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Direct Response Marketing

Global Perspective: U.K.'s Teleshopping Windows Gain Importance

1 Jun, 2009 By: Digby Orsmond Response

While infomercials have been a mainstay of television advertising in the United States for years, many British companies have been reluctant to fully exploit long-form direct response television.

 Digby Orsmond
Digby Orsmond

The growing sales generated by "live" home shopping channels, such as QVC and Ideal World Home Shopping, plus the many popular auction-style TV channels in the United Kingdom prove that, even during the current economic downturn, British viewers continue to purchase a wide selection of American products via TV.

While long-form shows in the U.K. are almost all from well-known direct response companies, such as Guthy-Renker, Time-Life, Thane, TV Shopping Direct, and TELEBrands, among others, it is important for U.S. companies to understand that European consumers have very distinct tastes, and that their infomercials should be revised to allow for cultural or language differences. If U.S. companies are considering the European market, then they should consider investing in tailored infomercials that will appeal to Europe's 493 million consumers.

Infomercials Air at All Hours in the U.K.

In the U.K., many traditional brand advertisers believe long-form DRTV appears only in the early hours of the morning on satellite channels, and that few people are watching these shows. However, 30 minutes of airtime can be bought in the U.K. for an average $50 (U.S.) during the U.K.'s "teleshopping windows."

Commercial television stations in the U.K. are granted a three-hour "teleshopping window" to broadcast long-form DRTV each day. All broadcast content during a "teleshopping window" must advertise a product or service that can be bought directly off the screen (or online) at a fixed price.

More than 150 U.K. TV channels now accept long-form airtime, totaling about 3,500 hours per week. Currently, 26 percent of these 3,500 hours appear in the overnight hours (midnight-6 a.m.), while 33 percent appear in the rapidly growing 6-8:30 a.m. market.

You also can't ignore the economics of U.K. airtime buying. For example, let's say an average 30-second spot will cost approximately $5 for every 1,000 adults who see it. Advertisers generally buy audiences rather than specific spots, but we can say that $10,000 would buy a spot that delivered an estimated 2 million adults.

That sounds like a lot of people, but a program delivering 2 million viewers would not be large enough to get into the U.K.'s top 10. Now take that $10,000 and invest it in long-form airtime instead. For that same $10,000, one can buy 200 30-minute slots — 100 hours of persuasive advertising. In direct response, once the test is complete, these audience estimates are replaced by actual results and sales — and that forms the basis for constructive long-term planning.

Infomercials No Longer Seen as 'Too American'

Many European viewers think that most infomercials are cheaply produced using American presenters talking about how to get a guaranteed "six-pack" physique. But this genre of shows is the past of long-form DRTV.

While the 30- and 60-second DRTV commercial has been the creative workhorse for the past 50 years in Europe, digital video recorder (DVR) use is making great strides, threatening their effectiveness. At the same time, U.K. TV audiences are now realizing that infomercials provide consumers with information about products they're interested in with relevant local testimonials

Do European Broadcast Regulations Make Long-Form More Challenging?

The expansion of the U.K.'s channel universe means that infomercial avails are increasing to a point where U.S. advertisers should consider entering Europe via this market first. The biggest challenge, however, is whether an American marketer's creative complies with more stringent TV broadcasting rules in each European country. Often, this means having to soften the sell or considerably alter the offer according to local regulations.

Sometimes, whole product categories are banned on European TV. U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval doesn't mean a thing to European TV stations. To get a product approved, especially a cosmetic or pharmaceutical, it must conform to local standards, which vary from country to country.

Digby Orsmond is CEO of London-based DRTV company ARM Direct Ltd., as well as a member of the Response Editorial Advisory Board. He can be reached via E-mail at

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