DirecTV Inc. last week said it has signed a one-yearcelebrity-endorsement contract with Drew Carey, who will star in television ads set tobreak later this week on cable and broadcast.
The direct-broadcast satellite company tested a number ofcelebrities before choosing Carey, who was considered likable and accessible by consumerfocus groups, according to DirecTV vice president of advertising Tom Bracken.
DirecTV hopes the accessibility factor will carry over toits DBS product, which the company is positioning as affordable to the masses.
In the first two television spots, Carey pokes fun atneighbors, friends and even delivery people who mistake his DirecTV service for cable. Hethen tries to convert them to DirecTV.
"He can pull it off," Bracken said, adding,"If it was anyone else, this might come across as annoying."
While DirecTV would not disclose the financial terms of theagreement, the company did not have to pitch Carey on the benefits of its product. Careyalready owned three DirecTV systems, Bracken said, and had purchased another 20 forvarious cast and crew members of his primetime TV shows.
The Carey ads will launch DirecTV's holiday promotionaloffer, which promises two free months of 32 premium-movie channels - including multiplescreens of Home Box Office, Showtime and Starz! - for new subscribers to its "TotalChoice" package.
It's part of more than $150 million that DirecTV hasearmarked for advertising in 1999. Bracken said the movies-oriented promotion wouldbalance a recent sports-related campaign.
The 32 premium-movie channels available on DirecTV help toserve as a point of differentiation from cable, Bracken said, because the multiplexes canbe promoted nationally. "I don't know if cable will ever be able to do that," headded.
The new Carey campaign - which will include print, radioand retail point-of-sale elements, in addition to the television spots - comes as DirecTVhopes to carry over its yearlong sales momentum into a strong holiday selling season.
DBS competitor EchoStar Communications Corp. is promotingits new "Dish 500" system - which will ultimately be able to receive up to 500channels - by offering the hardware free to new subscribers who commit to $57 per month inprogramming for one year.
And in at least one market, DirecTV will face videocompetition at retail not only from DBS, but also from digital cable. AT&T Broadband& Internet Services said last week that it has begun selling digital-cable service atfour Pittsburgh-area Best Buy stores.
DirecTV and its manufacturers are prepared for a strongfourth quarter. "The wild card in all of this is what happens with local-to-locallegislation," Bracken said. If Congress passes favorable legislation in the next fewweeks, DBS sales could be especially dramatic during the holidays.
The first Drew Carey television spots are set to run forfour weeks, starting Nov. 4. Bracken said he expects DirecTV's retailers to promote thefree-premium-movie-channel offer in their own holiday television ads in December.
Carey marks the second celebrity DirecTV has used to helppromote its service. When DirecTV first launched in 1994, the company used actor JoeRegalbuto, who played Frank on Murphy Brown.
DirecTV has an option to renew Carey's endorsement contractfor an additional two years.