One Hit at a Time1 Mar, 2012 By: Bridget McCrea Response
DRTV producers focus on quality shows that entice consumers and add value to their lives.
The recent recession changed the way a lot of companies do business. And while the DRTV industry as a whole was somewhat insulated from its effects, both long-form and short-form producers have learned to work smarter, better and faster in the challenging environment.
The fact that modern-day technology and sites like YouTube have turned all of us into videographers has put even more pressure on the professionals. “All of my children got HD cameras for Christmas this year and their production quality is incredible,” says Collette Liantonio, president at Boonton, N.J.-based Concepts TV Productions. “But there’s more to developing DRTV campaigns than just a camera; people don’t always appreciate the fact that we’re DR gurus and not just producers.”
That lack of appreciation has pushed key players in the industry to find less expensive production techniques — all the while maintaining (or enhancing) the overall look, feel and effectiveness of the campaigns themselves. Technology helps producers achieve this balancing act, what with the myriad production techniques (like green screens) and editing suites (which allow remote parties to work on the computer from their own location) that are available on the market today.
“We don’t have to send rough cuts out of the state or country for client review and approval anymore,” says Liantonio. “We all get into the virtual editing suite and get the job done much more efficiently.”
Liantonio also uses virtual backgrounds when shooting testimonials to minimize crew and costs that add up when working on location. “As long as it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the testimonial’s message,” she says, “it’s a great way to save both time and money.”
To stay on top of the game, the most experienced producers are making sure to stay in tune to the key trends, opportunities and challenges currently impacting short- and long-form production.
Rolling up Their Sleeves
Short-form producers rolled up their sleeves in 2011 and found innovative ways to meet higher production standards without breaking budgets. “Even emerging, entrepreneurial brands are demanding higher production values, knowing that those values are vital to building a business that can compete with established brands,” says Tim Hawthorne, chairman and executive creative director at Hawthorne Direct in Fairfield, Iowa, and member of the Response Advisory Board.
Concurrently, “faster and cheaper seem to be a growing trend,” says Hawthorne, who increasingly turns to technology to help achieve the delicate balance between high production values and smaller budgets. “Client requests for faster, cheaper shows is not a positive trend for the industry,” adds Hawthorne, “but it’s certainly representative of the current economic climate.”
To augment its clients’ short-form campaigns in a cost-effective manner, Hawthorne Direct incorporates online video into all websites; actively uses social networking for research and “listening” to consumer feedback; uses SMS text as a response mechanism; and is experimenting with the use of QR codes.
Liantonio says the Web has become a hotbed for short-form testing. Some test shows are created with an in-house camera, no set price points, and few, if any, production values. Those efforts have pushed short-form producers into the role of Web designers.
“That’s a big change that’s taken place in our industry,” says Liantonio. “If you can’t do Web design, you really can’t be in short-form production.”
Taking Center Stage
Concepts TV’s biggest short-form successes over the past year included Miracle Socks, which are compression socks designed for the senior market, and the Sift & Toss cat litter system. The Miracle Socks campaign honed in on phone sales, based on the target demographic, while Sift & Toss capitalized on the Web, social media and mobile, the latter of which increased product sales by 12 percent.
Web and social media have also taken center stage at THOR Associates in New York, where CEO and Founder Fern Lee says all marketing efforts revolve around multichannel platforms.
“When developing creative we make sure to have assets that can be culled down to 10 seconds, 15 seconds and 30 seconds,” explains Lee, a member of the Response Advisory Board, “so that the DR can drive to retail and have media assets for all digital use — from social networking to affiliate marketing.”
THOR’s short-form hits for 2011 included Looney Tunes ClickN Read Phonics. That campaign required Lee and her team to shoot a show that included more than 20 children, animation from Looney Tunes and a Spanish-language version.
“We were able to integrate digital and traditional direct marketing touch points for a strong ROI,” says Lee, “and a very successful campaign.”
THE LONG HAUL
Keeping Consumers Interested
Long-form production comes with its own set of nuances, one of them being the continued struggle to get consumers to sit through an entire 28:30 infomercial during an era where outside buzz and distractions are plentiful.
“The challenge that the marketer must overcome is to ingratiate the messaging into the consumer’s mindset,” Lee says.
To break through the clutter, Lee focuses on setting up a problem/solution scenario that educates consumers while also establishing a relationship with them. Ignore this step, she says, and the consumer will quickly click over to one of the 1,000-plus TV channels that can keep his or her attention.
Hawthorne has also noticed more clutter getting in the way of infomercial success lately, despite the fact that more established brands are turning to the medium to get their messages across. “The audience just seems not to be watching as the industry has matured, and as more entertainment content has become available,” Hawthorne explains. “DVRs are used by more people and long-form sales techniques just seem old and tired.”
As a result, an increasing number of long-form DRTV shows are failing to produce expected results. The marketers behind them are less willing to spend the money and time necessary to test and fix those shows — yet another byproduct of a down economy and tighter marketing budgets.
“Long-form requires a longer-term investment than most traditional marketers understand,” Hawthorne says, “whereas Guthy-Renker and Beachbody fully understand this and spend years making their infomercials work.”
A Maturing Medium
Credit the fact that DRTV has achieved “mature” status with creating some of the challenges that long-form producers are dealing with.
“It’s increasingly difficult to be heard, let alone drive response, in the current jungle of messages,” says Hawthorne, who advises marketers with would-be hits to brace themselves for lengthy planning and testing sessions. “Be willing to test and learn by planning properly, and focus on integrating your messaging from long-form to Web to telephone script and every touch in between.”
The way long-form producers create shows is also in flux thanks to rapid advances in technology. The equipment used to produce shows has also changed dramatically during the past few years.
For example, when Doug Garnett got into the DRTV business more than 10 years ago, new cameras came out every four or five years. That time lapse has shortened significantly — to the point where cameras are obsolete before they get their first housing ding or lens scratch.
“Now there’s a new camera out every year,” says Garnett, president at Atomic Direct in Portland, Ore., and Response Advisory Board member. “The pace of innovation is phenomenal.”
Behind the Scenes
“It’s a nightmare sometimes,” he says. “Every time we want to export files, compatibility issues and other problems crop up and cause chaos.”
Fortunately, most of that chaos unravels behind the scenes, out of sight of the client. “The only people who notice are the ones who are wrapped up in how to switch and transfer files back and forth,” says Garnett. Recently, for example, he says Atomic Direct spent three weeks adapting a spot — which had already rolled out successfully to devices at 2,000 retail stores — to a new format for use on different devices.
“It used to be that you finished a show and sent out a tape,” says Garnett. “Now you send everything out electronically and things don’t always work as planned. That’s something we’ll continue to grapple with as technology continues to change, and as long-form marketers strive to achieve success in a challenging environment.”