Ad Watchdog to DirecTV: Pull Your Rob Lowe Ads

In a complaint, Comcast argued that DirecTV's popular ads featuring Rob Lowe were inaccurate and unfair—and the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus agreed.

Give Rob Lowe some credit: The onetime Brat Packer knows a thing or two about the power of poking fun at himself, as he’s done repeatedly in a series of ubiquitous ads promoting DirecTV.

But the real target of those messages, the cable giant Comcast, isn’t amused.

The ads, which feature a variety of ridiculous Lowe alter egos, mock the idea of using cable TV instead of satellite and imply that only people who aren’t cool have a cable subscription. If you’re not familiar, here’s a recent example:

(The high-school-loser ad is actually fairly tame compared to some of the others, which have portrayed Lowe as a meathead, an extremely hairy man, and a weakling with skinny arms.)

The cable giant filed a complaint with the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ National Advertising Division (NAD), which ruled that the satellite provider should remove the ads from the air, saying that the company’s claims aren’t supported by fact. In particular, NAD took issue with Lowe’s tagline: “Don’t be like this me. Get rid of cable and upgrade to DirecTV.”

NAD noted that while the ads are popular and funny, they’re not immune from rules against false advertising.

“[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,” NAD said in its decision.

DirecTV recently ended the campaign but said the NAD decision was not the reason.  “The Rob Lowe campaign was always scheduled to end at the end of Q1—we wanted to launch our new campaign with [swimsuit model] Hannah Davis in the [NCAA men’s basketball] Final Four,” said Jon Gieselman, DirecTV senior vice president of marketing and advertising, according to Variety. “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.”

As NAD is a voluntary body, DirecTV is under no obligation to follow its ruling; however, NAD generally refers cases to government agencies if its recommendations aren’t followed.

The campaign featuring Lowe in bizarre, sometimes disturbing, personas drew controversy last year when the International Paruresis Association took it to task for its mocking portrayal of a character suffering from Shy Bladder syndrome, or paruresis.

(YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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