Smarter, Better, Faster1 Mar, 2014 By: Bridget McCrea Response
DRTV producers are sharpening their skills, getting even more creative, and employing technology to help them tackle short- and long-form challenges in today’s cluttered media environment.
When Nick Woodman designed the first GoPro camera in 2002 to get quality action photos of his surfing, he probably didn’t envision a time when the world’s DRTV producers would be using his unique invention to film their short- and long-form shows. In fact, as Woodman was selling bead and shell belts from his VW van to fund his venture 12 years ago, his visions of future grandeur were likely limited to really great wave and tube shots.
Fast forward to 2014: GoPro has become a big hit in direct response circles, where folks like Bill McAlister are using the fixed-lens cameras — which have become the digital toy of choice for extreme athletes to auto racers — to capture key shots for their short-form shows. The gadget’s popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed: in February, GoPro became the latest company to file for an initial public offering (IPO) — yet another milestone that its inventor could hardly have predicted as he fashioned the device’s straps by hand in his VW van.
McAlister, president at Top Dog Direct in Trevose, Pa., says the GoPro’s $399 price tag (for the Hero3+ model; prices vary according to model) is a far cry from the $10,000-$12,000 that his firm used to put out for its Olympus cameras.
“What the GoPro can do is just amazing,” says McAlister, who in 2013 used a GoPro to shoot the bulk of the Night View NV short-form spot footage. The show features drivers who, at first squint, to see the road in front of them at night (shot with the GoPro onboard the vehicle), and whose worlds are then made clearer by a pair of Night View glasses.
In addition to saving his company and clients money, McAlister says the tiny camera weighs just eight ounces and introduces more flexibility into the production process. “It also provides better quality and clarity,” he notes.
Changing out cameras is also easier with the lighter, more flexible device, says McAlister. When filming the Mighty Purple Putty show, for example, he says 20 percent of the footage was captured via GoPro, with camera switches taking 20 minutes or less (compared to the hours it used to take to change out the equipment).
Creating Short-Form that Works
With technology advancing at the speed of light, the ubiquitous GoPro is just one tool that short-form producers are using to offset the ongoing challenge of making short-form DRTV work in a world cluttered with consumer distractions. Add soaring short-form media rates and more limited avails to the equation and you get a challenging puzzle that the best producers attempt to solve through solid production values, compelling calls to action, and products that helps customers solve their most pressing problems.
Consider the nation’s 78 million-strong aging Baby Boomer population. A member of that generation herself, Collette Liantonio knows all too well the challenges that these individuals face on a daily basis. So, when asked to produce a show for TELEBrands’ Ankle Genie last year, Liantonio, president of Boonton, N.J.-based Concepts TV Productions, immediately related to the product and its usefulness.
Meant to provide relief for throbbing, swollen or injured ankles, the zip-up compression sleeve sells for $12.99 (plus S&H) via a short-form spot that speaks directly to Baby Boomers and older Americans. “I had surgery this year, used the product, and really came to understand it,” says Liantonio. “Between the aging population and the nation’s obesity issues, swollen ankles and calves are a real problem. Everyone needs this item.”
AJ Khubani, CEO at TELEBrands in Fairfield, N.J., calls the Ankle Genie a surprise hit that initially tested to very strong response in November 2013. “We had to respond quickly and roll it out in the first quarter of 2014,” says Khubani. “That was a surprise that we weren’t expecting.”
Like many short-form marketers right now, Khubani is grappling with rising media rates. He says TELEBrands and others are under pressure to be even more creative with their shows and make those commercials responsive enough to cover additional media costs.
“Media costs go up every year and it’s up to us to figure out how to come up with better products and better creative to get the same number of people to respond,” says Khubani.
Also challenging producers is the need to develop quality creative on short-form budgets — an effort that today’s consumers have come to expect from everything that they watch on TV, online, and even in the movie theatre. “There’s constant pressure to make everything better and more interesting,” says Khubani.
We Want Our ROI … Now
Still emerging from the ruins of the last national recession, marketers are also squarely focused on their corporate bottom lines and intent on getting the highest and fastest return on investment (ROI) possible from their advertising expenditures. This puts additional pressure on agencies like New York-based THOR Associates, where CEO Fern Lee says remarketing, retargeting (customer bases, for example), and efficient leveraging of data all help marketers attain those ROI goals.
“To make the most of our databases, we’re looking at different verticals (i.e., radio and print), incorporating data, and then retargeting and remarketing the consumer,” says Lee, a Response Advisory Board member who expects more short-form users to adopt this analytical mindset in the future. “There will always be a low-end, down-and-dirty short-form show out there, but as companies work to grow their brands, these commercials will become even more expensive and sophisticated.”
Long-Form Comes a Long Way, Baby
To say everyone is using infomercials these days could be somewhat of an overstatement, but look around and you may see that the assertion isn’t as far off base on your might think. Just a couple of months into 2014, marketers like Tyrone Jackson of The Wealthy Investor, #DitchTheCan, and the Good/Bad Art Collective were three of the many organizations that already threw their hats into the long-form arena to promote their products and services.
Jackson’s show centered on The Wealthy Investor’s Guide to Stock Market Success CD Audio Series and Manual; #DitchTheCan’s infomercial highlighted how the company pays people to drink and promote its KAOS Gold Energy product; and the Collective’s “experimental” Forever infomercial was designed to reach unsuspecting TV viewers who were unfamiliar with its purveyor’s creations of public art.
You’ll notice that the infomercial lineup above includes no traditional DRTV products — yet one more sign that long-form has come a long way. More ubiquitous than ever, 28:30 commercials have broken into mainstream and become a platform of choice for brands, organizations and anyone else looking to leverage the lower media rates, high accountability factor, and luxuriously long format that only infomercials provide.
“We’re beginning to see more companies running with long-form shows,” says Doug Garnett, founder and CEO at Portland, Ore.-based Atomic Direct, and member of the Response Advisory Board. He compares the environment to a few years ago during the recession, when infomercials fell out of favor due to their higher production costs (compared to short-form).
“During the recession, people didn’t want to risk putting that much money into a format that is fundamentally more expensive,” says Garnett, whose recent shows include Lowe’s Iris Smart Home Management System and the T-fal OptiGrill. “But this year we’ve seen an uptick; the action is starting to pick back up.”
That rising tide even includes some marketers that have traditionally stuck to short-form to sell their products, like TELEBrands. In 2013, for example, the company rolled out long-form shows for the Hurricane Spin Mop and Dr. Bader’s Pest Cures, both of which are being run with “fairly large amounts of media,” according to Khubani, and with good success so far. “Jordan Whitney just reported that our Hurricane Spin Mop ranked fourth in the country,” says Khubani. “That shows that we are solidly in the long-form business.”
Crossing the bridge into long-form hasn’t been easy for TELEBrands, which is accustomed to working within short production timeframes and getting its products to market as quickly as possible. “The timeline in long-form is so much lengthier — like months compared to one or two weeks,” says Khubani. “We’re putting a lot of consideration into exactly what we want to get into long-form, which can cost a lot more money and take up to a year to complete and roll out.”
The Field of Dreams
The plethora of new direct-to-consumer platforms has created both opportunities and challenges for long-form marketers looking to leverage online video, social media, mobile and the like. And while hitting consumers from various angles and hoping something sticks may work in certain situations, Garnett says the companies have to get beyond the “build it and they will come” philosophy to achieve real results in the long-form arena.
“It’s easy to shoot footage and put it online, but it’s hard to get people to watch that footage and actually engage with it,” says Garnett. “The field of dreams approach just isn’t working, as evidenced by the many videos posted on YouTube that have 20 or 30 views.”
Bucking the Trend
In the end, bucking the industry-standard one-in-20 DRTV success rate continues to require a well-honed approach that includes a mix of media investment, good production values, retail rollouts and an online presence (social, website, landing pages). Even with a higher number of non-traditional DRTV users and brand advertisers dipping their toes into the infomercial waters, the need for these solid principles won’t go away anytime soon.
Ultimately, Lee says successful DRTV on the both the short- and long-form sides requires the integrated approach that good producers have been preaching for years. “You need to be able to touch the consumer over and over again from different angles,” says Lee. “You can no longer just hope that they watch the show on TV and pick up the phone to place an order.” ■