A company that spends $50 million on a new ad campaign urging customers to “come back” is sending a not-so-subtle signal to the marketplace: we ain’t all that. 

But that’s how Time Warner Cable chose to position itself starting this week with its “The Better Guarantee” multimedia blitz, which features subscribers describing what prompted them to return to the nation’s second largest cable operator. The New York Times previewed the campaign Monday.

Now before you head off to TW Cable’s YouTube channel to check out some of the commercials, stop and ask yourself, what exactly are the customers being asked to “come back” from?

You might suspect these ads are countering the hordes of subs that are supposedly so fed up with the extravagant cost of their monthly bill that they are throwing off the shackles of multichannel service and subsisting entirely on free over-the-air TV and/or broadband-delivered Netflix or Hulu or Amazon.

Then you’d be entirely wrong. 

What’s remarkable about this campaign is how it reflects zero anxiety over cord-cutting; these spots are entirely devoted to counterattacking the same competitors that cable operators have been fighting off for the past decade: satellite and telco firms.

“Why is satellite on demand so lame?” a subscriber asks aloud in one ad. “DSL was just too slow,” grumbles another. The primary pitch in these commercials isn’t about discounted price; it’s product and service attributes.

Translation: TW Cable is a lot more concerned with DirecTV and Verizon stealing its customers than those customers just getting by via Boxee.

Though the pay-TV business is routinely written about as if it faces imminent demise from various high-tech threats, TW Cable’s defensive posture doesn’t bear that out. The company could have dusted off commercials from 2002 and just run them again.

Either TW Cable is completely out of touch with the realities of its competitive landscape or those who see cord-cutters as decimating its business are delusional. We’ll find out next week when the MSO releases its fourth-quarter earnings.