NARB Panel Hears DirecTV Appeal: Even ‘Very Funny’ Advertising May Include Claims That Require Substantiation

New York, NY – Aug. 14, 2015 – A five-member panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that DirecTV, LLC, discontinue comparative claims in certain broadcast advertising that implied DirecTV is superior to cable with respect to signal reliability, service wait times, picture/sound quality, and sports programming. The panel also determined that certain customer-satisfaction claims made by DirecTV did not require any additional disclosures, beyond a more prominent reference to the basis of the claim to be #1 in customer satisfaction over all cable TV providers.

NARB is the appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The claims at issue appeared in a series of ads featuring actor Rob Lowe and various alter-egos that included “Creepy,” “Painfully Awkward,” “Far Less Attractive,” “Meathead,” and “Scrawny Arms” Rob Lowe. The claims were initially challenged by Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, before the National Advertising Division (NAD), an investigative unit of the self-regulatory system.

In the underlying case, NAD found that DirecTV provided a reasonable basis to support its claim to have 99% signal reliability. NAD found that the advertising at issue implied DirecTV was superior to cable companies with respect to signal reliability, picture and sound quality, sports programming and service wait times. DirecTV did not submit any substantiation for these implied superiority claims and NAD recommended that the claims be discontinued. The NAD also found that disclosures in the advertising were inadequate with respect to DirecTV’s customer satisfaction ranking, sports programming charges, and “up to 1080p” picture quality.

The NARB panel said in its decision that “the challenged Rob Lowe commercials are very funny. However, depending on context, even humorous advertisements can convey messages that require substantiation by the advertiser.”

The panel noted that its decision was based on its “determination of the net impression reasonably created by the challenged commercials.”

Following its review, the panel agreed with the NAD that the challenged advertisements reasonably conveyed a message that DirectTV was superior to cable with respect to signal reliability, picture and sound quality, sports programming, and service wait times. Because DirecTV did not submit any substantiation for these implied superiority claims, the panel recommended that they be discontinued.
The panel also recommended that DirecTV discontinue the “Get rid of cable and upgrade to DirecTV” tagline in advertisements where an unsupported comparative superiority message over cable is reasonably conveyed.

The panel agreed with the NAD’s recommendation that the challenged “up to 1080p” claim be modified to include a clear and conspicuous disclosure as to the limited programming for which 1080p resolution is available.

While the panel did not agree with the NAD’s findings that the “Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe” commercial reasonably implied that all sports programming was included in DirecTV’s introductory price of $19.99/month, the panel recommended that the advertisement include a clear and conspicuous disclosure, in proximity to the price display, that professional and collegiate sports subscriptions are not included in the displayed price.

Finally, the panel agreed that DirecTV had the appropriate substantiation for its customer satisfaction claims, but recommended that DirecTV more prominently disclose the source for its “#1 in customer satisfaction over all cable TV providers” claim.

DirecTV, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company appreciated NARB’s “thoughtful consideration of the Rob Lowe advertisements,” and was pleased by certain of the panel’s findings.

However, the advertiser noted, DirecTV “continues to believe that consumers do not perceive comparative superiority claims in the Rob Lowe advertisements. Whether from news accounts or social media, it is clear that consumers appreciate and understand the central role that humor and exaggeration play in the Rob Lowe advertisements.”

Despite its disagreements with aspects of the NARB decision, the company added, “DirecTV is a strong believer in the self-regulatory process and will take the NARB’s recommendations into consideration when making these claims in the future.”