Cable: A Pig or the Only One?


Often, real life is so much more funny than fiction, and that irony became apparent again last week, when by sheer coincidence — really — both the cable industry and EchoStar Communications Corp. independently launched multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns to brag about their services.

The timing is delicious, and all about delivering a message during a very important selling cycle for retailers — the Christmas season, when more goods, like expensive HDTV sets, fly off the shelves.

Both cable and direct-broadcast satellite offer hi-def programming, but cable is playing a catch-up game on this front.

Talk about the alpha and the omega of marketing strategies: That's what you have here. For cable, there's the "Only Cable Can" campaign — a plan the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing worked up with the input of the top 10 MSOs to tout the medium's vast offerings. And CTAM took the high road, coming up with a thoughtful, cerebral message that talks about its benefits.

The CTAM campaign shows how unique cable is: Only cable can offer a panoply of digital video, high-speed access to the internet, video-on-demand, high-definition TV and phone service.

By contrast, EchoStar went for the jugular. It kicked off its campaign on the very same day last Monday, with the rabble-rousing message, "The cable pig eats you out of house and home."

It shows a pig wearing an outfit, emblazoned with "CABLE CO." It rampages through a home devouring just about everything in sight, even a bowl of dog food.

EchoStar's campaign has one message and one message only: that cable companies are greedy and keep raising their rates, and that satellite is the cheaper alternative.

This is guerilla warfare. EchoStar just came off a bad third quarter and the company blamed its poor performance on its inability to introduce new products.

Tasteful or not, the EchoStar message is direct and aimed to hit the hearts and purse strings of viewers who remain very concerned about an economy that just won't pick up any steam.

The EchoStar spot encourages viewers to visit its Web site, I guess that's compelling if you're a 17-year old male.

Actually, both campaigns are rather ingenious. EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen, for now, doesn't have much more to talk about than price.

CTAM, meanwhile, is taking a more-encompassing approach. CTAM president Char Beales said, "I am really proud that cable is out there with a positive message about the many products it delivers."

Beales said that the CTAM campaign was targeted to the Christmas season and that it will really ramp up in early December and wind down in February.

That's because cable operators are expecting more HDTV sets to sell in January because of the Super Bowl, so those men who didn't get what they wanted for Christmas have an excuse to go and upgrade their television viewing options.

I would wager that both cable and satellite with pick up more subscribers from their new marketing campaigns. There's an old adage in marketing: You have to spend money to make money. I'm glad to see this happening at last.