'm guessing it's not huge. Oh, and I hope everyone in that subset has a clear view of the southern sky.