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Direct Response Marketing

Field Reports - February 2014

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

10 Inductees Chosen for the Second Class of the DR Hall of Fame

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Response Magazine and its Advisory Board are proud to announce the inductees for the second class of the Direct Response Hall of Fame, made up of 10 legendary leaders in the direct response marketing business: Chickie Bucco, Tim Hawthorne, AJ Khubani, Collette Liantonio, Tony Little, Billy Mays, Suzanne Somers, Gary West, Mary West and Katie Williams.

“Following on last year’s successful debut of the DR Hall of Fame — an idea that was years in the making — we’re thrilled to welcome this second group of inductees,” says Thomas Haire, editor-in-chief of Response. “As always, we must credit the DR Hall of Fame’s genesis to Northern Response’s Richard Stacey, whose desire for Response and the industry as a whole to truly honor those who have helped turn direct response marketing into a $300 billion annual business was crucial to its founding in 2013.”

The group will be honored during an induction ceremony at Response Expo in San Diego on Thursday, May 1. The event, which will be hosted on the Expo Hall floor beginning at 3 p.m., is sponsored by LiveOps, and will follow a special panel discussion with a group of the inductees that will take place from 1:45-2:45 p.m. at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

“What a wonderful group this second class of inductees to the DR Hall of Fame is,” says John Yarrington, publisher of Response. “Each inductee brings his or her own amazing success story to the table. And with more than 30 nominees submitted once again by our Advisory Board and the 2013 inductees, the breadth of service to the DR business displayed by the members of this group again displays just what it will take to join the ranks of the DR Hall of Fame in the coming years.”

Here are brief biographies of the 10 inductees:

Chickie Bucco is president of Katz Direct, a Katz Television Group Company — the oldest, largest and most successful media representative. Bucco oversees direct response short-form, program time sales and paid religion on behalf of more than 500 of Katz Television Group’s client stations. Bucco is known within the Katz organization and industry as a true mentor. In addition to her duties with the Katz Television Group, Bucco has been actively involved with The Alliance for Women in Media — on both the local and national levels — for more than a decade. She has demonstrated her strong commitment to teaching and leadership programs through many contributions, including as a Career Day speaker in New York City public high schools and as Principal for a Day at PS 123 in the Bronx.

Tim Hawthorne is the founder, chairman and CEO of Hawthorne Direct, a full-service brand response advertising agency, specializing in strategic planning, creative development, production, media planning, buying and analytics and campaign management for integrated marketing campaigns. The agency has offices in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Fairfield, Iowa, and has won more than 450 creative awards for numerous brand campaigns during the past 27 years. Hawthorne is a regular columnist for various industry publications, including Response Magazine, and is author of “The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing.” He has been a member of the Response Advisory Board since its inception more than a decade ago and was honored with emeritus member status. 

AJ Khubani founded TELEBrands Corp. in 1983 with his life-savings of $20,000. Today, TELEBrands is thriving as a nearly $1 billion marketing giant well known for such hit products as the PedEgg, OrGreenic, Pocket Hose, Aero-Knife, Rabbit TV, InstaBulb, Trusty Cane, Who Knew and Great Kitchen Secrets. In 1987, after an initial infomercial, Khubani brought the first “infomercial” product to retail. The now iconic AmberVision sunglasses were sold at New Jersey-based Herman’s Sporting Goods and were a retail success, selling out within days — reaching $150 million worth of sales in the product’s lifetime. In addition to being the first to bring these products to retail, Khubani is also credited with designing the famous red “As Seen on TV” logo. Khubani has become a media regular with a multitude of appearances on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News and more. In 2009, TELEBrands received Vendor of the Year Awards from Target Stores and CVS Pharmacy, alongside such legendary companies as Procter & Gamble and AstraZeneca.

Collette Liantonio launched Concepts TV Productions in 1983. With an M.A. in directing from New York University, Liantonio also attended Harvard University’s Owner/President Program. She is a licensed speech and dramatic arts coach and has experience in all aspects of public speaking and directing. Many of her direct response commercials and infomercials have become advertising legends, including those for AmberVision sunglasses, Topsy Tail, The Abdominizer, Bedazzler, Contour Pillow and the George Foreman Grill. Concepts TV has won more than 150 awards for hits like Go Duster, Better Pasta Pot and Finishing Touch. Concepts TV’s clients over the years also include WD-40, Bissell, QVC, Novartis, Time Warner, Salton and Conair. Liantonio has been recognized as “One of the 25 Most Influential People in DRTV,” she was ranked one of the Top 150 Leading Women Entrepreneurs by New Jersey Monthly, and her company was ranked one of the nation’s 500 leading entrepreneurial companies by 

Famous throughout the landscape for his boundless enthusiasm, Tony Little has been a television and fitness icon for more than 25 years. Inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in 2006, Little is instantly recognizable everywhere he goes with a legendary reputation for being able to turn adversity into victory. A favorite with both the public and media, the man known as “America’s Personal Trainer” has appeared on national television shows including “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” the “Today” show and “Nightline.” Little is a superstar in the world of television home shopping, with his exercise videos earning him 14 Platinum Video Awards and nine Gold Video Awards. More than 45 million people own products bearing his name, and his success crosses international boundaries, with his infomercials having aired in 81 countries. Little was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009 by Ernst & Young. Last year, he was honored by HSN with its highest honor — The Legend Award.

“Powered by the air that you breathe. Activated by the water that you and I drink!” With those words promoting the massive hit product OxiClean, Billy Mays moved from successful pitchman into the ranks of direct response television’s legends. Throughout the next decade, and dozens of hit TV products that grossed more than $1 billion in sales, Mays career skyrocketed, cementing his place not only in DRTV but also in pop culture. In the mid-1990s, a chance meeting at a home show with Orange Glo creator Max Appel gave Mays his big break. By 1996, Appel had convinced Mays to give TV a try, pitching Orange Glo wood cleaner and polish on the Home Shopping Network (HSN). The Appel family called on Mays again and again to pitch their product line, which grew to include OxiClean, Kaboom and other cleaning products. In 2009, he and fellow DRTV pitching legend Anthony Sullivan were tabbed as the stars of the Discovery Network’s reality show, “Pitchmen.” The show highlighted product inventors bringing their ideas in front of expert DRTV pitchmen and producers Mays and Sullivan. He passed away at age 50 in June 2009.

Suzanne Somers has been relevant for more than three decades. She spent 21 years on network television, starring on such shows as “Three’s Company” and “She’s the Sheriff.” She’s also been involved in electronic marketing, both in direct response television and home shopping, for more than 20 years, after introducing the Thighmaster in 1990, which sold more than 10 million units. She followed that with several successful DR fitness products. “Suzanne Organics” recently launched in retail for the first time — a line of skincare, haircare and color cosmetics, all organic and certified toxic-free. Her DR products for 2014 include fitness products, DVDs, the Facemaster and an unusual fashion item. Somers has also written 24 books on health and wellness — most are New York Times bestsellers. Her website,, and several satellite websites attract a powerful demographic between 30 and 60 years of age. Somers is also partnered in Lifewave Nanotechnology, one of the creators of, a national network of integrative physicians. Personally, she has spent 46 years with husband Alan Hamel. They have three children, six grandchildren and have not spent a night apart in more than 35 years.

Gary and Mary West are successful entrepreneurs who founded West Corp. in 1986. The company operates under two segments — Communications Services and Unified Communications — to provide customer contact services, conferencing services, event services, emergency call operations, and notifications and alerts. Intrado supports emergency call operations; Intercall is the world’s largest conference call company; and Televox offers healthcare products and communications support in commercial markets. West Corp. went public in 1996 and, in 2006, was sold for more than $4 billion with Gary and Mary retaining approximately 20-percent ownership. The company employs 35,700 globally with annual sales of $2.6 billion. Today, Gary and Mary are pioneering philanthropists. Their foundation supports several areas, including senior wellness, service canines, and The West Health Institute, a medical research organization with a mission to lower the cost of healthcare. They also started West Partners, a private investment firm with holdings in private and public companies, including senior living communities and real estate development, as well as created West Family Investments, a Chicago-based hedge fund. Avid horse enthusiasts, Gary and Mary have campaigned several top-class thoroughbreds and were the third-leading owners of thoroughbred racehorses in the U.S in 2013.

Katie Williams is the president of Southern California-based Ideal Living Direct and the founder and CEO of Williams Digital Direct. She began her direct response career in 1984, quickly learning the intricacies of DRTV before forming her own company, Williams Worldwide Inc., in 1987. As the founder and CEO, Williams created one of the first and foremost agencies to specialize in DRTV solutions for marketers. The company grew to $130 million in billings, and in 1992, she expanded into global marketing, forming Williams Worldwide Television. Recognized early on as a dynamic, creative “rising star” in the fledgling DRTV industry, her company was ranked the No. 1 by woman-owned business in Los Angeles County in 1993 and among the top five companies by the Los Angeles Business Journal, and was chosen by Working Woman Magazine as one of the top woman-owned companies nationwide. 

This group joins last year’s class of nine inductees: Jim Caldwell, Frank Cannella, Bill Guthy, Kevin Joseph Lyons, Joe Pedott, Ron Popeil, Greg Renker, Sy Sperling and Sydney Yallen.

To be a part of the induction ceremony on May 1, please register to attend Response Expo today at

Michael Ackerman, a Founding Father of DRTV, Dead at 66
By Thomas Haire (

NEW YORK — Michael Ackerman, long associated with Emson Inc., and one of the leading product marketers in the As Seen on TV world, passed away on Jan. 11. Funeral services were held on Jan. 13.

Ackerman, one of the leading experts in product and merchandising in the DR space, played a key role in the success of an extremely long list of products, including the InStyler, X-Hose, the Magic Bullet, the Bacon Wave, the Turbo Steamer — and the list goes on.

Ackerman also was a key player in the creation and early successes of the National Infomercial Marketing Association (NIMA), which went on to become the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA). Friends say that Ackerman loved closing a huge deal as much as he did golfing with his friends.

“Mike was one of the first people I met when I started in this industry 25 years ago,” says Arline Kramer, leader of Remarkable Products Intl. “I used to say I wanted to be as successful as he was when I grow up! A friend of mine related him to a cactus — under the thorns and hard shell, he was soft and extremely generous. He will be missed.”

Rick Kelly, vice president of National Express Inc., says, “Mike was a dear friend and one of the best merchandisers and dealmakers I’ve known in my 32 years in the DR business.”

Both Seymour Shapiro and Bob Perlman of Best Buys Direct have positive memories of Ackerman as well. “His heart was as big as his bluster,” Perlman says.

Shapiro adds, “There can never be another Mike. He was one of a kind — the Don Rickles of DRTV.”

Mark Levine and Dave Richmond of Modern Media shared a statement that reads, “Mike was many things to so many people in this industry — to some a mentor and to some a feared competitor. But to all he was a guy with a huge heart, a contagious thirst for life, and an electrifying, funny, commanding presence that never failed to own any room he was in. There’s no replacing Mike.”

Ackerman is survived by his wife, two sons and two granddaughters. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Ackerman’s memory be sent to: Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy of Springfield, Attn: Rabbi Kosofsky, 1148 Converse St., Longmeadow, MA 01106. The academy can also be reached at (413) 567-8665 or online at

Exclusive: SENSA Weighs in on FTC Fines
By Doug McPherson

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) levied fines on Jan. 7 against SENSA Products LLC and three other weight-loss product makers for deceptive advertising practices. The FTC says the action was part of what it calls “Operation Failed Resolution” — an ongoing effort to stop misleading claims for products promoting easy weight loss.

SENSA will pay $26.5 million, money the FTC says will be used as refunds to SENSA customers.

The FTC charged SENSA, its parent company and two individuals with deceptively advertising that the powdered food additive enhances food’s smell and taste, making users feel full faster so they eat less and lose weight — without dieting and without changing their exercise regimes. The defendants did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support these claims, according to the FTC’s complaint.

The FTC’s complaint names SENSA Inc.’s former CEO Adam Goldenberg, and SENSA creator and endorser Dr. Alan Hirsch.

The FTC says the defendants failed to disclose the fact that some consumers were compensated for their endorsements of SENSA. In some instances, compensation included payments of $1,000 or $5,000, and trips to Los Angeles.

When contacted by Response the week following the announcement, Katelyn O’Reilly, senior director of public relations & healthcare marketing at SENSA, answered these questions:

  • Does SENSA believe the fine is fair? ”A fine of this amount is difficult for any company, but we are pleased to move forward and get back to the core of our business: our customers.”
  • When was the company first notified of the FTC investigation? “The company is not able to comment on this.”
  • How specifically will SENSA be changing its advertising? “The campaigns [will] have a stronger focus on advocating eating less through portion control and adopting healthier habits. We have also made changes to our disclosures.”
  • What would you tell other companies in the weight-loss space about advertising? “The weight-loss industry is a highly regulated space, and advertisers should be vigilant in keeping up with FTC advertising guidelines. SENSA has also set a precedent in the industry, so other weight-loss companies should be prepared to have the same level of gold-standard substantiation behind their products.”

SENSA also released this statement from its CEO, Kristin Chadwick: “We stand behind SENSA — a leading lifestyle tool that helps customers engage in proper portion control without traditional dieting, stimulants or pills. SENSA Products LLC made a decision to settle with the FTC in order to focus on the core of our business: our customers. SENSA is incorporating changes to its advertising to comply with FTC consent order requirements and has invested millions of dollars to conduct studies to substantiate our claims. We continue to receive positive feedback from our customers and remain committed to developing products that help consumers achieve a healthier lifestyle.”

And on its Facebook page, SENSA wrote that the “efficacy and safety of the product wasn’t the issue, it was some of our advertising, which we changed. SENSA does help people who have had problems with portion control lose weight when nothing else has ever worked. We also promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage healthy eating and exercise whenever possible.”

The company has also created a Q&A section related to the fine on its website at:

The FTC also announced charges against the marketers of two other products that allegedly made unfounded promises: L’Occitane, which claimed that its skin cream would slim users’ bodies but had no science to back up that claim, and HCG Diet Direct, which marketed an unproven human hormone that has been touted by hucksters for more than half a century as a weight-loss treatment.

A partial settlement in a fourth case was announced with LeanSpa LLC, an operation that allegedly deceptively promoted acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss supplements through fake news websites.

“Resolutions to lose weight are easy to make but hard to keep,” says Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “And the chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none. The science just isn’t there.”

Additionally, the FTC warned media outlets to be more diligent when accepting and running ads that may be deceptive and published a notice called a “Gut Check.” Details are posted here:

About the Author: Doug McPherson

About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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