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Direct Response Marketing

Media Zone: 30 Years of DRTV

1 Jul, 2014 By: Timothy R. Hawthorne Response

Being inducted into the DR Hall of Fame prompts reflections on three decades of “asking for the order.”


Thirty years ago last month — June 1984 — the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deregulated broadcast TV commercial time limits. Thirty years ago this coming November, I sat in the basement of a friend’s house. He was the only guy I knew that had a giant satellite dish. I waited until 11 p.m. to make sure the first airing of the first infomercial I produced made it on air — an hour-long “product documentary” made for the astonishing budget of $15,000.

Once it ended, I waited 30 minutes, then called Astro Telemarketing in Omaha, Neb., and anxiously asked how many orders we received. “One hundred,” came the response. “Oh, that’s all?!” I remember thinking. After all, this was media time on a small but national satellite network. For a moment, I was crushed.

But then I remembered to do the math. I had bought the time for $3,000 and had sold 100 products — for $300 each. That’s a 10-to-1 media efficiency ratio — MER, we would later say. I distinctly remember that night thinking, “There’s a business to be made here.”

Thirty years later, I’m still proud to say I’m a DR guy, no matter how many “Saturday Night Live” infomercial parodies I have to sit through, no matter how many general advertisers I hear dis direct marketing. What I do is honest, upfront selling. I’m not afraid to say, “Hey, we’ve got a great product here; check it out.”

I’m proud that I’m not going to sell you a burger or a beer by objectifying women or sell you stocks or water by using babies so that you like my brand more and I influence your future behavior perniciously at a subconscious level. No, I want you to use your rational thinking mind to learn about what my product actually does, its features and benefits, what problems it solves, what it costs and that if you’re not satisfied for any reason, you can return it for your money back. I’m proud to represent products that solve problems and can change people’s lives for the better. As an ad man, I sleep pretty well at night. I might not be winning any awards at Cannes, but our clients and consumers are happy.

As an industry entering its fourth decade, we can only be grateful for the lessons learned from those that precede us: the entertaining pitchman of the traveling Medicine Shows of 100 years ago; the Morris- and Popeil-family Atlantic City pitchmen from the 1940s and 1950s with their Vegematics, Dialomatics and Whipomatics; the advertising patriarch Claude Hopkins, who wrote “Scientific Advertising” in 1923 and said, “The product itself should be its own best salesman.” And legendary ad man David Ogilvy, who said, “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an ad, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

After 30 years, I’m proud to be inducted into the DR Hall of Fame by this great publication, Response Magazine, and its principals: John Yarrington and Thomas Haire. I’m proud to be associated with an amazing HOF class, including Katie Williams, Collette Liantonio, Chickie Bucco, Suzanne Somers, AJ Khubani, Gary and Mary West, Tony Little and the deeply missed Billy Mays.

So 30 years on, I pay tribute to our roots and where we come from. We carry on that age-old tradition of direct selling — proud of the products we represent, unafraid to stand up and ask for the order, and always careful to utilize the secrets of our trade judiciously, such as the one famed medicine show pitchman, Doc Bloodgood, was always happy to share: “Never use one word when four will suffice.” I kind of just did that. ■


About the Author: Timothy R. Hawthorne


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