Guest Commentary: Cable-Satellite Battle Wallowing in Negatives

Feb 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

This past November EchoStar Communications announced a nationwide advertising campaign for its DISH Network satellite television service. In a bold move, it chose to go all-out negative by symbolizing its perceived enemy-the operators of cable TV systems-as greedy pigs. In widely seen TV commercials, a rampaging, omnivorous, greasy 250-pound pig wearing a T-shirt labeled “Cable Co.” ransacks a residence and eats everything in sight, including the wallet of the home owner, who was then forced to call DISH.
Michael Schwimmer, a senior VP at EchoStar, said, “We think the American consumer is tired of piggish cable companies that eat them out of house and home with their ever-increasing costly rates.”
The advertising was produced for DISH by The Romann Group, based in New York. Its creative director, Gad Romann, said, “In a world of symbolism, nothing represents greed more perfectly than a pig. It is a funny, light and creative way to say something very serious. It engages the viewer, entertains them and makes them take notice.”
Whether the ads are “funny and light” is debatable. Good-natured humor would have been better. At least it would have been in the tradition of most animal roles in movies, cartoons or commercials, which are generally humorous and loving. Whether the DISH ads are persuasive remains to be determined.
I, for one, don’t think Miss Piggy would approve. She would say there are better roles for pigs.
The Horse’s Mouth
The subject gave me a headache, so I retired to my bed and soon drifted into a dream. I became Frankie the Pollster, and surrounding me was an energetic focus group, fresh from the animal kingdom. I fired the first question: “Can negatives defeat positives?” Hands, paws and hooves shot up and I pointed to a scholarly looking horse. He said, “I am Mister Ed, the Talking Horse: A horse is a horse, of course, of course. I gotta tell you, I don’t like those mean-spirited, predatory politicians.”
Next, I pointed to a rabbit that looked just like Bugs Bunny. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, “we’ll get rid of them if they don’t quit being so avaricious.” He then chomped on a big carrot. Mickey Mouse waved all six fingers and both thumbs but as usual, you couldn’t read his lips.
So I pointed to a lady dressed to the nines. She rose and, with help from a hanky, cleared her snout.
She announced, “I wish to introduce myself. It has been written that I grew up as a pulchritudinous piglet on a farm in Hog Springs, Iowa. I attribute my rapid rise to talent, beauty, intelligence and wit. And modesty. I’m the Divine Swine in the Tart Hall of Fame. What’s your question, Mister Frankie?” “Can negatives defeat positives?” “Oh wow,” she sprayed, “I had a boyfriend who was always crooning, `You’ve got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive/ E-lim-i-nate the negative/ Latch on to the affirmative/ Oink/ Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”’ I fell into a deep sleep.
Breakfast time finally arrived and I was still musing on Miss Piggy. It was a surprisingly warm feeling. Good ol’ songwriter Johnny Mercer would have hugged her.
Thoughtlessly I went for the bacon, but quickly spun around and returned it to the fridge. Then another urge: I cracked the door open again, to let a light bulb flash. Now I remember! That’s it! Newspaper ads and TV spots that denigrate pigs! A war cry that cable operators are greedy pigs. “Stop Feeding the Pig!” Accentuating the negative. Without breakfast, I began some research.
All-Out War
Of 107 million U.S. TV households, about 67 million use cable and nearly 20 million use direct-to-home satellite. The remaining 12 million or 13 million households generally depend on traditional over-the-air broadcast transmissions. The principal satellite providers, DISH Network and DirecTV, need to battle each other and at the same time battle the traditional dominance of cable.
The cable operators are fighting back. Multiple system operators have thrown negative slams at satellite technology by planting fears that satellite signals are unreliable for direct-to-home use. The truth is satellite transportation beams have been a vital, dependable backbone to the immense growth of the cable TV industry since 1975. More than 9,000 cable headends are equipped with clusters of satellite reception equipment.
Accentuate the Positive
Cable and satellite providers each have plenty of positives to accentuate in their advertising campaigns. They should pay heed to the finding of Frankie the Pollster’s focus group-Consumers dislike negatives-and remember this adage from one of Porky Pig’s pals: “If you get in a fight with a pig, both of you will get dirty. But remember-the pig likes it.”
Th-th-that’s all, folks.
Robert Wold spent 22 years in broadcasting and advertising before founding a company in 1971 that pioneered the use of satellites to distribute TV programming. He sold the company in 1989 and is now a business consultant.