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Direct Response Marketing

DRTV: Unconventional Recessionary Wisdom

7 May, 2010 By: Timothy R. Hawthorne Response


Timoth R. HawthorneI have written often of DRTV’s effectiveness during economic recessions, because (unfortunately) the business cycle guarantees them. The recent malaise is the third major recession of the past 20 years, and certainly the worst. The first two forced us to author a DRTV platform for tough times, which, as we exit this downturn, is worth a revisit. Some tenets are common sense:

  • Our longstanding emphasis on value and premiums resonate with consumers who need the best possible bang for their bucks. Fitness products can save hundreds on club memberships; kitchen items that ease food prep can significantly cut restaurant expenditures.
  • Cheaper media enables entry and allows saturation. While short-form media isn’t particularly cheap, the cost of long-form avails recently hit 15-year lows.
  • Advertisers can’t waste money either. Direct response metrics prove return on investment, and if anything, tend to under-report impact, since many DRTV products sell three to 10 units at retail for every one sold via the phone or on the Internet.

Given that recessions are national or global phenomena, it’s unlikely any industry will be emerging completely unscathed. DRTV response rates have dropped, upsells and re-orders have fallen, and product return rates have increased. But when major brand CFOs were slashing millions from ad budgets, DRTV was comparatively robust — and has been each downturn.

Be it military commanders or advertising directors, our most brilliant strategists think counter-intuitively. Ironically, the most successful innovations soon become conventional wisdom, recursively inspiring new assessments and tweaks. Accordingly, DRTV has developed its own effective formulas and conventions. Still, its buoyancy in troubled ad waters proves that our nontraditional traditions serve us well. Several DRTV principles run counter to general advertising’s grain: 

  • More time is good. While even some short-form marketers are slicing creative lengths, there’s little doubt that the more you tell, the more you sell. Consumers who can’t afford to buy impulsively require the sort of information infomercials provide.
  • Advertising is not an expense. While most CFOs believe otherwise, viewed holistically, advertising is a factor cost of production. If production includes everything involved in getting products into people’s hands, it necessarily includes instilling the purchase desire.
  • Admitting failure is good. In traditional brand advertising, it gets you fired; in DRTV, such information enables fast fixes and lessons learned. Advertisers know campaigns fail. What hurts is not knowing which ones fail and not learning it soon enough — before six months and multi-millions have swirled down the drain. In DRTV, you know within days — even hours — if your campaign’s driving action. If it isn’t, you fix it by tweaking the creative or the media buy; at worst, you stop the bleeding while you still can employ Band-Aids, not stitches.

To some extent, recessions demonstrate a failure of conventional thinking. Though some economists argue that recessions are inevitable “corrections” to over-valued economies, it’s not in Americans’ natures to do nothing. We prefer action.

In politics, battlefields, or business plans, when Plan A doesn’t work, we want immediate action — we want change. Happily for us, DRTV offers the best of both worlds: a model that’s proven, but for many brand marketers, a brand new model — marketing that works in recessions.


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