Hannah and her horse or Eli Manning

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

3 August 2015

DirecTV didn’t know what it had

Based upon the public response to my blog on the DirecTV Hannah and Her Horse debacle, it looks as though DirecTV is coming around to recognize that everything quirky and absurd from their ad agency (Gray) might not be creative (the fallback position taken by advertising agencies all over the globe). So now we have a choice between Hannah and her horse or Eli Manning. Hannah and her horse is simply stupid (not exactly a great brand position) and your brand needs to reflect the target audience that you hope to influence. No one wants to be ignorant and stupid.

“They never really understood why the Rob Lowe campaign worked and so they have substituted football stars for Rob Lowe and the results are simply dumb.”


So picture this for a moment. DirecTV had a great and effective campaign starring Rob Lowe that was clever enough to be funny and absurd enough to remain fresh. It was pulled and Gray Advertising, in all of its wondrous creative ability, sold the Hannah and Her Horse campaign to a trusting client. Its failing miserably.

A failed reworking of what worked

Now they have a tactical need to sell DirecTV’s NFL coverage as a USP (Unique Selling Proposition)—an old and dog-eared idea that has outlived its usefulness by four decades. Both camps recognize that Hannah and her horse is not a path to pursue. So they developed a new campaign. But it really is not new. It is poor rehash and hacked-up version of the one campaign that actually worked. “Don’t be like this Rob Lowe”.

The dialogue between DirecTV and the agency, and Eli Manning

So here is my made up guess of the stupid agency/client banter when the decision was made between Hannah and her horse or Eli Manning (or Tony Romo):

DirecTV: We need to highlight our NFL coverage to take advantage of the rabid NFL fans in the fall and their insatiable appetite for anything NFLish.

Gray: We can get Hannah’s Horse to introduce the package.

DirectTV: Don’t even go there. The campaign sucks.

Gray:Well, how about a reworking of the Rob Lowe campaign that everyone sparked to. We could use that GREAT format with NFL Quarterbacks? Let’s use Tony Romo and Eli Manning!

Direct TV: Brilliant. Let’s make it happen.

A lack of understanding as to what worked

Hannah and Her Horse and Eli Manning are both failures. The problem with this new campaign is that both camps believe that things are fungible. They never really understood why the Rob Lowe campaign worked and so they have substituted football stars for Rob Lowe and the results are simply dumb. They confused the campaign set-up with the very thing that made the Rob Lowe campaign work. Rob Lowe.

We were all used to seeing an actor play characters and we understood the difference between them. We also remembered that Rob Lowe had a past history of creepiness and that added to the memorability of the campaign. Rob was able to play both characters with a sense of self and a self-deprecating attitude that placed the brand directly into importance. It worked because it worked on many levels.

The new campaign is almost as stupid as Hannah and Her Horse. It doesn’t work because there is no brand there. It is a superfluous exercise in futility. DirecTV could use some brand help because someone does not recognize the essence of that brand in what worked and what doesn’t. The advertising agency, like all of their comrades in crime, should never be left to define a brand because it has no idea what that means. For the agency, it all comes down to what it calls creativity. Too bad it doesn’t understand effectiveness too.


  1. DrD20

    Personally, hated the Rob Lowe ads. Indifferent to the Hannah ads. Liked the Eli Manning and Tony Romo ads. Liked seeing NFL players instead of some washed up actor in those ads. Thought Eli Manning’s was hilarious. Why do people who have no clue always talk as though their opinion matters?

    • Carlos Machina

      By what metric do you say the “Hannah and her horse” campaign is a failure? Do you judge it so simply because you don’t like it? A better metric is whether or not it is spurring sales of the product. That’s really the only metric that matters.

      I happen to like the spots, particularly the latest one in which the horse gets a bath. It’s hilarious. It stands out from the crowd.

      The Eli Manning spots are okay, too.

  2. Only Me

    I think you are right on target with this. I loved the Rob Lowe ads, funny, tongue in humor. It was done with a deftness and a flair missing in Hannah and her Horse…as he seemingly says…He thinks they nailed that goat? Wha???? Stupid beyond belief… and Eli Manning is no Rob Lowe. Bring Rob back!

  3. Don

    I hated the Rob Lowe commercials and thought the Hannah and her horse ones were dumb. But the Tony Romo one is the most horrible. John Lennon was artsy-crafty, and he would have hated this too! They are trying to reach a certain market of young men, with no concern over what their negative message is saying.


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