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Media Zone: Channeling Miss Cleo

15 Jan, 2010 By: Timothy R. Hawthorne Response

By Timothy R. HawthorneI never was a fan of Miss Cleo and the Psychic Readers Network. I found it improbable you could gather hundreds of authentic psychics to man the phones at 2 a.m. every night.

Nevertheless, in 1996, as I was finishing my book, The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing, I channeled a bit of Miss Cleo, and boldly titled the final chapter “The Future of Infomercials,” wherein I prophesized advertising’s future … in 2010. Who knew, 14 years later, I’d still be DRTV-bound and called to account in this new decade-opening edition of Response Magazine. How’d I fare? Certainly better than an NFL pregame crew, but probably worse than Albus Dumbledore.

My Crystal Ball Was Crystal Clear …

Prediction: Infomercial media time will increase, as will costs. This was a slam-dunk. For proof, scan your electronic program guide (EPG) on any night or weekend day; cable net and digital sub-channel proliferation has spawned legions of infomercial time periods. But those wondrous $50 half-hours of yore are gone.

Prediction: Electronic marketing sales will probably grow from $5 billion to more than $20 billion in the next 10 years alone. The Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) claims it has grown to more than $400 billion — but, hey, I’ve never agreed with its calculation. I think I hit this one on the nose: $20 billion is about right for the one-step-offer DRTV business, including Internet and retail sales, and live TV home shopping.

Prediction: Consumer control of advertising impressions will be the hallmark of interactive television. Ad aversion is a plague online and off. In the TV world, DVRs and skip buttons accommodate commercial-aversive behaviors even better than channel-hopping TV remotes and fast-forwarding VCRs ever did. To reel viewers back in, I predicted three responses:

  1. Reward viewers’ attention. We regularly see limited-time offers. Online, product coupons and discounts will become even more plentiful.
  2. Target consumers individually. Online advertising’s biggest differentiator — dynamic targeting — is also the driving force behind Big Cable’s Canoe project. The paddling’s been slow, but the oars are in the water. Some companies are already delivering ads to specific zip codes.
  3. Trade on interactivity. Exchanging free content for ad views and filling out surveys is ubiquitous online. But cable, satellite and the telcos have yet to get into this business in a big way.

Prediction: Half of the major infomercial direct marketers will go out of business, be acquired, or be forced to adapt. I might have been a tad aggressive on this one; sure National Media, ITV, GoodTimes, Don LaPre and Carleton Sheets, among others, are long gone from the airwaves. But Guthy-Renker, TELEBrands, Ronco, Tristar, Time-Life, Ontel, Fitness Quest, Ideavillage and a small elite group still survive, joined by robust new companies like Beachbody, Euro Pro, Allstar and others. But “forced to adapt” — bull’s-eye!

Not Wrong, Just Ahead Of My Time …
Prediction: The days of intrusive advertising and the short-form commercial may soon be numbered. Thirty-second spots still remain in heavy rotation, but information-rich two-minute DR spots now dominate many cable networks, branded entertainment/product placement is growing dramatically, and five-to-15 second pre-rolls are becoming standard on the Net.

Prediction: Advertisers will turn to chapter formats to deliver product information. Click here, click online, videos play, sales incline. While not yet a TV staple, satellite and cable providers have rolled out first-generation interactive “chapter” campaigns for visionaries like Nike.

If Being A Seer Were Easy, I’d Have Invented The Snuggie …

Prediction: We will see growing numbers of multi-product infomercials. Maybe I imagined more major advertisers would be using long-form advertising for branding, for which multi-product formatting can be very effective.

Prediction: In 2010, infomercials will be the preferred advertising mode. In a time when online advertising is all about analytics, it’s shocking that marketing directors don’t regularly execute TV campaigns capable of delivering the same accountability.

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