By now you've seen them: DirecTV ads mocking a host of over-the-top racial and ethnic stereotypes, from "Gregor," the Russian oligarch cuddling up with supermodels and a tiny giraffe, to "The Whale," a little, heavily accented Chinese mogul with a big panda and a big koi. Oh, and big supermodels.
They haven't all gone off flawlessly. DirecTV pulled a spot about fictional boxing champ Tommy "The Truth" Thompson from YouTube after commenters started arguing about racial stereotypes and racism.
The Russian spots, faring better since they started running last year, have added new creative this summer as the NFL lockout prevented DirecTV from using league trademarks to promote Sunday Ticket. At petitelapgiraffe.com the waiting list for the fictional animal numbers more than 1.2 million. The Irish actor Timothy Murphy, who plays "Gregor," did land on TMZ after he was sued for allegedly punching someone in the face in a Los Angeles bar (it's possible someone wanted his giraffe). But DirecTV didn't seem upset. "I'm pretty sure Tim is not the first Irishman to be in a bar when a fight breaks out," quipped DirecTV's senior VP of advertising and communications, Jon Gieselman.
We talked to Mr. Gieselman about the campaign, created by Grey , New York, and the controversy.
AdAge: What's the goal of the ads?
Mr. Gieselman: This time of year we typically have our most compelling consumer proposition, what we call our best offer of the year. This year was unique given the situation with the NFL [lockout] and we had to somehow communicate there was a best offer but couldn't use NFL marks and players while they were working out their issues.
The concept is that you're never too rich for a deal. There are these over-the-top people who have everything and yet they still love a good deal and DirecTV gave them something they couldn't pass up. They're all intended to be fictional, over-the-top characters who have everything. They don't want for anything but when DirecTV made them an offer they couldn't refuse it.
Ad Age : Are they working?
Mr. Gieselman: They definitely have broken through. The Russian character was the first in the campaign. Everybody absolutely loved him so we created a new set of characters, the banker, the Whale and "Tommy the Truth." They are larger-than-life characters but have some twist in them that make it fun to watch. They are intended to be entertaining, over-the-top characters that no one would ever take literally.
Ad Age : Why, then, did you take "Tommy the Truth" off the web?
Mr. Gieselman: The debate ensued with a string of dialog that was completely inappropriate and had nothing to do with the spot or DirectTV and we didn't want to have anything to do with it.
Ad Age : Do you have a sense if those offended are a vocal few or something bigger?
Mr. Gieselman: We've been getting the same amount of feedback [as prior spots] -- no more, no less. We get feedback on all our creative; people share their opinions and that is great. You just have to be careful with that and when there is a very vocal minority, you have to keep that in perspective. We run close to 20 to 30 different spots during the year so we have a baseline for what's typical. You know pretty quickly if it's something that 's causing a negative reaction more intense than something has in the past, so this is not unusual. Some of the commentary … it's amazing what people take away sometimes.
Ad Age : Will there be more of these spots? What's the next stereotype to get the DirecTV treatment?
Mr. Gieselman: We have a different campaign on the docket for Q4. We will have four different campaigns this year, so we try to keep the creative fresh. We are in the entertainment business so we believe there needs to be an entertainment element so people believe the brand is relevant.
Ad Age : So, no more rich people getting the send-up?
Mr. Gieselman: We have some scripts. They could come back in 2012.
Ad Age : Do you think the critics have a point or are they just missing the point?
Mr. Gieselman: In my judgment these are farcical characters. It's altered reality. If some people take it literally and don't like it I apologize for that . Sorry, you didn't like it; that 's not what it was intended to do. Everybody's measure for what's appropriate is different and there is no way to reconcile everyone's yard stick. What you don't hear are the 99% of people who either didn't have a reaction or liked it and chose not to take the time to write an email.