‘Painfully Awkward’ Rob Lowe Ad Draws Ire From Advocacy Group (and Earned Media)

Shy bladder sufferers are less than amused by a new ad in which “painfully awkward” Rob Lowe says that he can’t urinate in public. The International Paruresis Association, which estimates that roughly 7 percent of Americans have some form of "shy bladder syndrome," wants the ad pulled. DirectTV says the group should lighten up. Either way, it’s another example of “earned” media generated by paid media.

The “Painfully Awkward” spot, which rotates with “Super-Creepy Rob Lowe” and  “Less Attractive Rob Lowe,” is part of DirectTV ad campaign to encourage consumers to switch from cable.

The ad includes two Lowes: the suave, debonair Lowe, who claims to be a DirectTV customer, and a fanny-pack-wearing Lowe who says he can’t “go” with other people around (and is supposed to represent a cable customer). The ad says cable subscribers have to wait.

"We don't mind if people have a little fun with it," Steve Soifer, CEO of  International Paruresis Association, told The Associated Press. "It's a situation that a lot of people don't understand. In this particular case, the portrayal is making it look ridiculous, that this guy is a loser for having a problem."

Darris Gringeri, spokesman for DirecTV, told the Huffington Post nothing doing.

“The ads will continue to run for the vast majority of viewers who have told us they enjoy the spots and understand that, like all of our commercials, they take place in a fantasy world and are not based in reality," Gringeri said.

Our guess is DirectTV is not very disappointed with the backlash. It will generate more attention for a campaign that—compared with most ads these days—is funny and refreshing. The backlash will also pique the interest of people who may not be aware of the commercials.

For any group perturbed at a particular ad or PR campaign, it’s important to note that you foster what you condemn. Fury equals more media impressions and more eyeballs.

Advocacy groups—and their PR reps—need to gauge the severity of the alleged offense and determine whether their time and resources might be better spent elsewhere.


Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1