Ready, Set, Rollout!1 Mar, 2013 By: Bridget McCrea Response
DRTV producers gain ground with both traditional marketers and brand advertisers in 2012 — and are looking to keep up the momentum in 2013.
DRTV producers stayed pretty busy in 2012 and then rode that wave of momentum right into the New Year as more companies explored their options in the short-form arena. With more brand advertisers taking an interest in direct response, improved production technologies being introduced almost daily, and a slew of complementary channels (like YouTube) standing at the ready, short-form DRTV has truly cemented a place for itself in the advertising world.
Joining the venerable Proactiv Solution in the top 10 Jordan Whitney’s rankings in late 2012 was a mix of products that included branded items like Lowe’s Kobalt screwdriver and the Oreck Vacuum, and DRTV products like the no! no! hair removal device, the Pocket Hose garden hose, and Café Cup reusable coffee pods.
The coffee pods represented just one of the 10 “slam dunk” short-form hits produced by Concepts TV Productions in Boonton, N.J. “We had a stellar year in 2012,” says Collette Liantonio, president. “It was so good, in fact, that I’m a little apprehensive about what’s going to happen this year.” Celebrating her firm’s 30 years in business in 2013, Liantonio says at least some of short-form DRTV’s popularity can be traced to its ability to drive consumer traffic to the Web.
“The younger the target audience, the more apt it is to buy online,” says Liantonio, who no longer leaves any unused footage on the cutting-room floor, thanks to the Web, online video and increased bandwidth. “If we can’t use it on TV, it goes online. No footage is wasted.”
Once online, the snippets replace the non-existent retail clerk and further entrench the product in the consumer’s brain. “With the Web connection we’re able to educate and entertain in a completely different venue,” says Liantonio, “all the while leveraging production dollars to the fullest.”
John Pucci, executive creative director and senior vice president at Hawthorne Direct in Los Angeles, agrees that 2012 was a strong year for short-form DRTV. One of the firm’s most successful spots was a brand-response piece that reintroduced the SanDisk Memory Vault consumer technology product to the masses. According to Pucci, the product had gained minimal traction at retail, and its maker wanted to use the spot to bring it back to life and “build value for a static product with preventative benefits.” The strategy worked, says Pucci, who reports that Wal-Mart’s sales of the SanDisk Memory Vault “increased dramatically” during a three-week TV test period.
To maximize its clients’ short-form campaigns, Pucci says Hawthorne Direct is leveraging techniques like “social listening” — a process that allows the company to truly gauge the customer and decipher how to best connect with him or her. Such strategies help clients overcome some of the challenges that are plaguing marketers in the short-form arena, where traditional, one-step direct sales via DRTV continue to struggle to break even and/or reach profitable levels. “That side of the business is getting marginalized,” says Pucci.
On the flip side, short-form spot producers are continually challenged to give branded clients higher-end production value at comparatively less expensive DR rates. “Inflationary pressures are everywhere,” says Pucci, “yet DRTV clients still expect low budget, great-looking work.”
Branded DRTV clients also have high demands, particularly when it comes to their campaigns’ retail components. Doug Garnett, president at Portland, Ore.-based Atomic Direct, says his firm produced three short-form spots for the Kobalt brand of hand tools (sold by Lowe’s). The 60- and 120-second ads were created to drive retail sales — a strategy that requires a non-traditional production approach.
“Failure isn’t allowed because by the time you test, there’s already product stocked at retail,” says Garnett. “Unlike traditional DRTV methods, this is more about getting it right the first time and less about ‘testing,’ or throwing pitches out there to see which one sticks.”
Michelle Cardinal, CEO at Portland, Ore.-based R2C Group, says more and more of the firm’s clients are highly dependent on short-form DRTV to drive their businesses. “A lot of them are dot-com firms that need to drive a certain number of leads per day,” says Cardinal, “so the short-form shows are very important to them.”
To accommodate those needs, she says R2C has filled its own portfolio with a diverse range of capabilities and formats — a move that’s become increasingly important in today’s uncertain, ever-changing business environment.
“As it pertains to short-form, we’ve committed to building an arsenal of many different show formats,” says Cardinal. If a particular show is having clearance problems, for example, then a shorter/replacement show can be quickly plugged in to help the marketer achieve its goals. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen in the marketplace,” says Cardinal. “Things are changing constantly and more rapidly than ever.”
With a 2013 business pipeline that includes a “good cache of products,” R2C is also armed with a new online focus group application that allows clients to more efficiently determine target market wants, needs and complaints. Cardinal is optimistic about the remainder of 2013. She points out that media rates and avails could be a challenging point, what with the high number of deep-pocketed, general rate advertisers that are using short-form DRTV.
Such challenges aside, Cardinal sees good things ahead for marketers that test multiple commercial formats and that aren’t afraid to try new techniques and strategies. “What didn’t work a few years ago may definitely work now,” says Cardinal. “Markets and conditions are changing rapidly; you can’t hold your agency accountable for not being innovative if you’re not innovating yourself.”
In the Long Run
Consumers are hungry for useful products that not only help solve their pain points, but that are packaged in an entertaining manner that holds their attention. Sometimes it takes more than a 30-, 60- or 90-second DRTV spot for those selling points to resonate. Infomercial producers hit on these and other key points in 2012 with products like Humana Medicare, the NuWave Precision Induction Cooktop, Insanity exercise DVDs, Meaningful Beauty skincare system, Wen haircare, and the NutriBullet personal blender, all of which have been ranked highly in recent months on the Jordan Whitney charts.
According to Ken Kerry, co-founder and executive creative director at Script to Screen in Santa Ana, Calif., 2012 was the year that more long-form marketers woke up to the value of integrating back-end products into their shows. Going beyond continuity programs, for example, many found ways to associate their main products with other selling opportunities — all without taking the focus off that main item. Content like response-driven FAQs (frequently asked questions) can be created, for example, for the Web, the third screen, E-mail outbound marketing campaigns, and social networks — all of which expand the original campaign’s presence.
“Clients are thinking about the entire campaign — from the front end to the back end — and how to integrate both in the infomercial without pulling away from the main message,” Kerry explains. “It all comes down to the campaign’s bottom line and ROI.”
With an eye on that bottom line, producers are also using technological advancements to work smarter, better and faster out in the field, on set, and in the editing room. Equipped with new broadcast XD cameras that produce high-quality HD images in small packages, for example, Kerry says producers can operate in a more mobile, economical manner. And while the equipment costs themselves haven’t dropped, producers are able to leverage their advanced capabilities to work more quickly and efficiently.
“In the past, with a typical production package, we could only knock out eight or nine shooting days with the allotted budget,” Kerry explains. “Now, we can double the number of shooting days due to the accessibility and quality of cameras in the market.”
Garnett has always viewed retail as DRTV’s ultimate end point. Not everyone agrees with him, even though — as he says — nine out of 10 dollars in campaign profitability are made at retail. “The question is, how do you play that into your campaign?” Garnett asks, pointing out that many long-form and short-form shows have retained a philosophy of “see it on TV first” and then slowly work the product into retail. “A lot of traditional DRTV producers haven’t really changed their thinking on this point,” he says.
Expect more of those producers to slowly awaken to retail’s vital role in infomercial success, says Garnett, who adds that long-form presents a large, untapped opportunity for marketers across many different industries. “It’s kind of sad that we aren’t seeing more interesting shows coming out of long-form right now,” says Garnett. “There should be a lot more activity within this powerful marketing medium.”
And unlike their short-form cohorts, long-form DRTV users are operating in a more affable media environment where brand/general rate advertisers have yet to tread in any big numbers. “There are a smaller group of characters using long-form,” says Cardinal. “You have three or four incumbents and that’s about it.” Cardinal says she’d like to see more clients using infomercials, which many companies shy away from due to the high production costs associated with the longer format. “There are definitely some inhibitors when it comes to long-form.” ■