To Keep Its Edge, DirecTV Picks Celebs Over Installer

Facing increased competition from other satellite TV providers and cable companies, DirecTV is bidding farewell to its installer character, “Dan,” and cranking up the celebrity quotient in an estimated $100 million-plus campaign from Deutsch/LA.

The effort from the Marina del Rey, Calif., agency includes three 30-second TV spots breaking today, as well as one 60-second radio ad and one print execution—all centering around celebrities who are DirecTV customers.

The TV spots, done in a letterbox format, feature actors Danny DeVito, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia giving dramatic readings of actual letters sent to DirecTV from subscribers. In one, Fishburne recites the lines, “This morning, I turned on the tellie and all I can say is, ‘Jumping jehosafat yeehaw!’ Thank you, DirecTV, for all the local channels.” Another has Danny DeVito giving an angry interpretation of the lines, “Cable says reception quality is poor with satellite TV. Lies! My reception is way better with DirecTV than it ever was with cable.”

Each spot notes the name of the performer and the letter writer and reveals that both are DirecTV customers. Onscreen copy reads, “11 million fans and counting.”

The radio spot is similar, with comedian Dennis Miller reading a letter. The print ad has 21 faces of subscribers, including one celebrity, Dennis Hopper, who is referred to as “fan” No. 10,972,015.

While the TV spots do not contain a tagline, “Feel the joy” remains the tag for print and radio.

DirecTV had featured Dan the installer in its ads since the fall of 2000.

“It began to be confusing as cable companies started to use installers [in their ads],” said Francine Harsini, vp of advertising and creative services for DirecTV in El Segundo, Calif. In addition, she said, “with increased competition not only from cable but from [EchoStar’s] Dish, we wanted to reassert our leadership position and leverage the passion people have for the brand.”

“In the past, with the installer campaign, [DirecTV] tended to be seen as a hardware company,” said Mike Bryce, svp and associate creative director at Deutsch. “We also wanted to make sure we owned the ground as an entertainment company. It’s something cable can’t copy.”

In terms of subscriber numbers and ad dollars, DirecTV has an advantage over its closest satellite competitor, the Dish network, which has more than 8 million subscribers and spent just over $40 million on ads last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Cablevision System Corp. is said to have earmarked $100 million in marketing support for the December launch of its own satellite TV service, Rainbow DBS.

DirecTV is also facing scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission over News Corp.’s proposed takeover of DirecTV. General Motors previously had a controlling interest in the company.