Marvin Davis, Comcast

For better or worse, Marvin Davis is a cable guy. Not the Jim Carrey kind, thankfully, although given his brief flirtation with stand-up comedy, he probably could be. Davis knows quite a bit about the importance of humor in marketing, too. But rest assured: He is the real deal.

As svp-marketing at Comcast Corp., America’s largest cable operator, Davis is probably the only cable guy you’ll see at an ANA convention (and not just because he’s won a Marketer of the Year award), save for the cable network reps who float around the periphery in hopes of peddling some ad time.

That’s because, among cable TV operators, there is Comcast, and then there is everyone else. With 23.3 million subscribers spread across much of the U.S., Comcast is 9 million subscribers ahead of No. 2 Time Warner Cable. It is only 4.5 million subscribers behind the two major satellite TV companies: DirecTV, with 15.4 million subscribers; and the Dish Network, with 12.46 million. Comcast is also growing, quickly.

Comcast was founded by Ralph Roberts in Tupelo, Miss., in 1963 (Roberts is now 86 and sits on the board of directors, while his son, Brian, is chairman and CEO). It grew over the years into a top 10, and then top five, cable operator. It tripled in size in 2002, when it acquired AT&T Broadband, the nation’s largest cable operator at the time. Comcast now has a service footprint that touches 41 states, including 20 of the top 25 U.S. markets. As such, it is the first cable TV operator to become a true national advertiser. Which is why it hired Davis last year. Of course, Comcast had already had competent marketing people. But it didn’t have a Davis.

In fact, not many other companies have a Davis, either. At the tender age of 42, Davis has already achieved the kind of iconic status in marketing that is normally reserved for people who are about to retire. While his resume boasts early work at Procter & Gamble on the Crest and Metamucil brands, Davis will forever be associated with one of those rare ad slogans that has bled into the popular culture. In his case, the line is “Can you hear me now?” via Bozell Worldwide, which propelled Verizon Wireless, where Davis was vp-advertising, into the top three among domestic cellular service providers.

“Steve Burke says it’s is going to be on my tombstone,” quipped Davis, referring to his boss, the evp and COO of Comcast. But, he added, “Success for me will be when I get to the point where no one wants to talk to me about Verizon Wireless and only wants to talk about what I’ve done at Comcast.”

On that count, so far so good. Since joining Comcast in February 2005, Davis has hired a new ad agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and greenlighted what remains the first unified branding campaign for the increasingly complex menu of cable services. It can be stated in one word, er, slogan: Comcastic. And it uses humor, an arena where cable companies—which have replaced the phone company as the utility everyone loves to hate—have had little success.

“My initial reaction to it was, that it was very bold, very daring,” said Davis. “We were still a cable company. If you go too far in trying to say that you’re this great fun something that you’re not, then people will reject it. Candidly, some may have had some concern.”

Those individuals included Brian Roberts and Burke, who sensed that Davis himself was not so sure it would work when he first presented the idea for the campaign. Davis clarified that point: “I said to them, ‘Look, you guys wouldn’t be seeing this if I didn’t like it, if I didn’t think something could happen here. I just wanted to make sure that we’re careful . . . but you know what, that’s an easy thing for me to test and I can come back in four weeks and tell you. We went away and we tested it, and we were bullish on it.”