The Long Run1 Jul, 2009 By: Bridget McCrea Response
"Technology is also expanding the gap between the technical editor/graphic designer and the artist by allowing the latter to work more freely than he or she has in the past," Hawthorne adds, "while spending less time working around the shortcomings of the systems and programs."
Top technology tools being used by Hawthorne Direct right now include new HD and standard definition digital cameras and large-capacity hard drives that allow producers to archive huge projects indefinitely. "In the old days we had to work from a super-less master. It was quite a task to rebuild an old project in the analog world," explains Hawthorne. "Now, if a client wants to make a quick revision to a show a year or two down the road, we can easily open the old project, have access to all the media and make whatever changes are needed."
Additionally, vast improvements in the size and speed of CPUs and processors allow producers to handle many complicated tasks in a much shorter timeframe (although Hawthorne says it still takes "plenty of time" to create and then render and finish the work). Editing and effects software programs are also more integrated now, giving the artist more to work with, within a single software program.
"Instead of having to use three or four different software programs, we can now do everything within one or two programs," Hawthorne adds, "making editing faster and more efficient and allowing us to concentrate on the flow and style rather than which programs we need to be working in for each particular task."
The Cost of Long-Form Production
Cumulatively, the various technological innovations being used in infomercial production are making it easier and quicker to work with clients, particularly when it comes to sharing files via the Internet using sites like YouSendIt and Screencast, both of which provide affordable media hosting solutions for business and academic professionals who want to share multimedia content on the Web.
"Where it used to take days to send a tape from the edit house to the client for review, and then set up a conference call to communicate those changes back to the editor or designer," says Hawthorne, "it can now can be done in a matter of hours via the Internet, FTP sites and E-mail. For many long distance clients, we are able to get feedback from them within an hour of sending an edit file."
Using HD-streaming programs like Slingbox, producers can even share live edit sessions between editor/designer, producer and client — all of whom can participate from different geographic locations. "We feed the direct output of an edit system to multiple sites, so that all production team members are in the edit bay 'virtually,' and able to provide instant feedback without having to be on site," says Hawthorne.
Still Not Easy
Technology may be making the production aspect of an infomercial a bit easier, faster and more affordable, but the age-old challenges of long-form campaigns still persist. The fact is, getting a Tae Bo-like hit still eludes most marketers, with 29 out of every 30 campaigns ranking as "failures," according to Doug Garnett, founder and CEO at Portland, Ore.-based Atomic Direct, and a member of the Response Editorial Advisory Board.
"The mistakes being made are critical, and are the reason most DRTV businesses see that horrendous failure rate," says Garnett. "If the business would learn its lessons, that failure rate would be cut in half, or nearly eliminated."
So where do marketers go wrong in the infomercial space? Garnett says the problem is two-fold. For starters, most DRTV producers, agencies, and marketers really don't use the tried-and-true lessons from traditional marketing.
"Old DRTV hands manage projects with a combination of gut checks and superstition," says Garnett. "But if you follow marketing fundamentals — identify your target, learn how to communicate to your audience, and then get everything onto the screen in a way that ensures they'll hear your message — with savvy processes, DRTV is generally successful, without resorting to hack formulas."
The other problem is that most DRTV marketers don't know how to use research, says Garnett, who calls research a "highly valuable skill" that needs to be learned. "Companies have to learn not only how to conduct research, but most importantly how to use what they gather," he advises. "The truth in long-form is that most marketers lack the savvy to conduct research, hear the important lessons to be learned and, most importantly, ensure that those lessons make it on screen."
Nolan says marketers that don't allow enough time for the post-production process are also setting themselves up for failure. While a line cut can be delivered quickly, he says the subtleties of a successful infomercial require more time. "Producers need time to digest the fluidity of the show and the logic of the accented points of the show," adds Nolan, "while allowing time for artistic styling to ameliorate the overall feel of the production."
The problem, says Hawthorne, is that some marketers are more interested in meeting arbitrary deadlines than taking time to create the best infomercial possible. "Their overzealous attorneys may hamstring a show by limiting the selling language, or conversely, their overly liberal attorneys may allow unsubstantiated language that leaves them open to FTC (Federal Trade Commission) litigation," says Hawthorne, adding that the age-old problem of "underfunded" entrepreneurs attempting infomercial campaigns also persists. "Since many clients have no reference, other than 30-second spots, they're unable to appreciate the amount of work involved in pre-production and shooting of a long-form commercial."
Maximizing the Campaign
Long-form's technological bent goes beyond the studio, and out into a world where more and more consumers are researching and buying products and services online. To accommodate these buyers and leverage production dollars, many long-form shows (or, at least parts of them) are being streamed onto corporate Web sites, as well as public venues like YouTube and Google Video.
"Online, long-form functions as valuable content on a product's Web site, whether posted as the entire 28:30 or parsed into 2-3 minute 'chapters,'" says Hawthorne, who notes that such intensive use of video online serves to increase Web site "stickiness." "Clients are also using infomercials on the Web as online focus groups, and to test varied offers."
At Cesari Direct, Tim O'Brien, vice president of business development, says all of the firm's clients use some form of online video to drive sales. "When we shoot an infomercial, we typically collect more than 28-and-a-half minutes of footage," O'Brien says. "We can repurpose those assets and use sound bites and testimonials, for example, that don't fit in the infomercial, online."
With a few exceptions, Garnett says online video generates "purely secondary" impact for infomercial marketers. "One of the big lies in the new media business is that YouTube videos are effective ways to market products; they aren't," Garnett says. "However, everything we produce ends up online and should be online because when consumers watch a long-form show, a large portion of them want to see it (or parts of it) again or be able to show it to someone else."
It won't be long before those shows and snippets are viewed and shared via mobile devices — a trend that's already starting to take root. "Mobile DRTV will be a huge boon to our industry," says Hawthorne. "We will need to invent mobile commercial formats and response mechanisms to take advantage of this gigantic shift."
Expect even more blending of DRTV and general advertising in the future, with much of that convergence taking place not on the television, but on mobile devices and via the Internet. "Companies will be seeking full branding campaigns that include DRTV on the Internet and mobile," says Hawthorne. "Attention spans are shrinking and consumer spending habits and loyalties are changing. These trends are pushing DRTV to reinvent itself in a way that can excite, surprise and keep the attention of new generations."