You know those clever Rob Lowe/DirecTV ads that play on people’s affection for Sam Seaborn and the possibility of a multi-verse where “Creepy Rob Lowe” and “Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe” frolic freely, forever cursed by their choice to stick with cable? Sure you do. Apparently, some of the claims made in the ads rankled Comcast, and the cable behemoth lodged a complaint with the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ National Advertising Division, who said…
The NAD says that although “humor can be an effective and creative way for advertisers to highlight the differences between their products and their competitor’s, humor and hyperbole do not relieve an advertiser of the obligation to support messages that their advertisements might reasonably convey – especially if the advertising disparages a competitor’s product. […]
The oversight group took issue with several specific claims. It said that DirecTV couldn’t prove that it has better signal reliability (“Creepy Rob Lowe”), shorter customer service wait times (“Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe”) or better picture and sound quality (“Far Less Attractive Rob Lowe”) than cable. The company also couldn’t support an implied claim (“Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe”) that its sports programming beats cable.
According to Deadline, DirecTV contends that the characters are so “outlandish” that no one would actually believe that their boasts “are comparative or need to be substantiated.” But apparently, “just funnin” isn’t much of a defense against these claims.
With that said, the “damage” has already been done. The Rob Lowe campaign wormed its way into the zeitgeist and reached buzz status while greatly expanding DirecTV’s intended reach. Why? Because they were funny ads with a familiar face who was willing to play with his image (and pick on people with shy bladders). Now, that campaign is expiring (naturally) and a new one is starting up with Hannah Davis and a talking horse.
Will DirecTV alter their approach due to this ruling? I don’t know. While the NAD (grow up) has no legal authority, Comcast could push this to the FTC, who already has a complaint against DirecTV for deceptive advertising. So, it might make some sense to make sure that their horse stays in line.
As for consumers, do your homework and good luck!