SBJ/August 13 - 19, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

DirecTV's ads for NFL Sunday Ticket deserve congratulatory pat on back

No company has been better positioned to satisfy the thirst of the displaced sports fan than Hughes Electronics' digital satellite service DirecTV. And no product has enabled DirecTV to achieve this position better than the granddaddy of seasonlong subscription services, NFL Sunday Ticket.

As digital cable has grown explosively nationwide and EchoStar's Dish Network has continued to improve its product offering (indeed, EchoStar has just announced an offer to buy DirecTV that challenges the offer from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.), Sunday Ticket is one of DirecTV's last differentiating features versus the competition. So it's no wonder the company has launched an aggressive new TV campaign to support sales of Sunday Ticket, using it to anchor sales of new general programming packages.

The Sunday Ticket campaign is terrific. It extends DirecTV's overall brand campaign, which features a DirecTV installer as its central character, users who are generally rabid about the digital quality and channel selection they can receive with their dish, and the tag line "Feel the Joy."

But rather than featuring everyday DirecTV fans, the Sunday Ticket campaign uses the star power of such NFL studs as Jevon Kearse, Peyton Manning and Ricky Williams, all portrayed in the process of having DirecTV installed in their homes.

The television campaign, from the Los Angeles office of Interpublic's recently acquired Deutsch, is smart and funny. When the installer tells Kearse that his setup is complete, "The Freak" delivers him a pro-strength slap on the rear and a hearty "Good effort."

When offered his Sunday Ticket package, Manning indignantly accuses the installer of pegging him as a dumb jock: "You think all I care about is football? I'm into other things — foreign films, cooking shows ..." Pregnant pause. Installer (knowingly): "You still want that football thing?" Manning: "Oh, yeah."

The Williams spot rings equally true to his persona. As the installer works on Williams' hookup, Ricky looks on, dancing wordlessly to Gary Glitter's fan rave Rock & Roll Part 2 playing on his stereo. When the song reaches its signature "Hey," the installer delivers it with deadpan beauty, as Williams stands behind him giving a big, strong grin as the installer goes back to work.

The campaign works because of the installer. He conveys comedic incarnations of fear, surprise and seen-it-all detachment, but always maintains an air of competence and confidence — dimensions that are so often overlooked or underdelivered in a customer service-based business. And the athletes come off just as well: funny and truthful.

The sales proposition, delivered with voice-over copy, is simple: "NFL Sunday Ticket lets you flip through up to 13 regular-season games every Sunday on DirecTV. Sign up now and get our best programming package free for four months."

Strategically, DirecTV must believe it has captured most of the pool of displaced avid football fans, because the creative feels very retail in intent. The work aims far more at getting people to install new systems than at getting DirecTV's existing 15 million estimated household user base to sign up for the Sunday Ticket premium service.

And there's some throwaway stuff in there, too. The campaign tag line, "Feel the Joy," comes out of nowhere and seems hopelessly out of context. And if you look closely at the mouse type in the spots, you'll read that DirecTV is the official digital satellite television service of the NFL Quarterback Club. Huh? But by and large, this is work that communicates clearly and compellingly.

DirecTV's license with the NFL expires next year, so there is unique pressure to capitalize on Sunday Ticket to enlarge the overall DirecTV subscriber base. The new Sunday Ticket campaign is work that should prove to whomever becomes the ultimate owner of DirecTV, as well as to the NFL, the true box-office and bottom-line value of the Sunday Ticket service. Stay tuned.

James H. Harris (jim@thoughtstep.com) is CEO of the Chicago-based strategic marketing consultancy ThoughtStep Inc.

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