Direct Response a Natural for Alternative Remedies

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Sales of homeopathic, herbal and natural remedies via direct-response television could blossom this year, as both manufacturers and production companies explore the potential of the media to generate sales for these alternative therapies.

The interest in herbal and natural remedies comes at a time when sales of all herbal supplements hit nearly $2 billion last year, almost double the level of four years ago, according to FIND/SVP Inc., a New York research firm. Fueled primarily by aging baby boomers looking for natural alternatives to drugs, the herbal market has grown to include almost 30% of the U.S. adult population, according to a 1997 Gallup Survey.

The potential market is huge, according to Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, an association that promotes herbal supplements, because Americans are just beginning to catch on to natural alternatives to drug treatments, therapies and remedies that consumers in Europe and the Far East purportedly have relied upon for generations.

U.S. consumers have been introduced in the last year to ginkgo biloba to sharpen their memories, echinacea for prevention of the common cold and St. John's wort to treat depression.

"There's no question that direct-response television is an ideal format to address homeopathic and natural remedies because many of these alternative treatments require detailed explanations," says Bruce Goodman, senior vice president of National Media Corp., Philadelphia. "It's an interesting opportunity for direct-response television because of the nature of the product. The format is simply well-suited to deliver complex messages in a way that consumers can easily grasp."

However, Goodman points out that one simply cannot advertise an herbal remedy and expect consumers beat a path to the sales door. National Media, for one, tried a program selling a natural pain reliever and "it did not work well at all," he says. "And it never was clear if the program skewed to too-old of an age group or whether the product itself was too costly."

Other companies, like Nova Pharmaceutical, do believe that direct-response can sell its product line. Nova markets Nxtrim, an all natural weight loss appetite suppressant that is packed with amino acids, vitamins and minerals, designed both to convince the brain that the stomach is full while helping burn fat. Company executives are firm believers in the power of direct-response television to sell Nxtrim, despite an earlier attempt that failed to reach its targeted goals.

By the end of March, Riverside, Calif.-based Nova plans to be back on the air in 10 cities with a short-form, two-minute commercial that it believes will have a better chance at selling the $40 supplement.

"We're using a news-show type format, very similar to our video news release which did very well with TV stations around the country," says Ralph Mann, president of Nova Pharmaceutical. "In markets where the (video news) release ran, our sales picked up tremendously."

Nova is producing the short-form campaign in-house; West Telemarketing, Omaha, NE, is handling in-bound telemarketing, while Los Angeles, Calif.-based PDS will handle fulfillment.

"I do believe that direct-response is a good way to get product identification at an affordable advertising price," says Mann. "I believe with this campaign that we can both generate enough direct sales to pay for the advertising itself, as well as help us develop brand name identification that will open doors for us to sell through to major retail outlets." Nxtrim already is stocked by West Coast retailers such as Long's and Sav-On.

While Guthy-Renker, Palm Desert, CA, currently is evaluating the potential for programs that direct sell herbal and/or homeopathic remedies, the company already is generating considerable sales and interest in a program-length infomercial under the "Direct Talk" series name.

For the last three months or so, Direct Talk has featured Dr. Michael Murray, a Seattle-based natural remedies expert, in a talk show format hosted by Jim Caldwell. But instead of selling the actual remedies, the show sells a $199 package of books, audiotapes and videotapes packed with information about homeopathic and natural remedies.

"We are finding that we're tapping into a large audience of people who are searching for something a little different that can help them take better care of themselves," said Eytan Urbas, Guthy-Renker spokesman. "This reflects the public's interest and suggests considerable viability of this as a direct response product category."

Jim Caldwell also is the driving force behind an intended fall 1998 direct response campaign being prepared by his Sherman Oaks, CA, company, Future Thunder Productions Inc., in collaboration with Moondance Productions, New York, for Quigley Corp.'s Cold-Eeze cold remedy. Hawthorne Communications, Fairfield, IA, is also consulting on this project.

Cold-Eeze, a zinc lozenge that has been shown in two clinical studies to reduce by 42 percent the duration and severity of the common cold, has been riding a tidal wave of favorable media coverage following the summer 1996 publication of the second study, conducted by investigators at the Cleveland Clinic. The product is a star attraction -- and best-seller -- for such drugstore chains as Rexall, Sav-On, and Walgreens, which has been prominently featuring Cold-Eeze on outdoor boards and in in-store promotional displays during this winter.

"This direct response program is a very important marketing tool for the company," says Caldwell. "This is a company that has gone from $4 million in gross sales in '96 to $70 million in fiscal year '97, all on the back of a $5 product.

According to Quigley, an early November report from Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm, showed Cold-Eeze leading the cough/cold throat category, outselling Warner Lambert's Hall's Zinc Defense eight to one. Recently, the company told financial analysts that Cold-Eeze is outselling Hall's entire product lineup of 40 products, despite being in just 80% of U.S. drug stores.

The company hopes to continuing building sales momentum this spring by pushing it in Kmart stores this spring as a form of allergy relief. That push will be followed by the estimated $3 million to $5 million direct response campaign this fall, which will offer as a bonus a new sugar-free Cold-Eeze lozenge and promotional tie-ins with local attractions.

"We have a blank that will allow us to hold an educated discussion, with consumer testimonials, with the research studies, that will showcase a terrific product and a terrific offer," says Caldwell. "We foresee tremendous opportunity for Cold-Eeze. It's the right product at the right time."

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