DirecTV is the largest satellite television provider in the United States. They currently have more than 20 million subscribers. That means that when they have trouble with their advertising or products, millions of people could be affected.
In DirecTV’s most recent ad campaign, they used different “versions” of Rob Lowe to compare their services to cable services. For example, there is a “scrawny arms” Robe Lowe, a “super creepy” Rob Lowe, and a “far less attractive” Rob Lowe. The less desirable Rob Lowe is depicted as having cable while the “regular” Rob Lowe has DirecTV. The ads are relatively well-known for their originality and outrageous characters. However, Comcast (CMCSA) has complained about the ads, arguing that they are deceptive.
The National Advertising Division Agrees with Comcast’s Complaint
Comcast’s argument really is not about the approach that DirecTV took in their ads, but it is more about the content. In one of the commercials, DirecTV claims that it has better quality sound and picture than cable. Comcast argues that DirecTV cannot substantiate these claims. They also claim that their customer service wait times are shorter than cable companies’ wait times, but Comcast again argues that DirecTV cannot back up this claim.
The Better Business Bureau tended to agree with Comcast on these points and recommended that DirecTV take the advertisements down. DirecTV was unable to provide empirical evidence of these claims when asked, and the National Advertising Division was also unable to substantiate DirecTV’s claims. One of the ads that Comcast complained about, however, was deemed true. That one was about DirecTV’s claim to have 99% signal reliability and up to 1080p picture.
The National Advertising Board was even unhappy with the commercial’s statement “don’t be like this me.” They claimed it conveyed a comparative but unsupported message of superiority. Rob Lowe took to Twitter to defend the ads, but the fact remains that many of DirecTV’s statements were simply untrue, even if the ads were entertaining.
DirecTV has decided to take down the ads, but it claims that it is because they are going in a different direction for advertising. They also insist that the outlandish characters in the commercials make their statements unbelievable, and no reasonable customer would believe the statements made by those characters. They are appealing the decision that the ads are deceptive to the National Advertising Review Board.
This Isn’t the First Offense for DirecTV
DirecTV was charged with fraud by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year. The Federal Trade Commission determined that it misled customers through false advertising. At the time, the satellite company was advertising a 12-month plan for $19.95 per month. However, the advertising failed to mention that in order to get this price, the customer had to enter a two-year contract. The price even went up in the second year to somewhere between $25 and $45. Customers who attempted to cancel early had to pay an early termination fee of $480.
The Federal Trade Commission also found fault with company’s failure to notify customers that they must cancel their free movie channels like HBO and Showtime if they did not want to pay for them past the first three months of their package. The FTC asked that the judge to order DirecTV to halt its allegedly illegal conduct, and requested monetary damages to reimburse customers who were harmed by the practice. It seems as if that case is still pending in federal court. DirecTV has stated their position that the FTC allegations are simply wrong and that they plan to vigorously defend against the suit in court.