Commentary

Once Bitten, Twice Shy: DirecTV And The Movember Reveal

Given all the sturm und drang of this week’s midterm election coverage, plus nonstop news about Taylor Swift, it might have escaped your attention that November is Men’s Health Awareness Month.

This event seems to have started in Australia, with the “Movember” initiative, for which men grow moustaches, or cultivate all sorts of weird, hairy facial amenities, to raise awareness for prostate and testicular cancer organizations and charities.

Of course, all of this male openness about the need for self-monitoring, screenings and early detection is important, and a great step forward. But if you’re really keeping your eyes on the awareness prize, the media has taken the concept into the territory that I call PAUT, MD: painfully awkward urinary/testicular media discourse.

First up: NBC personalities Willie Geist and Carson Daly will undergo testicular exams for a live broadcast segment on the “Today” show.  Set your calendars. The ratings stunt, um, I mean medical check-up, is scheduled for Nov. 20, during most viewers’ breakfast hour. It raises the bar, so to speak, from last year, when "Today" hosts Matt Lauer and Al Roker received on-air prostate exams. (And we thought seeing inside Katie Couric’s cute pink bowel in an on-air colonoscopy was racy!)

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And though it wasn’t a planned media event to coincide with Men’s Health Awareness month, another group dedicated to urinary enlightenment  has nevertheless found itself in the spotlight. The International Paruresis Association (a group representing those who suffer from "shy-bladder syndrome”) is taking on a DirecTV ad starring Rob Lowe. IPA CEO Steve Soifer told the AP: "The ad is in poor taste and ridicules a serious problem."

Let’s back up a minute. You probably are aware of the campaign, even if you hate it. Currently, there are four commercials running, all showing two Rob Lowes: one, a sophisticate who speaks to us from movie sets and his lavish homes, who has “upgraded” to DirecTV, and the other his there-but-for-the-grace-of-god doppelganger. Heavily uglified by makeup, prosthesis and comically bad wardrobes, he changes from spot to spot, but is always icky and doomed, because he is a “cable subscriber.” 

In the first spot, he’s "Far-Less-Attractive Rob Lowe," and then becomes "Super-Creepy Rob Lowe";"Crazy-Hairy Rob Lowe"; and "Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe."

The lower-than-low Lowe is pretty repellent and off-putting at first. You just want to avert your eyes. But giving us two Lowes is actually a splashy and memorable way to promote the Dish, making the whole thing a meta joke about pathetic, behind-the-times cable watchers. Although the spots do make some claims (No. 1 in customer service?) the set-up deftly deflects from reality, by introducing an alternate universe where DirecTV is indeed king. 

(How fictional is it? Full disclosure: I was forced to subscribe to DirecTV two years ago when I lived in a building with a dish on the roof in San Francisco. It seemed to offer something like 1,800 channels, with 1,784 of them at any one time devoted to demonstrating “the miracle bra.”)

But people are talking about the DirecTV ads, even to diss them. That’s because the former Tiger Beat Hall of Famer really carries them. Lowe gets to make fun of his pretty-boy past and show his grown-up comedy chops. And the writing and production values (from Grey NY) are first rate. (The spots even end with a subtle musical flourish from “St. Elmo’s Fire,” for those in the Brat-Pack know.)

“Crazy-Haired Rob Lowe,” with his “arm hair curtains,” is the weakest spot, too obvious to offend even the hirsute. Visually, it’s essentially a replay of the caveman joke that Geico did years ago.

For my money, “Super-Creepy Rob Lowe” is the funniest. He’s an aging derelict, shown sitting on a folding chair at a public pool, using his binoculars. Nuff said, but there’s also comedy in the great details. 

“Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe” is more forced -- like watching Ed Grimley, with his high-waisted pants and frenetic energy, wearing Eddie Munster’s wig and hairline. The Cadillac-black hairpiece, with what could be horns or waves, is truly terrifying. And the fanny pack isn’t helping. In one part, he’s at home, waiting for the cable guy. (“I hope it isn’t a girl,” he says. “Or a guy.”) In the last scene, shot in what looks like a public basement restroom filled with men at urinals, the painfully awkward one turns to the camera and says, "Fact: I can't go with other people in the room."

What I didn’t know is that the shy-bladder syndrome is experienced by 7% of the American population, "usually but not exclusively at rest stops.” The IPA’s Soifer maintains that while “we don’t mind if people have a little fun with it,” the way Lowe’s character is depicted in the spot mocks a serious problem. “What if he didn’t have a leg or an arm?” Soifer says. “Are you going to make fun of them?” He wants the ad pulled, while DirecTV counters that the spot is clearly fantasy and will continue to run.

I think the ad should be killed. Then we end up with a win-win: Shy-bladder people get their moment in the Movember health awareness sun, all for free.  And DirecTV also gets free coverage, while appearing to be a responsive, sensitive corporation. It would be a clear victory for the shy, demonstrating the beauty of examining the nuances of painfully awkward medical issues off-camera. NBC’s “Today Show” should try this, too.

8 comments about "Once Bitten, Twice Shy: DirecTV And The Movember Reveal".
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  1. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, November 6, 2014 at 1:36 p.m.

    I keep expecting "bad" Rob Lowe to be the guy in the grainy video from the Democratic convention. Sorry, but he lost me there and will never get me back. Haven't watched any of his shows since. Probably never will. Nothing funny about him.

  2. Edward Shain from EMS Associates, November 6, 2014 at 1:54 p.m.

    If it weren't for the fact the great Barbara Lippert paid attention to any of this, it would sink below the waves without a ripple.

    Call it "shy water syndrome."

  3. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, November 6, 2014 at 4:06 p.m.

    Again a great column...much more amusing than the Ron Lowe commercials, but i am not sure if the Today segment will be funnier. is there Nothing they wont do for ratings? (says the woman who posts every moment of her life)

  4. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, November 6, 2014 at 4:11 p.m.

    Good change of pace, Barbara.

  5. Jo Duran from BOM, November 6, 2014 at 6:25 p.m.

    Winning. Yes, do it DirectTV! BTW, I traveled back in time and that was weird. Thanks for the trip!

  6. Ana Fadich from Mens Health Network, November 7, 2014 at 11:42 a.m.

    We at Men's Health Network appreciate the fantastic work that Movember organizers have done to raise awareness of prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and other health issues while engaging men personally in a fun activity that all can participate in. But, we must not confuse Movember with Men's Health Month (Men’s Health Awareness Month) which is recognized in June of each year in this country and around the globe.

    Two great awareness months, complimented by Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (September). Maybe we can finally get the guys to pay attention to their health!

  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, November 7, 2014 at 3:30 p.m.

    Wow-- Movember big foots Men's Health Awareness month in June and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in September. Thanks for the info, Ana!

  8. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund, November 7, 2014 at 5:18 p.m.

    Like so many well-intentioned things, 'disease advocacy' seemed harmless in the beginning. Some Pantone™ registered ribbon colors; a 5k walk; a day, a week or a month to glom onto the spotlight. But, of course, no good deed will go unpunished. Now, although we have only 365 days in the year, we have an almost inexhaustible supply of diseases, syndromes, disorders, etc. And as your column suggests, pretty soon it's do-gooder-eat-do-gooder. Nice column; as usual, you're a gifted writer. But I disagree with your conclusion; such a capitulation will only set a more dangerous precedent than we've already set. I firmly believe the world would be better served if we simply accepted the fact that at any point in time, some percentage of the populace will be offended/outraged/pissed. (p.s. I like those Rob Lowe commercials, but I'm sticking with cable. It's costly, but better.)

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