Take the Long View1 Jul, 2008 By: Bridget McCrea Response
Long-form producers get creative in their efforts to advance the format while battling high media costs.
Today's infomercial producers have technology on their sides as they strive to be more creative and cost-effective in their production techniques. Renfrow says that her firm is using advanced editing software to infuse more "bells and whistles" into its long-form shows. She's currently using an innovative "morphing" technique for one show, and also including as many testimonials and demonstrations as necessary. "Ultimately every consumer wants to know 'what is it going to do for me' and 'how is it going to make my life better,'" says Renfrow. "If we stay focused on that, we will run the course, with and without the brands."
The proliferation of new high-tech cameras and sound recording systems is making it easier for producers to get their jobs done in a quality manner — on time and on budget. Onyx, for example, is shooting its shows on a chip, which in turn is plugged right into the firm's editing system. "We don't even have to digitize anymore," says Renfrow.
Another cost-cutting technique that works well involves shooting testimonials on a green screen, and then matting-in the testimonials at a later date. "We can shoot a lot more in one setup, and then change the background as necessary," says Renfrow. "It works very well both for testimonials and products as well."
Renfrow is also seeing a trend toward more high-definition (HD) shooting for infomercials, but says that it could be a while before the payoff for such advanced techniques is seen in DRTV circles.
Yallen says his firm has also been using HD for the "unique look" that it gives a show. "It's a look that simulates film, with more richness than video, and it's much more efficient to shoot," says Yallen, who points out that using HD eradicates the need for processing, which translates into greater cost savings.
"In DR, we're constantly revising, tweaking and updating in post production," says Ava Seavey, founder and president of Avalanche Creative Services. "We're also always repurposing footage." Seavey adds that HD is phenomenal in this respect because it can be replicated again and again and retain its clarity. "I used to advocate shooting on film, but as technology has improved, I no longer recommend it," she contends.
As long-form producers work out the details behind shooting in HD, Garnett says his firm is also putting more effort into the visual aspect of its shows. To get there in an affordable manner, the company began using conceptual sketching (instead of full storyboards) to lay the groundwork for its clients' shows.
"It's too costly to storyboard an entire infomercial and its various pieces (such as the testimonials and demonstrations)," says Garnett, "so we're using the conceptual sketching strategy more and more in order to gain efficiencies."
Meeting Challenges With New Ideas
Long-form producers, media buyers and users have a lot to contend with this year. Some of the top protagonists include a weak U.S. dollar, fuel prices that are going through the roof, an election year and a subprime mortgage meltdown that's negatively impacted consumer confidence. As a result, parking lots of even the most deeply discounted stores are devoid of cars, and the nation's shopping malls are starving for foot traffic.
Infomercial-specific challenges include the media-rate increases, along with the fact that the cost of doing business is rising across the board. "One of my exercise equipment clients has seen its margins shrink due to the fact that it's costing more to manufacture the products overseas," says Renfrow, who is seeing more marketers using "less expensive" ways of getting the job done. "I counsel my clients all the time to be careful of the small margins. One little glitch, and you are out of the marketplace — after spending a lot of money to get there in the first place."
Yallen sees fragmentation of media and the cost of media as the two biggest obstacles to success in the long-form market right now. "Networks want year-over-year increases in their budgets, causing increases in the cost of the media not always backed up by household increases," he explains, noting that HD, digital channels and more networks have caused fragmentation as viewers are spread out with so many choices on TV.
"We overcome these hurdles by supplementing campaigns using an integrated approach with some non-traditional media," says Yallen, "such as interactive E-commerce and mobile marketing."
Hurdles aside, Garnett says traditional and brand advertisers will continue to gravitate toward long-form DR due to its originality as a media format. "People are intrigued with the idea of a half-hour," says Garnett, who sees long-form DRTV as the answer to the challenge of ongoing media fragmentation. "Consumers used to see 500 messages a day and retain two, and now they're seeing 2,500 and retaining two or three. Long-form rocks that with its extended period of time to get the sales-or brand-oriented message out."