DirecTV Inc. last week said it has signed a one-year
celebrity-endorsement contract with Drew Carey, who will star in television ads set to
break later this week on cable and broadcast.
The direct-broadcast satellite company tested a number of
celebrities before choosing Carey, who was considered likable and accessible by consumer
focus groups, according to DirecTV vice president of advertising Tom Bracken.
DirecTV hopes the accessibility factor will carry over to
its DBS product, which the company is positioning as affordable to the masses.
In the first two television spots, Carey pokes fun at
neighbors, friends and even delivery people who mistake his DirecTV service for cable. He
then 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 the
agreement, the company did not have to pitch Carey on the benefits of its product. Carey
already owned three DirecTV systems, Bracken said, and had purchased another 20 for
various cast and crew members of his primetime TV shows.
The Carey ads will launch DirecTV's holiday promotional
offer, which promises two free months of 32 premium-movie channels - including multiple
screens of Home Box Office, Showtime and Starz! - for new subscribers to its "Total
It's part of more than $150 million that DirecTV has
earmarked for advertising in 1999. Bracken said the movies-oriented promotion would
balance a recent sports-related campaign.
The 32 premium-movie channels available on DirecTV help to
serve as a point of differentiation from cable, Bracken said, because the multiplexes can
be promoted nationally. "I don't know if cable will ever be able to do that," he
The new Carey campaign - which will include print, radio
and retail point-of-sale elements, in addition to the television spots - comes as DirecTV
hopes to carry over its yearlong sales momentum into a strong holiday selling season.
DBS competitor EchoStar Communications Corp. is promoting
its new "Dish 500" system - which will ultimately be able to receive up to 500
channels - by offering the hardware free to new subscribers who commit to $57 per month in
programming for one year.
And in at least one market, DirecTV will face video
competition 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 at
four Pittsburgh-area Best Buy stores.
DirecTV and its manufacturers are prepared for a strong
fourth quarter. "The wild card in all of this is what happens with local-to-local
legislation," Bracken said. If Congress passes favorable legislation in the next few
weeks, DBS sales could be especially dramatic during the holidays.
The first Drew Carey television spots are set to run for
four weeks, starting Nov. 4. Bracken said he expects DirecTV's retailers to promote the
free-premium-movie-channel offer in their own holiday television ads in December.
Carey marks the second celebrity DirecTV has used to help
promote its service. When DirecTV first launched in 1994, the company used actor Joe
Regalbuto, who played Frank on Murphy Brown.
DirecTV has an option to renew Carey's endorsement contract
for an additional two years.