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Direct Response Marketing

Shrinking the Continental Divide

1 Jun, 2009 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response

DR marketers are creating international television and digital campaigns that make selling U.S. products in Europe easier than ever before.


Taking a U.S. Campaign Abroad

Successfully selling a product on DRTV in the U.S. and Europe, according to Muffett, comes down to tone and nuances. DTV Group was created in 2003 to fill a gap in the European market for regional DRTV producers.

When it comes to tone, Muffett advises: "Yell-and-sell doesn't translate well across the pond, especially in Northern Europe. Speak to the audience as intelligent folks — shouting doesn't speak at the right level. Shouting in Europe breeds mistrust."

Nuances can make a big difference in sales when taking a DRTV commercial from one country to another. "Understanding of local cultural issues is fundamental — both from the development of the proposition, down to the response mechanic and payment method," says Muffett.

Orsmond adds, "The danger, however, for already successful U.S. DRTV advertisers lies in assuming that what they can do on one side of the Atlantic can be automatically repeated on the other. The challenge is to learn from and then develop each individual market, finding ways to target the desired European audience a the lowest cost-per-order."

Orsmond shares the opinion that U.S companies attempting to bring campaigns to Europe need to consider cultural differences. For example, British consumers are less impressed by U.S. film and television celebrities and so those hosts do not sell as well on infomercials. And while long-form is well established in the U.S., Orsmond says it's still new to TV in Europe.

If you're considering DR marketing abroad, are there products that simply can't make it in both markets? For instance, Infoworx a DRTV production company based in Boca Raton, Fla., recently tried to take a long-form commercial for Tension Taker — a product that helped reduce anxiety — from the United Kingdom to the United States. Though it was successful in the U.K., it did not do as well in the U.S., because British consumers are more accustomed to alternative healing than U.S. citizens, who tend to use more traditional medication.

Do industry experts advise American manufacturers to skip hiring someone to distribute internationally and take the products to Europe themselves? "That depends on the relationships they have with European distributors and how involved they want to be in the actual mechanics of international distribution," says Michele Quinlan, director of sales and marketing of Oak Lawn, Ind.-based Global Infomercial Services Inc. (GIS). "It can be very time consuming and some suppliers simply don't want to take on that responsibility. Also, an established international company already has excellent relationships with all of the major players and can get things moving much faster."

Quinlan says that when moving into international DRTV distribution, American companies need to be aware that many countries have strict importation requirements. "Some health and beauty products may be impossible to import due to these types of restrictions," says Quinlan. "There may also be different requirements regarding claim substantiations. In markets like Australia and the U.K., these requirements can be quite stringent."

Where to Test Campaigns

Ron Perlstein, president of Infoworx, recommends launching DRTV campaigns in France or Greece, where markets have been strong, even in the recession. And according to Daniela Todorovic, president of Thane Direct, Germany has a long history of DRTV distribution and a vast shopping channel universe, which makes it a good ground for testing new products. Of course, the U.K. is also always a great place to test because agencies can avoid any translation costs.

When it comes to digital campaigns, Nairn says most European countries offer great opportunities. "However, you must consider mobile and broadband penetration/usage and culture appetite for the interactive," she warns. "Getting the insight right is key to success when using interactive channels. We see many similarities in Web and mobile usage across Europe, but Eastern Europe provides us with some interesting considerations due to culture and usage that are specific to this territory."

Regulations and Standards Are Tough and Varied

Doing business in Europe can have its challenges when it comes to compliance regulations. ARM Direct — which has worked with DR companies Time-Life, Guthy-Renker, Thermospas and Spin Direct — has been in the business since 1984 and often takes U.S. DR commercials and re-edits them to comply with U.K. broadcast standards and consumer desires.

Often, it's the offer that has to be altered. For example, ARM recently ran into this problem with an exercise product that was a best seller in the U.S. ARM had to edit out many of the enthusiastic testimonials to comply with U.K. broadcast regulations. Ultimately, the commercial lost effectiveness and sales were lower in the U.K. than in the U.S.

Sometimes entire product categories are banned in European countries. For example, weight-loss or vitamin supplements cannot be sold on television in the U.K. And in Germany, doctors, dentists or any other medical professionals cannot endorse products and testimonials must be backed by signed declarations.

Recession Means Good Timing

Marketers on both sides of the Atlantic seem to be in agreement that now is a good time to test DR campaigns in Europe. "It's just about as good a time as ever," says Muffett. "A plethora of channels are expanding everyday. Advertising rates are dropping and response rates are being maintained, equating to greater ROI and ratios."

According to Orsmond, timing is everything. "Because of the recession, airtime rates are being heavily discounted," he says. "For example, rates are now lower than they were five years ago and 30-minute infomercial airtime has never been lower. So testing in Europe now is more affordable and call center and fulfillment companies will guarantee rates that were impossible just 12 months ago."

The relatively low demand for infomercial airtime makes media buys less expensive — television stations in the U.K. are only given three-hour daily windows called "teleshopping windows" to broadcast infomercials. Pricing ranges from as low as $100 per 30-minute show. ARM Direct confirms that more than 25 percent of the U.K.'s 458 channels now broadcast some infomercial content during "teleshopping windows" everyday.

Health, Wealth and Family Lead Product Categories

When deciding what product campaigns to bring to the European market, experts suggest: think health, wealth and family. Thane Direct, a DRTV producer and distributor that has been producing infomercial campaigns for nearly two decades, is looking for products with universal appeal, ones that are innovative and provide an attractive solution to daily problems and challenges.

"Most of the time, a show that is successful in the U.S. will also achieve success in Europe," says Todorovic. However, Todorovic reminds agencies that buying patterns differ from one country to the next, seasonal trends will vary across European markets, and some markets are more sensitive to price points than others.

Housewares are expected to continue strong through 2009 and beyond, and Todorovic predicts that fitness products should rebound in early 2010. According to Orsmond, health and fitness, housewares, collectibles, music and DVDs, and cleaning products remain the strongest sellers and are least controversial with European broadcasters.

"Customer service has fantastic potential for growth across Europe through social media as more customers are opting for self-service and peer-to-peer answers and experiences," says Nairn. "Brands are seriously looking into how they can capitalize on this and not only use it as an efficient way to resolve customer issues, but more how to charge a premium to provide different types of brand experience."

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