DirecTV breaks $20 mil effort from Deutsch

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Playing on TV's supposedly addictive qualities, an estimated new $20 million-plus ad campaign for DirecTV centers on the premise that even company employees cannot tear themselves away from their consoles.

The campaign, which breaks Jan. 25 on national network and network cable, is the third effort from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Marina del Rey, Calif., which won the digital satellite provider's account last August after a lengthy review. DirecTV spent $90 million on advertising in 1999 and approximately $55 million in the first nine months of 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Although DirecTV refused to disclose billings, senior director-advertising Francine Harsini said the spending on this campaign is less than the $20 million to $25 million that CMR figures indicate.

In one of the three new 30-second spots, a fictional worker at DirecTV reluctantly goes on a break after watching TV for 12 straight hours in a space-age control room, only to sit in the cafeteria, alone and deprived, until he decides to turn on the TV. The spot ends with the tagline, "We love this stuff even more than you do," and fades to a promotion offering subscribers a $200 rebate.

"The whole idea was to communicate the enthusiasm and passion DirecTV has for its products," said Mike Sheldon, exec VP-general manager of Deutsch's California office. The control room in the ad, inspired by DirecTV's actual offices, is meant to emphasize the company's hi-tech nature, said Mr. Sheldon. He added that consumer research showed that current subscribers "feel like they've got something really special because it comes from outer space."

DirecTV, owned by General Motors Corp. unit Hughes Electronics Corp., ended the year strongly with 527,000 new customers, bringing the total number of subscribers to 9.5 million. However, the company's future is in flux, since GM is in ongoing discussions to either sell or spin off the unit. One possibility is that News Corp., run by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, might buy the company for $40 billion. Talks with another potential buyer, competitor EchoStar Communications Corp., collapsed last November. DirecTV is also facing two antitrust lawsuits, including one filed by EchoStar.

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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