Marketing

DISH ADS: 'TV 'SUCKS’

8/19/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Seth Morrison was at a Cable Television Laboratories Inc. meeting in Colorado last week when a colleague e-mailed him a summary of EchoStar Communications Corp.’s latest marketing campaign, which makes liberal use of the word “sucks” to describe cable-TV service.

As a cable marketer, Morrison was predictably appalled. “I was embarrassed to repeat it to my colleagues,” the senior vice president at the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing said of the new advertising blitz, which comes about a year after EchoStar compared cable operators to greedy pigs in TV commercials.

“You’ve got to wonder who they’re targeting and what kind of response there’s going to be,” added Morrison.

Developed by ad agency Publicis West, the series of four 30-second spots from EchoStar take cable-bashing to a new level. While the “stop feeding the cable pig” spots from EchoStar last year showed swine tearing through homes and eating cash, the new commercials show televisions sucking household items and even toddlers into a vortex.

In one spot, two couples are shown eating dinner in a dining room, when a breeze begins to blow, pulling olives and other items from the table into the television.

“What’s that?” a dinner guest asks. “Oh, it’s my TV. It sucks. The bills, the customer service — my TV sucks big time,” her host responds.

In addition to buying ads on broadcast networks, cable networks, radio spots and print ads, EchoStar created an accompanying Web site, SuckFreeTV.com.

Web surfers can view the spots on the sites and play a game that allows them to click on items in a living room that are then quickly sucked into a television. Users clicking on an urn on top of a mantle will see ashes fly into the television, followed by an old woman sitting in a rocking chair shouting, “Not Grandpa!”

Publicis also produced two direct-response TV ads for EchoStar — one that’s 60 seconds long and a two-minute version.

CTAM’s Morrison and other cable executives dismissed the EchoStar spots, noting that the satellite company can’t offer the same products cable operators can sell consumers with their two-way infrastructure.

“These are desperate tactics. They don’t have the bundled services or superior products that cable offers with our [video on demand], HDTV, high-speed Internet and digital voice services, so they are resorting to reactionary tactics,” Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said.

'TRASH TALK’

National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Paul Rodriguez called the EchoStar spots “trash talk.”

“We were highly amused that this was the level they’ve stooped to in order to make comparisons,” Rodriguez added. “As far as we’re concerned, we have a very powerful two-way interactive broadband system in place, which easily rivals what they have to offer.”

EchoStar also tweaked its company logo last week, and introduced a new marketing tagline: “Better TV for all.”

Spokesman Mark Cicero said the “suck” spots will run through for the fall, while the new tagline will remain in place indefinitely.

Cicero wouldn’t discuss how much EchoStar is spending on the campaign.

NO MSOS NAMED

EchoStar’s ads poke fun of cable’s customer-service acumen, without actually naming any cable companies. The spots began running last week as J.D. Power and Associates ranked EchoStar and DirecTV Inc. ahead of most major cable operators in its annual customer satisfaction study, but EchoStar dropped to fourth place overall from first place last year.

WideOpenWest LLC ranked first in the customer-satisfaction study, followed by DirecTV Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and EchoStar.

Publicis senior vice president and group account director Patrick Reynolds said the ads don’t name cable companies because they’re designed to reach all viewers, including those who might rely on terrestrial signals to watch TV. He said Publicis and EchoStar settled on using the term “sucks” in the spots after running focus groups with consumers.

Focus group participants “would say colloquially, 'my such and such just sucks.’ That’s the kernel of the idea,” Reynolds said.

Major cable companies could soon fire back at EchoStar and other competitors with their own ad campaign.

CTAM and the NCTA are developing new TV commercials that will promote the cable industry. But officials at both groups wouldn’t discuss timing of the campaign last week.

Reynolds said new elements in EchoStar’s campaign will be introduced over the next year. “We’ve planned this out quite far ahead. We think it’s a deep vein that we’re tapping into,” he added.

September