DirecTV Looks for Advertising Outside Agency Model

Satellite Provider Partners With Filmaka to Solicit Content From Filmmakers

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LOS ANGELES ( -- To find new, recession-appropriate advertising, satellite provider DirecTV has gone outside its agency of record, Deutsch, Los Angeles, to forge a marketing partnership with Filmaka.

The winning spot, winnowed by Filmaka and chosen by DirecTV, will 'augment' DirecTV's national advertising.
The winning spot, winnowed by Filmaka and chosen by DirecTV, will 'augment' DirecTV's national advertising.
Filmaka is online community where indie filmmakers are given assignments by brands to create marketing and advertising content. Founded by Hollywood film producer Deepak Nayar ("Buena Vista Social Club," "Bend It Like Beckham"), Filmaka is offering prize money in the low six figures, supplied by DirecTV, to the winning commercial directors.

The satellite provider is taking chances with its marketing when its competitors are taking their lumps, thanks to the softening economy. While DirecTV added 301,000 new U.S. subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2008, rival Dish Network reported that it lost 100,000 subscribers in the same period. Meanwhile, the nation's largest cable company, Comcast, lost 233,000 basic subscribers. At Time Warner Cable, which lost 119,000 basic-cable subscriptions last quarter, CEO Glenn Britt blamed the decline partly on cash-strapped customers cutting off their cable connections due to the recession, or in fear of it.

Selling on value, not price
Jon Gieselman, DirecTV's senior VP-advertising and public relations, said Filmaka's initial inclination was to shape the contest's creative guidelines around the price of DirecTV (150 channels are only $35 a month with a yearlong commitment) but that he was disinclined to make price the centerpiece of the "agency brief" offered to Filmaka's crop of commercial directors.

"We can sell on price if we have to, but we want to position this brand as an incredible value," he said.

Still, a copy of the brief obtained by Advertising Age shows that wannabe filmmakers are hardly being asked to ignore the slumping economy. They are, however, being asked to argue that DirecTV helps customers avoid missing out on the entertainment events they used to attend but can't (or won't) pay for these days. According to the brief:

"Does the economy have you a little grounded? Instead of heading out to see your favorite stars in blockbuster films or catching your favorite team at the stadium, have you decided to spend more time at home, flipping through channels? Are you skimping on new tech toys -- having to set them down and step away from the electronics section to keep within your budget?"

The Filmaka brief even takes a shot at the movie business itself, saying, "You can watch all your favorite stars in blockbusters OnDemand, and enjoy them with all your friends and family -- without paying $7 for a bucket of popcorn."

Several calls and e-mails to Filmaka's Mr. Nayar were not returned.

Not a 'cost-cutting exercise'
Even with the emphasis on the soured economy, Mr. Gieselman was adamant that the contest is not a "cost-cutting exercise" for DirecTV or merely a cheap way to get production done in a sagging economy, but rather an "investment in creative ideas that supports our 'best-in-class' positioning."

Deepak Nayar
Deepak Nayar
The expected hundreds of entrants will be winnowed by Filmaka to about 20 semifinalist proposals that will be greenlighted at the filmmakers' expense, not DirecTV's. The satellite company will choose the winning spot, which will "augment" DirecTV's national advertising.

"This isn't meant to substitute for [our advertising] agency and the work that they do," Mr. Gieselman said. "But on the web, you're not constrained by 30-second spots produced solely for TV. If there's a longer way to tell our story, then we'll find it. And if it sparks a unique idea that we really like, we might be able to reproduce it for television."

At the end of the contest, Mr. Gieselman said, "we will probably involve [Deutsch] -- when we see the finished work."

Creative directors on DirecTV at Deutsch were not available for comment.

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