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Direct Response Marketing

Back to School

12 Aug, 2009 By: Eddie Wilders Response This Week

Just a few years ago, Target ran a very successful and entertaining campaign using the popular Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The parent in the commercial joyfully went up and down aisles smiling and riding on a shopping cart while the child slumped behind, miserable. The premise was that school was starting up again, bringing joy to parents and misery to children. Target and other retail stores are at it again, ramping up their advertising in order to get parents to spend their dollars on school supplies. But what does this mean to the direct response world? With all this free spending, is inventory drying up? 

School starts during the traditional direct response dark period known as summer – when many potential customers are outside enjoying the weather, rather than watching TV indoors. It becomes such a burden to reach viewers that campaigns struggle to keep their footing. Rate structure, return and response are usually lower in the summer than in the winter, late December through February. During the first two weeks of September last year (as kids were returning to school), response dipped 19 percent, compared to August, when rates increased above 25 percent. These stats make it seem impossible to generate a winning campaign during summer but, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Compared to recent years, the decrease is actually lessening; 2006 showed a decrease of 39 percent, 2007 decreased only 27 percent and if this trend continues, we could expect a dip of only 13 percent in 2009, making campaigns more manageable.

The beginning of the fall TV season also poses a problem to response as more and more viewers spend their television watching hours glued to the newest CSI spin off or one of the many reality shows that grace the airwaves. As such, direct response marketers need to find clever ways to reach their audience. Finding that right daypart for your campaign becomes that much more vital. Stations that could provide this kind of lift include ESPN, FOX News and Headline, which all show lifts in daytime (at least 20 percent) and weekend (upwards of 32 percent). Other opportunities lie in CNN, with its viewership increase of 7 percent in the late fringe hours and in information networks such as E! (30 percent overall increase), Food Network (23percent) and TWC (14 percent).

Navigating through the rough patches of the year can make or break your direct response campaign. Back to school is one of those patches. Optimization is key, and finding those buckets of viewers will make this unresponsive time a lot less difficult. The kids might not be happy to be back in school, but you’ll be happy that the little extra effort helped save your campaign from completely falling apart.

Eddie Wilders is a media analyst at Lockard & Wechsler Direct in Irvington, N.Y. He can be reached at

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