Ad Report Card: TiVo’s Insurrection

Technology company ads–well, practically every company’s ads–often strike an irreverent pose and offer up a vision of freedom from The Man by way of whatever the newfangled product happens to be. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Perhaps it works best when whoever or whatever it is that you’re tagging as The Man actually gets upset about it. This is what’s happened lately with an ad for TiVo, a new digital recording device with VCR-like functions plus various other new bells and whistles that will supposedly lend new power and flexibility to your relationship with television. One of its new ads–which you can view at, using the QuickTime plug-in–apparently so annoyed CBS that the network refused to run it. So this week’s “Ad Report Card” examines what all the fuss is about.

The Ad: The ad is one continuous shot, trolling through offices meant to suggest the executive suite of a big TV network. It’s smooth, polished, carpeted, with glass-walled offices and tastefully framed posters for shows like Cincinnati Law. Most of the inhabitants of this little bubble in the sky are guys in dark pants, crisp white shirts, and dark ties. As the camera passes an office, one of these drones tells a guy who looks vaguely creative that his show is cancelled. “Look at these guys,” says a slightly disgusted voiceover. “Network TV programmers.” The camera–meant to represent you the viewer, perhaps?–sweeps through the lobby, where more white shirts chat up the blonde secretary squad. “They decide what we watch and when we watch it.” Suddenly the camera bypasses the secretaries, ignoring a you-can’t-go-in-there objection, and heads right through the narrow door behind them, into the huge, modern office of some white-shirted guy who’s apparently in charge of all those other guys–the poobah TV exec. From behind the camera emerge two muscle-bound bruisers dressed in black, who lift the poobah out of his chair and neatly toss him through a window. “Who needs ‘em?” asks the voiceover. The spot fades to the slogan “Program your own network,” then the TV logo, and the announcers says: “TiVo. TV your way.”

What It’s Trying To Say: Those guys who run TV networks are oppressive dopes. They don’t know what we the people would consider a more perfect evening’s entertainment. So rise up! Smash the network dopes! With the power of TiVo, you can fling these oppressors over the barricades yourself!

What It Doesn’t Say: TiVo isn’t actually for people who hate television, of course. It’s for people who love television so much that they find themselves overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of entertainment choices arrayed before them–mostly by the way of some broadcast or cable network.

The Grade: This is a mildly amusing spot that CBS probably would have been wise to air without a fuss. Refusing to air it simply gives a boost to the essentially fictitious notion of TiVo as a brash rebel undercutting the power of The Man for the greater good of all. Tech companies seem to particularly relish such poses, and I suspect that plenty of consumers are quite susceptible to them–if you can rationalize the purchase of a $400 digital recorder plus $10 a month for the service as a defiant stick in the eye of some media conglomerate or other, then why not? In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the people who buy the message of ads like this are exactly the sort of people who would be anxious to give TiVo a whirl. So give this ad a B+.