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Direct Response Marketing

Guest Opinion: The Full Dimension of DRTV

1 Jul, 2009 By: Doug Garnett Response

Over the years, DRTV has been driven by a single-minded focus on TV sales. In this one-dimensional approach, the MER (ratio of TV sales to media cost) becomes the single most important measurement of campaign success.

 Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett

In the hands of a master, this model has led to outstanding success. And so we are all saddened to note the passing of Billy Mays, one of the true masters of TV selling through short form. Unfortunately, when less skilled marketers focus on MER, they forget the brilliant insights that are the underpinnings of Billy's work. As a result, they copy his style while missing his substance.

The One-Dimensional World of Traditional DRTV

The copycat approach and one-dimensional pursuit of MER has been used to justify a wide range of marketing sins. The pressure to sell has moved many of these campaigns beyond exaggeration — leading to absurd claims, directed testimonials, silly gags and much more.

What our business rarely talks about is the horrendous failure rate of these imitations. Best estimates are that 29 out of 30 DRTV ads fail to reach their MER targets.Even worse, the mythology of the one-dimensional world has created a bankruptcy problem for long-form DRTV. Many of the biggest TV sales successes have ended in bankruptcy or hushed and hurried company firesales.

Testing the MER-Driven Myths

I've been fortunate to be involved in campaigns that have tested the MER theory. In one case, a client developed two shows for the same small kitchen appliance. One followed the MER myth and used slicer/dicer presentation along with traditional infomercial talent and methodology. The other was a more carefully crafted and more sophisticated infomercial. The net result? Both shows drove the same MER, but the sophisticated show had better total impact because it didn't alienate consumers.

Today, my team is running a campaign that avoids the usual formulas but is selling just as much on TV as its competitors while driving four times the sales-per-media-dollar at retail. Why? Because we avoid techniques and formulas that alienate retail purchasers.

Expanding DRTV's Dimensions

One surprising industry truth is that smart insiders with long-term success have generally only gotten there by expanding beyond a single dimension. Guthy-Renker, for example, has become a dominant force by reducing its dependence on high MERs — shifting to consumable products with long-term revenue streams (e.g., skincare). Unfortunately, many DRTV agencies and consultants advise clients poorly — not yet recognizing that success in DRTV requires multiple dimensions.

In fact, DRTV success requires acknowledging that the one-dimensional model doesn't work for everyone, and that there are approaches that don't sacrifice TV sales while delivering higher long-term impact.

There are many ways to describe this type of campaign. My own agency's pursuit led us to develop an approach with six major goals rather than just one. We call our goals the "Six Degrees" and they clearly include TV sales (or MER). But more importantly, they add measurements for effectiveness at driving retail, developing long-term brand value, and overall communication quality.

DRTV Mythology Must Change

DRTV is a funny business. Despite claims to know all the answers, the choices most DRTV producers make are driven by a set of myths based on lore and not on fact.

When you add dimensions to DRTV, dramatic things happen. First, TV sales can be excellent (this alternative approach isn't about losing TV sales). At the same time, immediate sales grow across all channels when offensive gimmicks that drive consumers away are eliminated. And equally important, meaningful brand value is built that can be turned into bigger future profits.

For long-time DRTV players, moving away from the one-dimensional myth into a multi-dimensional world may be hard. But newcomers who choose to embrace the full power of DRTV will find a much more powerful business than the industry's failure rate would suggest.

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of Atomic Direct — a Portland, Ore.-based advertising agency specializing in brands, consumer strategy, infomercials, and driving sales with television. He can be reached via E-mail at For more information, visit

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