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Direct Response Marketing

Embracing the Changing Times

1 Jul, 2015 By: Bridget McCrea Response

Short- and long-form DRTV producers grapple with challenges and maximize the highs of their changing advertising and media environments.

As the advertising and media environments continue to morph and change, so do the producers who specialize in creating short- and long-form TV ads for a wide range of clients. Once a mainstay for inventors and entrepreneurs who needed an affordable way to get their innovative products on TV, DRTV has become a popular choice for the single-product inventor to the huge, multinational brand — and everyone in between.

As users of direct response, many of these firms have felt the impact of numerous shifts during the past year — from increased oversight of short-form claims to a fragmented media environment to the need for tightly integrated campaigns that include Web, social and other digital approaches.

In this annual look at the production landscape, we’ll explore the current trends in both short- and long-form production, discuss the current challenges in the space, and provide an outlook for the coming year.

Short-Form Steps Up

Direct response marketers are no strangers to scrutiny over product claims, but the recent moves on the part of several state attorneys general has put both short-form marketers and their producers on edge.

“There’s a lot of contradiction from state-to-state right now in terms of law interpretation,” says Collette Liantonio, president of Boonton, N.J.-based Concepts TV Productions. “This has created a very challenging market for authentic and honest products. Everyone is trying to be compliant, but it’s hard to decipher the rules.”

As for the specific products or product categories being challenged right now, Liantonio says it’s “pretty much across the board,” with some commanding more scrutiny (weight loss and ingestibles, for example) than others. “It really relates to the specific offers and they way you articulate what the consumer is getting,” says Liantonio. “The verbiage used in short-form commercials must be very precise.”

To offset this challenge, Liantonio says her firm is conducting intensive product testing for its clients to make sure that any claims that are made are documented. “Documentation and due diligence are more important than ever,” she adds. “And even though we’re on the creative side, we’re also making sure that the ‘befores’ and ‘afters’ are all authentic, and ensuring that all claims can be documented via photos.”

Despite these challenges, Liantonio says short-form continues to be a popular choice for marketers that are looking to create integrated direct-to-consumer campaigns that reach a wide audience. With the nation’s 78 million Baby Boomers beginning to turn 70 next year, for example, demand for health-related items continues to blossom.

“We’re inundated with compression, posture and copper products; that seems like a trend in the industry right now,” says Liantonio. “And with Americans becoming more active, marketers are approaching it less from a ‘diet’ viewpoint and are coming up with products meant to assist and support consumers in their active lifestyles.”

At Hawthorne Direct Inc., Los Angeles-based George Leon, senior vice president of media and account management, says 2015 has turned out to be an “extremely competitive” year for direct response marketers. “Right out of the gate, in January, we saw a very competitive marketplace where e-tailers were extremely strong,” says Leon, who points to Dollar Shave Club and as two of Hawthorne’s particularly strong e-tailers in the short-form space right now.

He’s also seen a significant resurgence in financial campaigns, with life and auto insurance both being particularly strong. “Those categories made the short-form marketplace very competitive,” says Leon.

This year, Leon says a high number of the firm’s short-form campaigns are focused on driving consumers to retail to purchase products. In addition, he says more marketers are putting an effort into Web attribution and on identifying the ways in which television drives the lifetime value of the consumer.

Concurrently, Leon says he’s hearing more talk about programmatic media buying (i.e., the automation of the buying, placement and optimization of media inventory), and notes that Hawthorne is preparing systems and tools that will allow it to “look at data platforms, manage multiple vendors, and look at programmatic more effectively and quickly.”

When it comes to technology, DRTV producers and marketers are getting pretty creative about using new tools and innovations to shoot their commercials. Beachbody, for example, sends out flip cams to users who, in turn, shoot their own “before” and “after” footage and then send it back to the company.

Liantonio says this approach works particularly well in today’s video-minded world, where no one is afraid to shoot a video and/or snap a selfie. “We use the footage to create testimonials post-production,” says Liantonio, “to show the large amount of weight that people have lost using an exercise and/or diet program. It works out really well.”

On the media front, Leon says short-form upfront media buying has “lost a bit of traction” in 2015, and notes that the buying environment has become more competitive as a result.

“Because they aren’t selling as much time upfront, stations and networks are recognizing that they cannot just simply compete by delivering total audience impressions,” says Leon. “Instead, they’re being very strategic, offering targeted impressions.”

He points to Turner Networks (which includes CNN, TNT, TBS and more) as an example of a network group that’s starting to sell media inventory based on targeted impressions vs. total audience impressions.

“In doing so, the networks are asking for higher rates because the consumer groups that they’re targeting/delivering are going to be more refined,” says Leon. “At the same time, the stations themselves are becoming more in tune with the necessity of targeting our message to the right consumers, as opposed to targeting a message to a general audience and hoping to find that consumer.”

In most cases, such targeting doesn’t require much shifting on the part of the DR marketer who has “always invested in campaigns from a targeted perspective,” says Leon.

Where short-form marketers have had to adjust their strategies, says Leon, is in taking the time to assess a campaign’s potential for success or failure — a process that used to be a little easier and faster. “It’s become significantly more important to allow enough time to look not just at front-end impulse response, but to also see what impact TV advertising has on all marketing channels, digital included,” says Leon. “Marketers need to be able to understand the full impact of their campaigns, and need the necessary leeway to allow for that early research and due diligence.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Doug Garnett, president at Portland, Ore.-based Atomic Direct and a member of the Response Advisory Board, expects short-form’s current momentum to keep up as more brands discover the format and add it to their advertising portfolios.

“The climate continues to be very positive, and all of the right things continue to fall into place despite the fact that some people are predicting TV’s demise,” says Garnett. “In fact, DRTV as a whole just seems to keep getting stronger in terms of the results that it drives.”

Long-Form: Steady Wins the Race

Combine shorter attention spans with the fact that most brand advertisers aren’t used to spreading their messages out across 28.5 minutes, and you get a climate that is less conducive for long-form DRTV. This doesn’t mean that long-form is going away anytime soon, according to Garnett, but it does make “selling” the idea of using infomercials a bit more challenging for the typical DRTV producer.

“Long-form still has huge value; there’s actually a massive opportunity sitting out there that brands are pretty much ignoring,” Garnett explains, noting that those brands that take the time to learn the value of long-form generally wind up benefitting from it — particularly when it comes to driving retail sales. He points to Euro-Pro’s Ninja blenders and Shark vacuums as two examples of products whose retail sales have been boosted considerably by the use of long-form.

The good news, says Garnett, is that long-form is a “steal” right now because it’s not being used as heavily as it had been in years past. “This is the perfect time to jump into it,” he says, acknowledging the fact that not all brands are ready to embrace infomercials as advertising platforms. “There are a lot of corporate structures and politics that work against long-form, when in fact it’s probably one of the smartest moves that a company can make.”

Large brands, for example, can use infomercials to roll out high-margin products that require more education and storytelling at the outset, making them perfect for the half-hour format. “Long-form still lets you introduce items that you wouldn’t be able to roll out any other way,” Garnett says.

At Envision Response Group in Seattle, CEO Sean Fay says his firm has been involved with several successful long-form shows during the past year. The company’s T-Fal OptiGrill Show rolled out in 2014, for example, and continues to do well, while its AAA AutoClub infomercial has been particularly successful this year. “Our T-Fal OptiGrill show at one point was a top-10 show,” says Fay, who used the “cooking show” format to showcase the grill. “Testimonials continue to be important drivers of great infomercials, and we had some of our best for this one.”

Fay says one of the challenges was justifying the grill’s $180 price point. “Excellent demonstrations, the offer, and the widespread social proof helped us tell the story,” says Fay, whose team also created a YouTube channel for OptiGrill that featured videos produced by Envision plus Web-based review videos.

“The infomercial is generating good returns through DR,” says Fay, “and also driving a growing retail and multichannel business.”

Patrick Raymond, executive vice president and executive creative director at Brand New Media in Los Angeles, concurs, and says long-form is a great tool for driving an overall campaign.

“I think the more traditional DRTV players are jumping on board with [long-form],” says Raymond, “but it’s sometimes harder with startup companies or smaller companies that come from a different mentality to get their heads around it.”

In most cases, Raymond says brand advertisers need and want advice regarding their direct response strategies and the related budgets. “They look to us to give them feedback on the best possible approach,” says Raymond, who finds that many marketers turn to short-form because it provides “an easy way for people to respond quickly.”

“People’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter; it’s about providing bite-size content that’s easy for people to absorb quickly,” adds Raymond. “Because of this, the short-form model on TV is often seen as an easier entry point when it comes to selling a brand message.”

That said, Raymond points out that long-form usually makes sense when there is a story behind the product. “If you have a recognizable face with an item that lends itself to a long-form campaign, and one that requires consumers to absorb a lot of information before buying,” says Raymond, “then it makes sense to use long-form.”

Looking ahead, Fay says he’s seeing more of a shift to short-form and, when a campaign begins to grow, the exploration of long-form as an additional medium.

“It used to be the other way around,” says Fay, who expects the fundamental principles of DRTV to continue to work, despite the various challenges and changes that are impacting the long-form arena.

“It’s still about having a great product, doing your homework, and delivering as much value as you possibly can to acquire not only a customer — but also a lead,” says Fay. “From there, once you have the buyer in your sales funnel, you work to deliver a solid, customer-centric experience. You still can’t go wrong with this approach.” ■

About the Author: Bridget McCrea

Bridget McCrea

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