Not the Short End of the Stick5 Mar, 2010 By: Bridget McCrea Response
Short-form DRTV integrates well with marketers’ Web efforts and continues to reign as a popular choice for brand advertisers.
Pitchman Vince Shlomi may put consumers in a “good mood all day” with his quirky Slap Chop demonstrations, and seeing people bundled up in Snuggie blankets definitely makes viewers want to wrap themselves up and read a good book — kind of like the ShamWow! makes you want to spill something and clean it up.
Consumers looking for cooking help, warmth and cleanliness swarmed to these products in 2009, but the commercials — which would have been representative of the entire DRTV business even just 15 years ago — made up only a sliver of the ever-growing short-form DR marketplace. However, their prominence didn’t please everyone. In fact, some contend all three shows could have easily thrown DRTV back to the 1970s era of Ginsu knife infomercials — a time that most producers have been trying to shake for the past 30 years.
“The brand business took a hit with the prominence of the Snuggie, ShamWow! and Slap Chop last year,” says Doug Garnett, president at Portland, Ore.-based Atomic Direct and a member of Response’s Editorial Advisory Board. “Even Advertising Age’s article [which focused mainly on gimmicks being sold at retail and As Seen On TV products] on DRTV couldn’t rise to the occasion and focus on the good work being done. They went for the cheap draw and led with these cheesy yell-and-sells.”
While those “yell-and-sells” spawned the birth of short-form DRTV, over time they were replaced with quality, branded commercials that were often hard to discern from traditional advertising. A steady stream of brand advertisers flocked to DRTV for its inexpensive media buys and high level of accountability, often working the medium into their overall advertising plans with the help of experienced direct response producers.
Last year, however, it was cheap products like the Snuggie that garnered the attention in DRTV circles. “There’s been good publicity surrounding these types of products, but what people don’t realize is that this stuff is just a narrow section of the broader short-form industry,” says Garnett.
The question is: will the fact that inexpensive, gimmicky products and boisterous pitchmen like Shlomi who stole the show last year negatively impact DRTV for the long-term? Garnett thinks so, believing “it set back the industry’s image,” and could have driven some brand advertisers to rethink their DRTV strategies.
The good news, says Garnett, is that the industry is attracting an increasing number of marketers that previously funneled 100 percent of their advertising dollars to the Internet. They are giving DRTV a second look (see sidebar), having learned of the latter’s ability to drive consumers to specific Web sites and online promotions. “Marketers that are using all-Internet advertising are operating in a limited universe,” says Garnett. “If they want to do business, they have to go offline.”
Measuring the Impact
Gimmicky products and online marketers aren’t the only things impacting the short-form arena right now. At Onyx Productions Direct Inc., in Los Angeles, Joan Renfrow, president, is producing shows a little differently these days, thanks to the new FTC guidelines governing the use and display of testimonials. In October, the FTC published its “final guides” governing endorsements and testimonials, thus affecting all advertisements that include such elements.
Under the new rules (which became effective Dec. 1), advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect. In contrast to the 1980 version of the guides — which allowed advertisers to describe unusual results in a testimonial as long as they included a disclaimer such as “results not typical” — the revised rules no longer contain a safe harbor.
“You can no longer show ‘before-and-after’ shots and take testimonials claiming that someone lost 55 pounds on a certain type of diet,” Renfrow explains, “and then just tack ‘results may vary’ on the end of the show.” And while DRTV producers can still select from a pool of dieters, for instance, to showcase the ones that lost the most body fat or inches, the disclaimers associated with those results must also identify typical results.
The new FTC requirements can dilute the effectiveness of the testimonials, particularly when a 55-pound weight loss has to be followed up with a statement like “the typical weight loss result from this product is two pounds.” Scripts and voiceovers are also affected, says Renfrow, since the verbiage must be conveyed via voice or on screen. The rules are creating more work for producers, but Renfrow isn’t convinced that they’re doing much to educate consumers.