Video Production: Creative Leverage

The 60-second TV spot kicks off with New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees throwing the football around in an indoor training facility. It then quickly shifts to pro basketball player Dwyane Wade doing layups in a gym, followed by tennis great Serena Williams knocking balls around on the court.

Mission Football
Drew Plotkin of Launch DRTV works with New
Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees during
filming of the Mission Hydroactive Max towel
campaign, which includes video components
seen both on TV and online.

All three athletes are sharing their stories about sweat, and how “training against the heat” is a pretty serious situation. In continual need of cooling solutions, Brees, Wade, and Williams all concur that these days it’s Mission Hydroactive Max to the rescue. “The Mission Max cooling towel?” Wade asks. “It’s a game changer.”

Tasked with showing how the three world champions “keep their cool when it’s all on the line,” Drew Plotkin, partner and creative director of Los Angeles-based Launch DRTV, is pretty proud of the Mission spot. Launch DRTV, which also produced the Amazon Echo spots for the campaign, says this is just one clear example of how direct response marketing isn’t dying or “going away” anytime soon. “In reality, the industry has never been stronger,” Plotkin says, “and is heading in a very upward and vertical direction.”

For example, Plotkin asks, when have you seen three world champion athletes — all of whom are still in the midst of their careers — come together to participate in a DR spot? “It’s probably never been done before at this level,” says Plotkin, who notes that the spot was backed up by “very healthy” TV media and digital spend. “All of the synergies really came together well on this one.”

Short-Form Story Selling

Once the poster child for any advertiser looking for discounted media avails and the ability to track sales to specific contacts in a very accountable manner, DR ads are emerging across an entirely new generation of advertisers that are using them to tell stories, demonstrate products, and go beyond the basic tenets of image advertising to engage their audiences.

“For me, the challenge has always been being able to tell a compelling story,” says Dena Levy, producer/director at Two-D Productions in Calabasas, Calif. “We talk a lot about turning ‘story telling’ into ‘story selling,’ and how we have to meet the customer wherever he or she happens to be at the time.”

Spot Production

From the mobile phone to the tablet to social networking sites like Facebook, consumers are engaging with a lot of different digital time-sucks on a daily basis. To keep up with them (or, in some cases, get out in front of them), producers like Levy have to create highly personalized programming that tells a story within a very short amount of time.

“That time keeps getting smaller and smaller,” says Levy, who remembers a time when clients invested in half-hour infomercials and then cut those shows down into two-minute spots, one-minute spots, and 30-second online videos. Today, the same clients are asking upfront for 15-second and 30-second ads that they can run online and/or on their social networks, says Levy — yet the same tenets of DRTV “storytelling” apply, even in that much shorter time span.

“Multi-screen viewing and multi-channel engagement is the new norm for marketers and producers,” says Kenny Taht, founder and chief creative officer of GoConvergence in Orlando. “The challenge for the agency and producer is to conceive concepts and write stories that are inherently designed to be multi-functional. The 10-second and six-second micro-units for digital are the most challenging for creatives when it comes to storytelling and product demonstration.”

Also challenging is the fact that anyone with a smartphone now thinks that he or she can shoot commercial-quality video. “There’s a perception that any kid out of college with an iPhone can do it,” says Plotkin, who adds that most credible brands realize that this isn’t true.

Strategy, marketing, branding, and sales all must be factored in. “Even so,” Plotkin adds, “there is a perception — due to advances in technology — that you can read some sort of ‘Make a Commercial 101’ textbook and create a show.”

With nearly a dozen short-form and long-form campaigns currently in rollout, Launch DRTV takes this trend and other challenges in stride. “It challenges agencies to stay on their toes, and that’s a good thing,” he concludes.

At Atomic Direct in Portland, Ore., Doug Garnett, the company’s founder and CEO, says many of his firm’s short-form campaigns have been retail-oriented of late. Within the automotive channel, for example, the company produced a campaign for the lubricant product NanoPro MT, which is current selling well in AutoZone stores. “Short-form is as powerful and potent as ever,” he says. “That’s a bit stunning, given all of the press that we’re seeing around TV disruption and how the medium is basically dying.”

From the production standpoint, Garnett, a member of the Response Advisory Board, says the NanoPro MT commercial presented some interesting challenges. For starters, it’s not your average DR product in that it’s an advanced, nanotechnology lubricant targeted at the “manly” automotive and hardware world.

“It runs somewhere between the Kobalt wrench and skincare in terms of production challenges,” Garnett explains. “However, because it was originally used by the military (i.e., on helicopters), we were able to utilize some of that imagery to illustrate the spot and make it fun.”

Long-Form: Blurring the Lines

There was a time when the lines between long-form and short-form DR ads were clear and definitive. Sure, some companies used both (a long-form campaign for a $299 exercise product was augmented with short-form spots, for example), but for the most part the “long” was devoted to more expensive items that required more on-air demonstration time.

Those lines have since blurred, and the production world has caught onto this “blending” trend and made it their own.

“We’re talking to clients about comprehensive direct strategies that could include long-form, short-form, digital, social, mobile — you name it,” says Alex Dinsmoor, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Script to Screen in Santa Ana, Calif. “And while most campaigns include both long-form and short-form, we’re also creating a lot of digital assets to make sure our clients have a lot of content to monetize in many different ways.”

To help marketers achieve their “monetization” goals, producers like Script to Screen are creating content that can be deployed across various media. This doesn’t take away from the power of long-form, but instead reinforces it by giving clients “more bites at the apple” and a better bang for their production buck, says Dinsmoor.

In other words, the days when marketers measured success by producing an infomercial, airing it, testing it, and hoping that it would drive enough unit sales via a website or call center are long gone.

“Marketers have to be aware of all of their customer touchpoints and must pay attention to how people interact with their products,” says Dinsmoor. “That includes being in tune with Google analytics, and tracking existing ad spend, click-through ratios, cost-per-click, Amazon sales, and everything else that goes into a campaign.”

Recently, Script to Screen worked with a client whose Amazon sales spiked into the double-digits during its DR campaign test. “Because we were paying attention to that particular customer touchpoint,” says Dinsmoor, “we were able to include it in the ultimate media efficiency ratio (MER) calculation.”

Ed Crain, president at Kingstar Direct in Toronto, says shorter attention spans are dictating the need for shorter, easy-to-digest pieces of content. Sitting still for 28 minutes and 30 seconds — and focusing on a single screen during that timeframe — is getting more and more difficult in the increasingly digital world.

The shelf life of a long-form campaign has also changed during the past few years. “In the past, someone could produce an infomercial and run it successfully for six months to a year,” says Crain. “Now, I find it hard to believe that anyone in my son’s generation or young parents have the time to sit and watch anything for half an hour.”

But that doesn’t mean long-form isn’t still a strong and viable venue for products that cost $100 or more and that need that extra demonstration push. It just means that marketers that take the long-form route need to be ready to make a true investment in the cause — and not take a half-baked approach to it.

“To succeed in long-form, you have to use good production values,” says Crain. “If someone is going to spend more than $100 on your product, they want to see a quality show that helps them make the decision to go to a website, read product reviews, and/or buy at retail.”

The good news, says Garnett, is that long-form is still a very applicable and useful format for certain types of products. And though his firm hasn’t produced any long-form campaigns in the past 12 months, he says it remains a viable component in the direct-to-consumer stable. That’s because 1) there aren’t very many “new” users of infomercials right now, and 2) the current stock of long-form shows is getting a bit stale.

“We’re at a point where there’s significant opportunity to get new and interesting infomercials on the air,” says Garnett. “The medium is ripe for someone to come in, look at it, shift it around, and discover some way to make something fresh and relevant.” ■