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Direct Response Marketing

Field Reports - April 2014

1 Apr, 2014 By: Doug McPherson, Thomas Haire Response

Response Q&A

Kirby: ‘The Consumer Is in Charge’

By Thomas Haire (

Jack Kirby is the Los Angeles-based president of creative, marketing and television production units of Havas Edge, North America’s largest integrated direct marketing advertising agency. With a 30-plus-year career in television and direct response, Kirby is one of the foremost experts on direct-to-consumer marketing. Recently, we spoke with Kirby about how the DR market — and its leading marketers — has changed in recent years.

Q: In recent years, the DR industry has attracted a different type of marketer than in its early days. What are the biggest challenges from an agency/vendor perspective when dealing with these clients?

A: Fragmented media is an obvious one. But a more interesting one is this: today we not only see to it that clients hit their numbers, we make sure they’re burnishing their brands while they’re at it. That didn’t used to be expected of a response agency. But now, many more brands — mainstream mass-market brands — are interested in the DR space. It’s that fragmenting media I spoke of, along with improved metrics, that has made DR much more attractive to marketers today in nearly every vertical.

So, the most important new challenge we face as a response agency today is, ironically, helping to steward the brand. ROI is of course paramount, but now so is making sure that our clients’ brands are well respected in the marketplace. And for that, it’s important to know how “direct” a brand might need to be. We often work hand-in-glove with the traditional brand agencies some of our clients have on their rosters. We enjoy it. The industry has evolved, and so have we: we’re not simply a “direct response agency”; we’re a brand response agency. It’s why people come to us — we build the business and the brand.

Q: Are agencies now more responsible for creating and driving the strategy behind a campaign rather than executing a marketer’s predetermined strategy? If so, why?

A: Strategy is king. If the strategic platform isn’t solid, even the best creative will fail. And so we work very closely with our clients at a strategic level. First, when the client’s “predetermined” strategy feels (upon study) sound to us, we gladly execute against it. Other times, we need to raise our hands and ask if there isn’t something more compelling to leverage. It’s maybe my favorite part of the business.

Many chief marketing officers (CMOs) come to us especially for our strategic wherewithal, which is naturally grounded in a deep knowledge of DR fundamentals. Plus, today we have access to more, better and faster data, which allows us to develop a more insightful and effective strategy at a campaign’s outset and helps us optimize the ROI in near real time — and on an ongoing basis. This also means clients can — and do — demand better and better results. I don’t blame them; I’m the same way.

Q: What is the role of the agency today in helping a marketer develop the strategy behind a DR campaign?

A: Most often, we take the lead in identifying a clear and compelling strategy, one that we’re confident will enable a client to achieve agreed-upon levels of success. It begins with thorough analysis of the client’s customer base and competitive landscape. We then work with the marketer to align on the unique selling proposition (USP): the one idea that positions the product or service most persuasively from its competitors. Once we land on a USP, we generate creative and engage the market with messaging that’s on brand, and we’re pretty sure will work. If it comes from us, all the appropriate tried-and-true response triggers will be built right in. In today’s direct-to-consumer landscape, it’s no longer about swinging for the fences and striking out if you miss. It’s about massaging your way to success. I tell our clients we test, read and react — continually optimizing the campaign. This is our mantra.

Q: What three things must an agency or vendor do to create (and succeed in) the type of collaborative relationship required by this new breed of DR marketers?

A: First: define success. Job one is agreeing upon what winning looks like. We all have to align on goals. At Havas Edge, we only win when the client wins. It’s not always that way in the agency world, but it sure should be.

Second, which goes to my first point, is transparency — honest, free-flowing, two-way communication of information and feedback. We need to know where our clients’ customers are all through the sales cycle: from acquisition, through retention and beyond.

Third is helping a marketer keep all the vendors they work with on the same page, both in terms of business objectives and brand management. À la carte vendors doing their own thing, unguided, can doom a campaign and help destroy a brand.

Q: What do you consider the most successful campaign you’ve worked on recently that featured this type of collaboration? And why do you believe it succeeded?

A: Transparency and shared goals are very much part of campaigns that we’ve built and continue to evolve for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). It’s a national network of hospitals offering personalized, state-of-the-art treatment for just about every type of cancer. Given the ever-evolving nature of oncology and CTCA’s multigenerational and geographically diverse consumer base, they’re also a great example of a client requiring a truly flexible and integrated effort: strategic planning, creative, media, etc. We, as an agency, have to be totally on top of when, where and how to reach potential patients regarding a supremely sensitive and unusually personal issue. With CTCA, we’ve created a very effective, efficient and fully integrated multimedia campaign using long-form and short-form TV, online (SEO/SEM), radio, print, and out-of-home (OOH) advertising. They do great work, and I’m proud to say we help them get there.

Q: For the direct response business to continue to be successful five years from now, what three things are crucial for agencies and vendors to provide going forward?

A: For starters, a thoroughly integrated approach to marketing will be paramount. Ways to reach consumers are multiplying, will continue to do so, and we have to be ahead of that curve. It’s exciting, and we love thinking about new ways to engage people — all as part of a comprehensive marketing program. That’s what we do and I expect will be doing five years down the road and beyond.

Secondly, the better able we are to leverage consumer info, the better job we’ll do for our clients. “Big Data” is allowing more and more accurate and actionable performance metrics every day. We’ve built one of the most sophisticated analytics groups in the direct-to-consumer world to bring actionable insights to our clients. And this will only become more robust. As a result we, along with our client partners, will be able to work smarter from inception to implementation in campaign planning, creative execution and optimization all along the way.

Old school, offline media — TV, print, OOH and radio — will still matter. TV is and will continue to be the biggest aggregator of eyeballs in the market — it’ll just be available on different kinds of (and more) screens. It will be crucial to continue leveraging its predominant influence.

But the most important thing agencies and clients need to embrace to ensure success, something CMOs don’t always like to admit, is this: the consumer is in charge. Technology has put the consumer in the driver’s seat and empowers her more and more each passing year. Marketers that understand this, work to accommodate this reality, and continue to please and even astonish their customers will flourish. Those who don’t won’t be here to tell the tale.

Trudeau Headed to Federal Prison

By Doug McPherson

CHICAGO — It appears infomercial viewers have seen the last of Kevin Trudeau – at least for a decade. That is unless he can find a way to broadcast from prison that “they don’t want you to know about.”

The controversial TV pitchman and author, who made millions telling folks how to get free money, lose weight and cure illnesses naturally was sentenced to 10 years on March 17 for criminal contempt.

Trudeau, 51, violated a 2004 federal court order that prohibited him from making misleading infomercials and misrepresenting his weight-loss books. Despite the order, Trudeau aired the infomercials at least 32,000 times, prosecutors said.

In November 2013, a jury convicted Trudeau of criminal contempt.

Prosecutors used infomercials from 2006 and 2007 as evidence of Trudeau allegedly misrepresenting the contents of one of his weight-loss books. The U.S. attorney said those infomercials were not only untrue, but they violated the 2004 court order that prohibited the infomercials.

His weight-loss book, which once topped best-seller lists, was the focus of the criminal conviction and a related civil case brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in which Trudeau was ordered to pay a $37 million judgment.

Trudeau said he couldn’t pay the civil judgment because he’s broke. But the FTC noted Trudeau spent lavishly in recent years, including $359 on two haircuts. Trudeau claimed not to know where $100,000 in gold bars that he bought had gone.

During sentencing U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman wasn’t at a loss for words for the convict, calling him “deceitful to the core.” He added, “Since the age of 25, [Trudeau] has attempted to cheat others for his own personal gain.”

Prosecutors weren’t any kinder: In a sentencing memo, they called Trudeau an “unrepentant, untiring, and uncontrollable huckster who has defrauded the unsuspecting for 30 years.”

Prosecutors added that they could think of no comparable case of someone cheating people so brazenly, and said Trudeau deserved a sentence of at least 10 years. Trudeau’s defense attorneys said he deserved no more than two years and that they will appeal the 10-year sentence.

Trudeau apologized to the court, claiming he is a changed man.

Response Q&A

McAlister Looks to Remain a Retail ‘Top Dog’

By Thomas Haire (

Bill McAlister is president of Trevose, Pa.-based Top Dog Direct, a direct response television marketing company designed to bring successful products to TV and retail. The company’s list of successes during the past 10-plus years includes Mighty Putty, Smart Mop and recent market leaders Tag Away and Night View NV. Recently, we caught up with McAlister in advance of Response Expo (April 29-May 1), where Top Dog plans to have a powerful presence.

Q: What are the three most important things a marketer like Top Dog Direct looks for from industry trade groups and events?

A: The only thing we look for from trade groups and events are new products. That is all that matters to us. Our industry doesn’t move forward unless we have new items.

Q: Who is most important for your company to meet with when you attend an industry trade show and why?

A: Inventors! They are the lifeblood of our industry. We are always looking for new, interesting, problem-solving items. It is also important for us to meet with the individuals that handle media buying at channels such as Discovery, CNN, CNBC, etc. If media costs continue to rise, it will kill our business. We need to figure this out.

Q: What are the two most important topics facing the DR industry today and how can the industry band together to address them?

A: Number one: the cost of media. Media costs are through the roof, and we won’t be able to continue with TV if these costs continue to increase. Based on the amount of channels and 7 million fewer people watching TV this year, this is a major concern for us. Second: knockoffs are a major problem in our industry, and nobody wants to talk about 800-lb. gorilla in the room.

Q: What are Top Dog’s two biggest successes in the past year?

A: Tag Away and Nightview NV. Tag Away skin tag remover is a monster success and continues to do great. With Nightview NV, we found a category within the sunglass category that is huge.

Q: What do you consider the most successful campaign you’ve worked on in your career and why?

A: Tag Away was our most successful. It helped solve a sensitive problem that so many people have.

Q: Where would you like to see the direct response business five years from now?

A: I would like to see TV stations get some type of religion and get real with their pricing so we can continue to use TV to drive retail.

Twitter to Offer ‘Click-to-Call’ Direct Response Option

By Doug McPherson

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter says it will soon become an effective direct response advertising medium that will create leads, drive app downloads, collect consumers’ E-mail addresses and prompt incoming calls from customers.

Richard Alfonsi, Twitter’s vice president of global online sales, told in mid-March that Twitter is beta-testing a click-to-call button to allow mobile users to engage with a Twitter ad, but he didn’t say when it would be available.

Analysts say Twitter needs to increase its ad base because its ad rates are falling and its growth is slowing — and they add that direct response ads measured by clicks, leads or sales still make up the majority of online ad spending.

So far, advertisers have used Twitter ads primarily to create awareness about a brand or event. An emphasis on direct response means convincing marketers that Twitter ads can be used for more highly targeted campaigns in which the bottom line is more important than the number of retweets and favorites.

Adobe has used Twitter’s lead generation ads to help a college find adult users who were considering going back to school. Digital marketing company Webtrends used them to build an E-mail database of potential new clients. And a digital retailer tapped Twitter to drive sales on its site.

Alfonsi said direct awareness is an addition (not a replacement) to promoted tweets, trends and accounts aimed at garnering interest over producing a conversion. “It doesn’t change the consumer experience; it makes it more relevant,” Alfonsi said.

Response Q&A

Jacobs Reflects After 55 Years in the Biz

By Thomas Haire (

Barry Jacobs is vice president at Santa Monica, Calif.-based Mercury Media — but to those who’ve known him since he began his career in TV advertising 55 years ago, he’s much more than that. Friend, mentor, trusted advisor — Jacobs is a true legend in the DR media world. Recently, after he announced his departure from Mercury Media for what he calls “semi-retirement,” effective following Response Expo on April 29-May 1, we caught up with Jacobs for a chat about his life and times in advertising.

Q: What’s the most memorable moment of your years in the business?

A: I started the business in 1959. If you look back, my first real job decision after working at a CBS station in Philadelphia was in the mid-1960s when the government said that all TVs should have a UHF band. As a result there were a lot of construction permits for the ability to start TV stations. So in 1965, I went to work with WPHL. I worked there for four years then moved to Phoenix and then San Francisco.

San Francisco was great. I was sales manager of KFRC, which was the top rock station. But I wanted to do independent television. You really learn how to sell when a 1.0 rating is your high.

What I consistently was able to do was look ahead to see what the next advancement was — what was the next regulation that created a new line of positions. I was a rep when the commercial regulations changed in the mid-1980s. At the same time cable was opening up to infomercials, when West Telemarketing started offering its 800 numbers, that gave us the ability to track.

I was working at Telerep at the time, and I got the idea to start my own business — Barry Jacobs & Associates in 1988. I met a gentleman who had a real estate seminar business, and he became my first client

Those were fun days. We were calling up stations asking them what kind of revenue they were getting out of “The Cisco Kid” on Saturday morning. They would say, “Oh, $600.” We were offering them $750, and we had the full half-hour show for them.

It’s been a great run. Five years ago, when I met with John (Cabrinha) and Dan (Danielson), I promised them five years and a viable short-form division for Mercury Media. Fortunately, we were able to engage the right people — Maria Eden, Gina Pomponi and their entire group in Philadelphia. Their addition guaranteed success.

Q: What are your two biggest accomplishments during your career?

A: When I received the Gallery of Success Award — a lifetime achievement award — from Temple University, I was sitting there and they’re talking about me, reading my bio. There are hundreds of people. You have a plaque, with a permanent picture and everything. My family was in the audience, and they watched me get the award. That was really cool, seeing everybody proud. Looking back, I’d also say the 10 years I was teaching at UCLA. As far as personal satisfaction, a lot of the reps in town went through my class. A lot of the people in advertising did. There is a great deal of satisfaction when people come up and say, “Thank you. It was a great class and I learned a lot.”

Q: What do you consider the most successful campaign you’ve worked on and why?

A: I knew Ron Popeil for 30 years when we first came out with the Showtime Rotisserie with an $8 cost-per-order (CPO). For a while we owned national cable with him. Then, we really owned Lifetime with him. It just worked. Watching that particular product go from an $8 CPO to still making money at $100 CPO — it was an absolutely incredible run.

Another was Bosley. That was where we were sitting in the conference room with John Ohanesian, president of Bosley, and Ray Golden from West. The script was green. We were putting together the package and deciding how we would work it from inception. We handled it for about eight years. We took a product that was takes hair from the back of your head and puts it in the front of your head and helped turn it into a business that’s made millions of dollars and just bought Hair Club for Men.

Q: What have been the biggest surprises during your time working in the media and DR space?

A: The adaptability that we have during our career is what makes us successful or not. I think the biggest surprise was how fast the Internet took control. It was like electronic media was there and the foundation for so many years. Then, all of a sudden, the second screen came out and it’s like it took 20 years to unfold and it has doubled in two. That was a surprise because when we first started out with the Web, 2 percent of our sales were online, then 10 percent of sales were online. Now a project is not a success unless 50 percent of its sales are online.

Q: What prompted you to make this move into “semi-retirement”?

A: At my age, my plans are really simple. I’m still going to be available to work with clients and bring media to Mercury.

I’ll be doing new business for them and, hopefully, keep the relationship going. If I have to go 10 hours one day and two hours the next day, I have the freedom to do it. I love what I do. I just don’t want to do it five days a week, eight or 10 hours a day anymore. I’d rather take my 50 years of experience and help somebody develop a new project. If I can have another Bosley or another Ronco in the process, that would be my goal.

Q: Where would you like to see the business 20 years from now?

A: First, and most obvious, I’d like to be alive to see it! I would like the people who have spent the years that I’ve spent in the business have the same feelings of camaraderie and caring for others in the business so that the it doesn’t become cutthroat. I’m looking at the product development end and the client development end where it’s not stealing from another agency. It’s basically developing your own, which is what I’ve always tried to do.

Q: What is your personal plan for the next five years?

A: As long as I’m physically able and as long as my health holds, I don’t want to get bored. I plan to play golf one day a week — so that leaves me four days to work. My wife is a great cook. I’ve got a couple of dogs. I’ve got three kids, six grandchildren. I’ll watch them play ball, watch them grow up. As long as I’m busy, I’ll be very happy.

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About the Author: Doug McPherson

About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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