DRTV shows off new tricks

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Steve Froehlich, senior director of direct response for the ASPCA
Steve Froehlich, senior director of direct response for the ASPCA

Television footage featuring adorable dogs, cats and other household pets elic­its an emotional response from nearly everyone. So it's no surprise that direct response television (DRTV) has come to play a major role in the marketing strategy of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which relies on one-time and monthly donations to fund programs related to animal-assisted therapy, animal poison control, animal cruelty, humane education, legislative services and shelter outreach.

“DRTV is successful when you take a highly complex and emotional problem and offer a simple solution that passionate people can do on their own,” says Steve Froehlich, senior director of direct response at the ASPCA, which has raised more than $40 million since its DRTV program launched in February 2004.

However, as television viewer habits evolve and the focus on the Web increases, the DRTV medium has shifted from the days when view­ers watched late-night infomercials and called a toll-free number in response. For example, view­ers may watch a DRTV spot on TV and then contribute online or purchase in a retail store, which means marketers have had to change up their DRTV strategies.

“There's not just one mode of response [any­more],” says Loreen Babcock, CEO of agency Unit 7, which handles a wide variety of DRTV programs. Dealing with multiple call to action options can be challenging, she adds: “We have a pretty good feel for the benefit of having more than one type of communication, but not neces­sarily the frequency and the timing.”

Michelle Cardinal, CEO and president of Cmedia, agrees that one call to action just isn't enough anymore — today's DRTV campaigns must also drive to a URL. “You won't survive if you don't understand that it's no longer just about 1-800 numbers,” she says, pointing out that DRTV and the online channel used to be on “different planets.” Now, she explains, “[companies need] to bring them together to see how they complement each other.”

Froehlich has seen this firsthand, as the ASPCA's DRTV program has evolved since its inception. “There's been a lot of crossover and multichannel fundraising going on,” he says. But the length and target audience its DRTV spots have also changed significantly, because of the changing television space, proliferation of channels and shifting viewer habits.

The animal welfare organization started out with 30-minute, long-form DRTV spots that ran regionally, mostly in overnight time slots. “[Long-form offered] a better opportunity to con­nect with people about the reasons for becoming a monthly donor,” Froehlich explains. “The monthly donor ‘ask' is somewhat complicated to do in a short amount of time.”

But Jack Kirby, president of e-commerce at Euro RSCG Edge, says that advertisers are gravi­tating to short form DRTV — spots between 30 seconds and 2 minutes long — because with so many different channels, ads can be in more places at once and time slots can be better opti­mized. “Today, [advertisers] need to know what their ROI is for their media dollar and they demand accountability,” he says.

Short-form programming, however, can create problems for one of the most important compo­nents of DRTV: the call center. “When you're airing long form at 3am, you might get 15 to 30 calls over 30 minutes,” Froehlich explains. “Because the spot is inexpensive, you can reach a scalable point by buying dozens and dozens of spots. But, with short-form, you're spending upwards of $15,000 on one spot and all the calls are coming in 90 seconds or less.”

Media exposure leads to shift to short-form

The ASPCA's move to short-form DRTV came late in 2004, when its humane law enforcement officers began to be featured on the Animal Planet series Animal Precinct. Few half -hour blocks were available on the cable network, but the media exposure from the show gave the ASPCA the national leverage it needed to enter the world of short-form DRTV.

The ASPCA's “big break” with short-form DRTV ads came in 2006, when it came to orga­nization's attention that recording artist Sarah McLachlan had filmed a spot with the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) that was airing in Van­couver. “Because we work so closely with the BCSPCA, we were able to get the footage and turn it into a spot more specific to what we were doing in the States,” Froehlich says.

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