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Direct Response Marketing

DRTV Production: A Winning Combination

1 Mar, 2011 By: Bridget McCrea Response

Whether they’re working in long-form or short-form, today’s DRTV producers strive to balance the needs of their clients with end-user demands.


On the long-form side, Seavey says clients continue to be challenged by regulatory issues, particularly those governing before-and-after testimonials. Since many clients feel that it’s impossible to create an effective infomercial without testimonials, Seavey says her company is continually ferreting out new ways to tell stories without using DRTV’s standard methodologies.

“We’re looking at creative ways to build excitement in the products or services, but without necessarily resorting to testimonials every time,” says Seavey.

Also on this producer’s mind is the structure of the offer itself, and how that structure aligns with the marketer’s merchant accounts. “We’re doing minor tweaks to the offers, all the while remaining cognizant of the regulatory issues,” she explains. “The problem is that call volume suffers when you dumb the language down too much and make it into a soft offer. That’s something we continue to grapple with.”

Deciphering a Changing Environment

With successful short-form shows for a robotic floor cleaner, an online file backup company and a secondary educational institution under its belt in 2010, Hawthorne Direct of Fairfield, Iowa, is gearing up for more hits this year. To get there, Tim Hawthorne, chairman and executive creative director (and a member of the Response Editorial Advisory Board), says his firm will be delivering even higher-end production services that include high-definition shoots, and superior graphics, lighting and props.

Credit DRTV’s mass appeal and brand following with pushing those standards to new levels. “Many DR spots are becoming more like brand spots in look and feel,” says Hawthorne, who adds that branding issues are more important than ever as more DRTV focuses on driving retail and Internet sales.

The good news is that editing, camera and graphic technology is making it easier to produce higher and higher quality spots for less than they used to cost. Shooting only in HD is now the routine (and not as expensive), for example, not the exception. “That’s a big change from just one year ago,” Hawthorne says. “Suffice it to say, the production landscape has become much more complex and diverse and impacts directly on how productions are shot, and what kind of budgets are needed.”

These trends have opened the doors for creative expression and ideas to be realized much more cost effectively, says Hawthorne, but has at the same time made management of all the material a much more daunting process. It’s also more confusing than ever for marketers, many of which don’t understand the terminology and technology that goes on behind the scenes.

“Clients are now demanding to be able to be seen and heard across many different platforms, and it is up to us to anticipate their needs and to deliver for them,” says Hawthorne. “Most times, it is hard to get the exact requirements from the client as they don’t always know what they want, or they get terminology confused.”

The Tech Effect

Scott Opfer remembers a time in the not too distant past when listing a URL in a DRTV spot or infomercial was a big no-no. “We wanted all orders coming via the 800 number for greater accountability,” recalls Opfer, president and CEO at Springfield, Mo.-based Opfer Communications Inc., whose 2010 productions include the short-form Simoniz Fix It Pro, Patch Perfect Grass Seed, Topsy Turvy tomato tree and Garden Groom hedge trimmer.

“Now, in many instances, we produce spots that lead consumers to the website because that is where they are most comfortable learning more about the product and ordering,” says Opfer. “With every campaign, the percentage of orders being secured over the Internet grows larger.”

Also impacting the DRTV production process is online video — a phenomenon that hasn’t lived up to expectations yet in terms of converting viewers into customers. “We still aren’t finding online video portals having much effect on DRTV’s bottom line: orders,” says Hawthorne, who points to’s viral videos as one example of how a product can succeed in this arena. “The challenge is getting mass eyeballs to view your video as opposed to 367 views after posting your commercial on YouTube. There is still no substitute for 115 million households watching TV.”

Despite online video’s ability to deliver bottom line results, Opfer says, “The viral video express train has arrived and if you’re not on it, you’re under it.” Like it or not, he adds, your commercial and product are going to end up on YouTube while being the subject of Internet chat sessions.

“It’s great news when you have a great product, because the word spreads like wildfire,” says Opfer. “But if you don’t deliver the goods and keep your customers happy, the bad news will go ‘viral’ and get buried.”

Tony Kerry, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Script to Screen in Santa Ana, Calif., expects the trend of repurposing infomercial content for online video to increase this year, with such material continuing to be streamed to social-networking sites like Facebook. “The infomercial is being used in so many new ways,” says Kerry. “It’s incumbent upon the marketer to control and repurpose that content in as many ways as possible.”

The Prognosis

Expect short- and long-form DRTV to remain a critical part of any firm’s marketing mix this year, and into 2012, say the producers interviewed for this article. And if the fact that an increasing number of brand advertisers are using the medium is any indication, DRTV will become an even hotter commodity in the future.

“There are basically no companies that aren’t using DRTV, or at least considering it as part of their marketing mix,” says Kerry. “It’s as standard as TV advertising is, and its profile is growing year after year.”

That popularity is a double-edged sword for DRTV producers who find themselves doing a lot more client education than they did, say, 10 years ago. Helping those marketers understand how to effectively use the format, and how to utilize feasibility studies and testing to ensure success, can steal time away from the actual production process.

“We’ve been working with clients, helping them through feasibility analyses and how to establish realistic goals for their campaigns,” says Kerry. “We also work with them to study the impact of other distribution channels, including home shopping and retail, and how they work together to create cohesive, integrated campaigns.”

Opfer, who remembers a time when most of his days were spent typing up scripts on typewriters and splicing film clips, expects the evolution of digital media to make his job easier in the future. But while technology has helped producers work faster, better and smarter, it has also opened the door for competition.

“Any guy with a digital camera and computer can claim to be an infomercial producer, but thankfully it’s the message — and whether that message makes the phone ring — that really matters,” says Opfer. “No one has ever hired us because of our digital capacities or capabilities, and in fact most of them don’t care. They just want us to create another DRTV winner. Period.” ■

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