DirecTV may have to reevaluate its “Do first, ask forgiveness later” mentality after consumer watchdog groups accused the company of false advertising.
The news broke this week when the company’s highly popular Rob Lowe ads were called into question at the request of Comcast over the validity of DirecTV’s statements that the programming provider has “better signal reliability than cable” and “shorter customer service wait times.” Both claims were disputed by cable giant Comcast in a formal complaint to the Better Business Bureau National Advertising Division (NAD), who issued a statement that DirecTV’s key advertising points were “unsupported” and that the campaign should be discontinued. Although this may seem like blow to the satellite-TV provider, the news couldn’t have come at a better time.
In a statement to The Wrap, DirecTV’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Jon Gieselman said that the Rob Lowe campaign was always scheduled to end at the end of the first quarter to make way for the launch of a new campaign starring model Hannah Davis, who was on the cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This works out perfectly for the brand since the Lowe spots completed its life cycle as the recent complaints have come to light, but amidst all of the controversy, was the campaign successful? From a marketing standpoint, absolutely!
According to Los Angeles Times media writer Stephen Battaglio, before the inception of the campaign, DirecTV was losing subscribers, but subscriptions to cable alternative grew the past two quarters during the ad campaign. Numbers and accusations aside, though, the general public seems to have enjoyed the spots, and to the NAD, that is the problem.
The soul purpose of advertising is to get people to commit to your brand, but as much as we enjoy some of the more-entertaining marketing ploys, it is rare that false claims don’t come back to haunt advertisers. DirecTV’s campaign did a great job of capturing its target demographics through the use of humor, but what false advertising claims do is damage long-term brand loyalty, which is more important than new customers. The lifeblood of any business is its returning customers, something that will not come from deceptive marketing practices.
Maybe the most disturbing part of this story isn’t “Super-Creepy Rob Lowe” as featured in the ad spots, but DirecTV’s reaction to the NAD’s claims. The company stated that it “continues to believe that the various Rob Lowe advertisements are so outlandish and exaggerated that no reasonable consumer would believe that the statements being made by the alter-ego characters are comparative or need to be substantiated” — which in itself sounds like an admission to false advertising.
So was it the intent of DirecTV to deceive potential new clients to lure business away from rival cable companies? Most likely yes. There is a very skewed perspective between consumers and advertisers and the way they see successful advertising. Consumers see advertising as a way to learn about products and make informed decision about potential purposes. Advertisers, on the other hand, measure a campaign’s success in dollars, which is why it is not uncommon for companies to stretch the truth in regard to the claims of their products and services, a practice that will not conclude any time soon. And from a business perspective, why would we expect it to end?
Despite the BBB NAD’s request for DirecTV to pull the ads, there is no legal action which can force the satellite-TV company to do so. Although the campaign will come to an end at the end of this month, the moral of the story is not everything you see is what it appears, and as a consumer, it is always necessary to research a product or service before committing to it on a long-term basis.
As far as the Rob Lowe campaign goes, it may not be gone forever. In a statement, DirecTV said, “We always reserve the right to bring back the Rob Lowe campaign, either in its current form or with new spots, it has been extremely successful for the brand.” Although in light of recent news surrounding the ads, if the Lowe campaign is resurrected, it may be viewed as more entertainment than informative to in-the-know consumers.
Tom Roarty is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.