Entertain and Explain to Catch DRTV Viewers

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The infomercial is coming of age. Long-form mania is sweeping the nation. Get on board before you miss the train.


Of course, that's what I want you to think. But let's consider the maturation of the direct mail industry in the past decade. It was just more than 10 years ago that database marketing was the buzz. Keynote speakers at the top direct marketing conferences were waxing lyrical about the importance of gathering and managing data. Better targeting and managing of lifetime customer value were the focus. Then came integration, followed by customer relationship management strategies.


Direct marketers know that customer ownership is their secret weapon. Accountability is what we have over our image-advertising partners. But in the world of direct response television, direct sales and lead generation are what matter. DRTV experts have mastered the art of accountability and campaign return on investment.


So what is it with the recent hype about the infomercial - that dreaded word that connotes Ginsu knives and overnight airings? Maybe it's both the appeal of image advertising and the accountability of direct marketing that cause this paid-for advertising medium to attract so much attention and to gain corporate acceptance - both with the Fortune 1000 and agencies of record.


Who sees these long-form shows? I get asked that question often, almost rhetorically. The expected answer includes the lines about lazy, overweight people who don't have jobs or have extremely low disposable incomes. And because long-form programs only air at 2 a.m. on obscure cable channels, it's really not worth considering. Or is it? Sure, there is a demographic that fits those descriptions. Fortunately, it's a minority. And with national cable networks and targeted broadcast planning, an effective long-form campaign will air weekdays, weekends, early morning and evenings.


The best available data is based on DRTV/long-form purchasers as opposed to DRTV/long-form watchers. (Nielsen doesn't monitor paid-for advertising.) This type of data is more valuable and more illustrative than mere watchers, as it reflects not only those who watched, but also those who watched long enough to be persuaded to buy.


In essence, according to recent research, the following consumers indicate heavy DRTV viewing based on their buying behavior:


• Heavily female (84 percent).


• Ages 25 to 54 with a concentration on ages 25 to 34 and ages 45 to 54.


• Household income of $50,000-plus, with a strong spike in the $75,000 to $100,000 range.


• Household size of three or more people, heavily weighted to households of five or more.


You may be surprised by who else is buying. Take Philips Consumer Electronics' recent campaign for TiVo. Three-quarters of all orders came from males; the median age was 43, with a median household income of almost three times the national average. (The national median household income is $38,000.)


WebTV has had similar success, with a majority of male buyers with a median household income well above the national average. When prompted about occupations, 73 percent said they are white-collar professionals. In both campaigns, the impact at retail was significant, primarily because the programs provided the information needed to make a complex purchase without the help of poorly trained sales assistants.


But high technology isn't the only sector that is attracting a viewing audience. Today, consumers see long-form, paid-for advertisements from a wide variety of sectors such as financial services (E*Trade), automotive (Chrysler, Range Rover, Nissan), telecommunications (AT&T), travel (Princess Cruises), even e-commerce companies (gazoontite.com and VA.com).


Complex products and services require effective sales presentations. The companies mentioned above are respectable. And they are not the kinds of companies you would expect to be using long-form programming to reach their target audiences. They do have commonalities:


• There is a strong desire to protect brand identity.


• They have products and services that require time to explain in-depth.


• They have products and services that have higher price points (more than $100).


• They want to create relationships (long-term, profitable ones) with their customers.


• They often have multiple distribution channels, so direct sales is not the primary objective.


• They look for cost-effective ways to use a mass medium to reach customers and prospects beyond prime time.


But what's the real insight into effectively using long-form to reach this surprisingly affluent audience?


Let me entertain you. Most people watch television for pleasure. It's a passive experience. A person can chill out in front of the television and take a break from surfing or reading or talking on the cell phone. Advertising tends to be intrusive during this time of passive relaxation.


The most effective long-form campaigns work hard to entertain while they explain. They have to look good, for one. The better scripts tell a story (thus the "storymercial") to engage the viewer. The more inspirational they are, the more likely they are to attract the desired audience - which happens to have a fair amount of disposable income - as well as to maintain a positive brand experience. I knew a creative director who would say, "People will watch what's of interest to them, and sometimes it's advertising." Especially if it's engaging, entertaining and informative.


And people watching these programs are brighter than you think. They are well-educated, they buy sophisticated products and they have the discretionary income advertisers want to reach. David Ogilvy of Ogilvy & Mather was right 40 years ago when he said: "The consumer is not a moron. She's your wife. Don't insult her intelligence."
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