DirecTV has tapped Serena Williams to front a new campaign designed to introduce consumers to its rebranded streaming service. As of Saturday, Aug. 28, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion will appear in a series of spots promoting DirecTV Stream, the over-the-top (OTT) offering formerly marketed under the AT&T TV banner.
The first ad in the series, a 60-second mashup of pop culture and sports set in a 1980s shopping mall, will debut during ESPN’s coverage of the Hawaii-UCLA game. That Week Zero outing kicks off at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
The extended version of Williams’ DirecTV Stream inaugural riffs on the central value proposition of the OTT service, which allows viewers to take in live sporting events as well as a host of entertainment and on-demand content. A customer zapping back and forth between one of Williams’ matches and the theatrical Wonder Woman 1984 somehow opens a wormhole that sends the six-time U.S. Open winner back in time to a galleria under siege by malevolent tennis-ball machines.
Decked out in Wonder Woman regalia, Williams uses her blazing return speed and killer instinct to take out the robot menace, while elevating John McEnroe’s dry cleaning bill.
The campaign, which is being helmed by DirecTV’s new creative agency-of-record, TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, is meant to launch the rebranded OTT service while also pumping up the core corporate asset. “It truly is a case of our going back to our roots as an entertainment, and an entertaining, company,” said DirecTV chief marketing officer Vince Torres, during a recent phone interview. “We have simplified our portfolio under the DirecTV name, and we believe [the campaign] will clarify for consumers who we are, while reviving a brand that for some time has been underrepresented in the marketplace….
“We’ve been a bit silent in the marketplace, and you maybe haven’t heard the name in a while,” Torres added. “It’s our belief that this loud and proud media effort will help us break through again.”
Torres said the Williams-DirecTV Stream campaign will be the company’s priciest push since 2015. According to iSpot.tv estimates, DirecTV that year spent $164.6 million on national TV inventory, with much of that outlay devoted to airing a series of spots starring the likes of Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Hannah Davis, Rob Lowe and Andrew Luck. By way of contrast to those deep-pocketed days, DirecTV’s 2020 TV budget was just $1.92 million, per iSpot.
Williams, who rakes in $34 million in annual endorsement fees, withdrew from the U.S. Open on Wednesday, citing concerns over the same torn right hamstring that saw her bow out of her first-round Wimbledon match on June 29. The last time Williams missed the Open was in 2017, when she took some time away from the court after the birth of her daughter.
The rebranding of the OTT service, and the concomitant media buy, arrive as DirecTV looks to emerge from the shadow of AT&T. Earlier this month, the telecommunications giant closed a deal to spin off DirecTV as a standalone entity, with an assigned enterprise value of $16.3 billion.
The launch spot, “Wonder Williams,” will also appear in 30- and 15-second increments. The ads will be all over your sports TV dial this fall, and future commercials featuring the tennis titan are already in the works. A full-funnel campaign, the DirecTV Stream push will incorporate linear TV, digital and social media.
As is evident by the cavalcade of athletes who’ve shilled for DirecTV over the years, sports is an area of particular interest to the company, which is at its core a satellite-powered pay-TV provider. “Sports is incredibly important to us—it’s the type of programming that still ties very much to our value proposition,” Torres said. “And on the OTT side, we have more sports, national and local, than any other streaming platform.”
Of course, DirecTV’s most prestigious sports asset is its NFL Sunday Ticket package, the rights for which cost it $1.5 billion per season. While the future of the out-of-market offering remains uncertain, the legacy carriage deal is expected to stick until its 2022 expiration date. But the rebranding of the streaming service won’t have an impact on the particulars of the contract, so Sunday Ticket will remain exclusive to the satellite-TV platform and will not be made available to Stream customers.