Ad of the Day: DirecTV

Grey's Asian high roller doesn't stack up to Gregor the Russian billionaire

Headshot of Tim Nudd

This time last year, DirecTV had a huge breakout hit with Gregor the Russian billionaire and his "Opulence, I has it" commercial from Grey, New York. The spot—portraying DirecTV's target market as premium consumers who can afford the best but are looking for a great deal—went super-viral. With millions of views on YouTube and fawning reviews online, the ad spawned a sequel this past March, as well as a wonderful little website that purported to sell mail-order miniature giraffes like the one Gregor owns. The lovefest even extended to a DirecTV earnings call, in which one giddy analyst personally congratulated CEO Mike White on the Gregor campaign.

This summer, Grey and DirecTV have tried to extend the campaign with new characters in similar setups. Unfortunately, the gilded age seems to have passed.

Last month, the satellite-TV company broke a new spot introducing fictional boxing champ Tommy "The Truth" Thompson and his entourage, but quickly pulled it from YouTube after a flood of negative comments. (The heated allegations included racism, reverse-racism, and even elder abuse.) Now, it has another new commercial out—this one featuring "The Whale," an incorrigible Asian gambler (played by Dat Phan, who won the first season of NBC's Last Comic Standing in 2003) whose oversized lifestyle includes a gigantic pet carp, two tall supermodels, and a monstrous baby panda. Unfortunately, the new spot doesn't quite has it, either.

Having done the Russian and African-American stereotypes, the campaign has simply moved on to Asians. But the character feels like a poor man's Ken Jeong/Mr. Chow from The Hangover. The fish and the bear have nothing on the tiny giraffe (even the boxing kangaroos from the "Truth" spot were more enjoyably peculiar). And it seems odd that they used a sample of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" in the soundtrack—a Vietnam war song in an Asian-themed commercial with a Vietnamese actor. (Technically, the song in the ad is Public Enemy's "He Got Game," from 1998, which samples "For What It's Worth"—but that distinction will probably be lost on most people.)

The spot isn't getting much love at all from the Asian community—"An Asian accent isn't a stand-in for funny," writes one blogger—but this time the forums for complaint aren't as obvious. Perhaps anticipating some backlash, DirecTV didn't even put this spot on YouTube.


Client: DirecTV

Spot: “Whale”

Agency: Grey, New York

Executive Creative Director: Todd Tilford

Executive Creative Director: Eric Segal

Creative Director: Denise O’Bleness

Writer: Ray Johnson

Art Director: Tom Qualigno

Agency Producer: Andrew Chinich

Assistant Producer: Lindsay Myers

Production Company: Imperial Woodpecker, New York

Director: Stacy Wall

Director of Photography: Toby Irwin

Editor: Ian Mackenzie, Mackenzie Cutler

Postproduction Company: MPC

Postproduction Producers: Andrew Bell, Louisa Cartwright

Lead Flame: Benoit Mannequin

Flame: Alex Lovejoy

Nuke: Katerina Arroyo

Nuke: Elliott Brennan

Nuke: Lisa Ryan

Smoke: Ben Davidson

3-D Artist: Ross Denner

3-D Artist: Michael Wynd

Lead Panda CG: Dean Robinson

3-D Artist: Tim Civil

Nuke Comp: Alex Harding

Telecine: MPC

Colorist: Mark Gethin

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.