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Guest Opinion: Old Rules Are for Old Fools

1 May, 2009 By: Dave Petitto Response

During the past two decades, I have been lucky enough to sit in about 2,000 DRTV product meetings at various companies. Those meetings were held at such companies as Quantum Marketing, HSN and Guthy-Renker Corp. (GRC).

There are many rules I learned early in my days in direct response, including:

  • 1. Don't scare the public — fear does not sell
  • 2. Never ask the viewer to change
  • 3. If the product is in retail — even if it is a hit — forget it as a DR product

None of the old rules are true today. Changes have come to DRTV. Yet, it is surprising to me how many of the old guard still believe the old rules.

If you don't believe me, take a look some older DRTV shows — at least 15 years old — and see for yourself. These old shows are just that — old — and they look dated, too.

Some of these long-form shows have audiences, and they look like trained seals. They clap to show agreement in all the right places, and they nod like a bobblehead doll in the back window of a '64 Chevy. The announcer yells at the viewer, and there are no freebies, either — no, "But wait, there's more!" There is no clock telling the viewer that they have 10 or 15 minutes left to call. In the early days, you had to offer a really useless product for it not to work.

But that has changed, too. Beauty shows, for instance, have to look right, sound right and have the right celebrity — a formula that Guthy-Renker perfected a decade or more ago. GRC learned that women are much more likely to buy beauty products from a show that looks like the ads they see in the magazines they read, the billboards they see and the TV shows they watch.

If I told one of my old bosses from 20 years ago that a successful beauty show could cost $2 million or more, he would have laughed in my face — right before he fired me! But that kind of money is not excessive today, and, so you see, the rules really have changed.

Change comes to all businesses, and those who resist change are doomed to failure. Consider that we now have bona fide hits like Med Alert, Video Professor, Nutrisystem and many more. These shows break all the old rules, yet keep winning over and over. If marketers choose to ignore how much our business has changed, then they are destined to have a failure on their hands for reasons that will surely be pointed out by their competitors.

It has been more than 19 years since I first sat around a table and heard these rules pronounced as gospel. And, it was gospel then — but not now.

Now, targeted consumers are both older, and younger too, and not just women or men, but kids under 18. To continue to be a success in DRTV, we have to understand that the only rule to follow is the one that says: There are no rules! Nothing is off limits now.

So, all of you old-school types out there in DRTV-land, ask yourself this question: Why are you still following the old rules?

Dave Petitto is founder of Dave Petitto Direct (, a DRTV production company in Palm Desert, Calif. He can be reached at (760) 773-3457 or via E-mail at

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