The National Advertising Division (“NAD”) of the Better Business Bureau, acting on a complaint from Comcast, has recommended that DIRECTV modify some of the claims made in its popular Rob Lowe commercials, or otherwise cease airing them altogether. DIRECTV has indicated that they intend to appeal the decision, which although non-binding, could lead to a referral to a governmental agency if ignored. This news is in addition to a recent suit filed by the Federal Trade Commission against DIRECTV for unrelated claims of deceptive advertising practices.
What about these commercials drew the ire of Comcast and the Better Business Bureau?
Readers may remember the series of Rob Lowe commercials for their contrast of Handsome Rob Lowe, who represents and otherwise extolls the virtues of subscribing to DIRECTV, with “Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe,” “Creepy Rob Lowe” and/or “Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe,” who is meant to represent the competitor cable companies. The takeaway from these advertisements was clear, with the confident Rob Lowe telling viewers, “Get rid of cable and upgrade to DIRECTV.”
Comcast has taken issue with certain assertions made in the series of commercials regarding DIRECTV’s alleged superior picture quality, faster customer service and more sports programming options compared with that of its cable competitors. Comcast claims these assertions are made without any specific evidence to support them. Apparently, the NAD agrees. While DIRECTV stands behind the commercials, defending them as being so exaggerated and outlandish that no reasonable consumer would believe the statements contained therein, the NAD has stated that the use of humor does not relieve DIRECTV of its obligation to have support for the messages conveyed in its advertisements, particularly when the messages involve disparaging a competitor’s product.
Monitoring Your Marketing and Advertising Practices
We have previously written about the Better Business Bureau’s (“BBB”) increasing influence over marketing practices in the last several years. The BBB represents yet another entity, in addition to the FTC and state attorneys general, of which marketers and advertisers must be mindful when designing and publishing their campaigns. Although it lacks the legal authority of either the FTC or an attorney general, the BBB is nevertheless a powerful organization that is demonstrating a willingness to assert its influence in situations where it believes an advertiser has violated standards of fair play. Therefore, it is imperative for marketers to engage knowledgeable counsel to ensure that marketing and advertising practices comport with all applicable state and federal rules and regulations, as well as general industry standards.