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Direct Response Marketing

Long-Form Bounces Back

11 Jul, 2010 By: Bridget McCrea Response

Infomercials gain in popularity as advertisers fill the void left by companies that exited the space in 2009.


Thanks to the Internet, technology and changing consumer demands, it takes more than that to create a long-form hit in 2010. “Marketers have to make their money from a combination of sales channels,” says Garnett, whose team works closely with clients to calculate the profitability of each of those sales channels, knowing that every facet contributes to the infomercial campaign’s cumulative success.

To get there, infomercial producers must go beyond the basic 1-800 sales tracking formulas and also factor in Web and retail impact, as well as that of any other sales channels being used. “We’re getting more sophisticated at modeling profitability for clients, both in terms of pre-campaign predictions (to figure out where profits will come from) and also in connecting measurements to figure out if a campaign is working or not,” Garnett says.

But there’s still more effort to be done when it comes to measuring success in long-form, where accountability remains a huge selling point. “Not only is it hard to measure what’s happening at the retail counter, but it’s extremely difficult to connect Web sales back to what happened on TV,” Garnett says. “For all the Web guys’ talk of how measurable the Web is, it’s only true if a campaign is entirely mounted and maintained online.”

The complexity of the long-form media environment can also present obstacles for marketers looking to cash in on infomercial success. Fragmentation among networks and stations is still increasing, yet media rates aren’t subsiding. “Where you used to be able to use a one-stop approach, pick a few stations and cast a wide net to capture an [audience], now you really have to leverage relationships [with media sellers] and negotiate media rates down to a level that’s matched with the associated viewership,” O’Brien says.

Bob Yallen, president and COO at InterMedia Advertising in Encino, Calif., also says long-form media is overpriced right now, and adds that balancing rate against media inventory quality is difficult at best. Throw in the fact that consumer response is down and the fact that end users purchase from multiple platforms, and the successful media buy becomes that much harder to make, he says.

Getting through those barriers requires a savvy media buyer who can pinpoint where sales are coming from and what’s driving those sales. With the Web making up at least 20 percent of a typical campaign’s revenues, the task can be particularly onerous. Was it the short-form spot at 10 p.m. that drove the sale, for example, or did the 30-minute infomercial at 1 a.m. close the deal?

That uncertainty has resulted in a high number of infomercial campaigns that are currently running on a “negative basis,” according to Yallen. “When you pull together the TV campaign with the Web, retail and other customer touch points, you can often associate the campaign with a positive ROI,” he says.

The Technology Slant

As infomercial producers struggle to balance changing consumer demand with high media rates and lower budgets, they have at least one advocate working in their favor: technology. During the past few years, infomercial producers have been presented with a bevy of new products and services that they can use to work smarter, better and faster in today’s challenging business environment.

At Cesari Direct, for example, producers use an Avid editing system that allows them to capture testimonials on a green screen, and then lay any background into the edited show. “This allows us to do testimonials faster and a little less expensively,” says Cesari, who up until recently was hesitant to use the short cut afforded by technology. “The software has improved over time, and it’s at the point now where you can’t tell that it isn’t a real background.”

Producers are also using Internet-based tools like, a live interactive broadcast platform that enables anyone with an Internet connection and a camera to create online videos for a broad audience. “It’s basically a live version of YouTube,” says O’Brien. “Our editors in Seattle can stream versions of our infomercial shoots to our Los Angeles office for quick feedback and input in different scenes in a quick, affordable manner.”

The company also uses for call center training. “I can stream myself conducting a live presentation and send it to the recipient, instead of having to fly to the call center and do it live,” O’Brien says. “I can stay here and handle it, and it’s just like being in the same room with the agents. We love the technology.”

Joan Renfrow, president of Los Angeles-based Onyx Productions Direct Inc., says her firm has been using dedicated hard drives for each of its clients for the past 18 months. The shoots are stored on the drive (after being loaded onto the drives from the camera chips), along with other materials specific to the client in question.

“The hard drive goes with us through the entire edit, which saves us a lot of time in uploading and digitizing,” Renfrow says. “We can make the necessary tweaks, take the drives on planes when we travel, and keep everything organized and in one place.”

Gaining Ground

In spite of the usual lineup of challenges that keep long-form producers and marketers on their toes, the space remains open for business and full of opportunity for companies looking to expand their horizons.

“Fortune 1000 companies that have never used DRTV before are entering the arena and finding success,” says Tim Hawthorne, chairman and executive creative director at Hawthorne Direct in Fairfield, Iowa, and a member of the Response Editorial Advisory Board. “These are firms that have traditionally only used general advertising and who love the accountability and immediate metrics they get back from DRTV.”

As more of those brand advertisers achieve success in DRTV, Hawthorne expects the word to spread through the corporate grapevine, opening up many opportunities for DR agencies. Concurrently, traditional DRTV product categories of skin care and business opportunities are experiencing a resurrection in their own right. Expect this trend to continue as the economy improves, enticing more entrepreneurs to get back into the business game.

“Proactiv is getting its first significant challengers in a decade and the economic downturn has spawned a new generation of Carleton Sheets and Ed Beckleys,” Hawthorne says. “These are all good signs for the future.”

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