Canadian DRTV Firm Develops Infomercial for Battered Women

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TORONTO - Infomercial specialist Northern Lights Direct Response Television has developed a fund-raising infomercial for Interval House, a Toronto-based shelter for abused women and their children.


Ian French, president and creative director of Northern Lights, said the development of the DRTV ad, called Journey to Freedom, was the "project of a lifetime for me," adding his firm has never had to work so hard to bring an idea to fruition on film.


The spot debuted March 20 on Global Television Network and will eventually be added to the schedules of both CTV Television Network and Christian Service Television.


French, who worked on the infomercial for a reduced fee, said the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the issue of domestic violence meant Northern Lights had to approach the production with extra sensitivity and care.


For one thing, finding women's stories to tell in the infomercial was difficult because victims of domestic violence are so often ashamed or afraid to speak out.


"That was a complication we had to deal with," said French. Eventually, the agency settled on six cases of abuse. The cases are illustrated via on-camera interviews and dramatic recreations of violent incidents from the women's lives.


The raw footage was edited to make two versions of the ad, one 60 minutes long and the other 30 minutes.


French said the original edited versions he presented to television executives were considered far too graphic to air in the morning time slots he was hoping to secure, and new versions had to be cut. In Canada, DRTV fund-raising ads generally perform best if they run between 9 and 11 a.m.


Journey to Freedom is co-hosted by TV personalities Erica Ehm and Linda Sims and features a number of Canadian celebrities. Viewers are encouraged to call a toll-free number to donate $21 per month.


In exchange, they will receive a "Friends of Interval House" T-shirt as well as a "Help Card" - which can be left anywhere a viewer suspects there's a woman in need - outlining the steps women can take to escape domestic violence.


Interval House - the oldest organizations of its kind in Canada - plans to run the commercial for the next several years.


French said it's too early to tell, but the communications effort could spawn a wave of DRTV ads by small charitable organizations. "We've been able to take it into territory it's never been taken into before."


He said community-based organizations frequently deal with issues considered too "close-to-home" for traditional infomercial tactics. One problem is that people in the community could be rubbed the wrong way by seeing their personal stories on screen, and their feelings and reactions have to be taken into consideration.


As well, if an issue is too complex to explain in the context of an infomercial, the fund-raising effort isn't likely to be a success. "When it comes to abused women," for instance, said French, "many people think they should just leave."


Part of French's challenge in creating an infomercial on the subject was to show that men who commit acts of domestic violence frequently are motivated by a need to be in control, and they can make it extremely difficult for the woman to leave, particularly if children are involved.


"There is incredible psychological and physical pressure on these women to stay," he said.
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