How To Make A Cannes Contender: Behind DirecTV's "Cable Effects"

In one of a series of interviews with the creatives behind Cannes Contenders, Co.Create talks to Grey New York’s Tor Myhren to get the back story on a cable-vs.-satellite TV campaign for DIRECTV that has a guy reenacting Platoon with Charlie Sheen.

Among the many people who have been enjoying the DirecTV "Cable Effects" campaign: Bill Clinton. The former president cited the campaign during a speech at the Cannes ad fest.
Among the few people who aren’t enjoying the campaign out of Grey New York: cable executives. After all, they’re being royally dissed in the spots, which have average Joes embarking on downward spirals due to frustration with their crappy cable service. One of the most talked about commercials finds a man sinking into despair when he can’t record on his DVR. A visit to a local watering hole’s Happy Hour to boost his spirits only leads the guy to make a series of bad decisions that take him to a Turkish bathhouse, where a chance meeting with Charlie Sheen culminates in an evening spent reenacting scenes from Platoon with the famously wacky actor. Seriously, how low can you go? The poor saps featured in other “Cable Effects” spots get themselves into equally pathetic situations, taking in too many stray animals in one case and waking up in a roadside ditch in another. And it’s all to blame on that damn cable. “Get rid of cable and upgrade to DirecTV,” the spots implore.

Co.Create spoke with Grey New York president and chief creative chief officer Tor Myhren about the thinking behind the “Cable Effects” campaign (shortlisted for a Cannes Lion) and how it performed for the client.


Co.Create: What was the brief?

Tor Myhren: Demonstrate DirecTV is better than cable.

How did you get to the bigger idea here? What was the breakthrough?

Instead of talking about what makes DirecTV great, we went in the other way and showed why cable sucks. The breakthrough was the insight that though these things that piss you off seem small, they’re happening day after day and so the annoyance becomes much bigger. We then took that to the extreme, and basically told stories of cable ruining people’s lives.

What were some of the key choices that made this project really work and made it successful from an awards standpoint and a general audience standpoint?

There are two things that make these commercials famous: The writing and [director] Tom Kuntz.

Why do you think this particular construct worked so well?

Because there is a truth hidden in the absurdly over the top scenarios. You watch it and laugh, but if you have cable, you also have a moment where you relate to the service problems, and it hits a nerve. That’s why the campaign has caused so many people to switch. Also, each spot has its own journey, so they always stay fresh. There are very few constructs that can carry nine executions without getting old. This one managed to do it, with people still asking for more.


What has this TV campaign done for the brand?

The "Cable Effects" campaign drove a mass exodus from cable. DirecTV experienced a 5 to 10 percent year-over-year lift in new customers coming from cable, and a 10 to 15 percent lift versus the quarter directly before the commercials aired. It also gave the brand huge pop-cultural relevance. The public response was tremendous: Over 3 million views on YouTube, tens of thousands of tweets, and stories published in many major entertainment and media outlets.

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