The channel, which holds more than 70% of the market, used a pair of spots from BBDO Worldwide, New York, to meet the challenge of staying on top.
In one, Dr. Jane Goodall's apes lip-sync memorable movie lines after watching HBO. In the other, earthbound kids yank a giant cable cord, disconnecting the hookup of space-borne astronauts.
"They were creative and innovative," says HBO VP-Marketing Nancy Parmet. "Most importantly, they were entertaining."
Ms. Parmet, 33, headed an HBO team that went to BBDO with the spots' tagline, "It's not TV. It's HBO." The idea, she says, was to establish HBO as different from conventional TV.
"We are so much more than average television," Ms. Parmet says. "We provide more value to consumers."
HBO put $15 million behind the spots, which ran on network, cable and spot TV. The ads were part of an HBO trend toward brand-image advertising.
"Image advertising works for us," Ms. Parmet says. "It is the critical element in differentiating us from the competition."
The proof seems to be in the numbers for HBO. While slews of new competitors threaten its market share, HBO's subscriber count is at 21.9 million, up 6.8% from its 20.5 million in 1995.
Ms. Parmet says future ads will aim for the hipness achieved by the ape and shuttle spots.
"We're trying to say that even though we're a 25-year-old brand, we're young and fresh," she says.