In New Millennium, Underlying Rules Remain Unchanged for DRTV

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NEW YORK -- As budgets grow and creative technology advances, direct response television ads have begun to resemble big-money brand advertising. But while the productions have advanced creatively in the past 15 years, the underlying rules and formula behind DRTV have stayed intact.

That was the assessment yesterday of Emily Soell, vice chairman and chief creative officer worldwide at DraftWorldwide, who headed a session titled "DRTV in the 2000s: Have We Forsaken All The Rules?" at the DMD Marketing Conference and Exposition.

Soell was joined at the session by Richard Eber, chief creative officer at McCann Relationship Marketing; Todd Heyman, senior partner and group creative director at OgilvyOne Worldwide; and William Whitney, vice president and group creative director of broadcast at Rapp Collins Worldwide. The speakers compared a handful of 1987 DRTV short-form dinosaurs and some of the most recent DRTV short-form spots from recognized brands such as Time magazine, Microsoft Network, Ameritrade and American Express.

"Dorky as they [the 1987 spots] were, they sold a hell of a lot of products," Soell said.

Many of the dated ads and recent spots featured actors or spokespeople representative of the target demographic discussing a problem and the solution that the featured product offered. Soell showed a spot for Humana Inc. term life insurance, featuring a senior citizen discussing her problem and the solution that Humana could provide. A series of spots that aired 14 years later about American Express small-business services featured various small-business owners discussing the obstacles to starting a business and how American Express provided a solution.

Another popular form of DRTV, the "slice-of-life" ad, has persisted throughout the past two decades, Soell said. She demonstrated this by showing an ad for Encyclopedia Britannica that featured a young boy -- who did not own the reference books -- walking to the library to study, only to find it closed. The modern version of a slice of life from Microsoft featured young students benefiting from all the educational tools that Microsoft offers.

"The slice-of-life ad is as old as the 'Hi Marge, Hi Mary' Procter & Gamble ads," Soell said. "It isn't the slice that has changed; it's the life."

Soell pointed out that while the production value of these ads has increased, they continue to follow the model of showing an individual with an everyday problem arriving at a solution through the featured product.

What has changed is the production values and creative presentation of DRTV spots. While calls-to-action remain in today's DRTV spots, they are usually placed numerous times within the production, as opposed to the older spots, in which the phone number is repeated "a million times" at the end, Whitney said.

The panelists also emphasized that today's DRTV spots are usually shorter and faster-paced than past productions in order to appeal to a consumer market with access to a remote control and numerous television channels.

"The 60-second ad has become more important," Whitney said. "People don't want to stick around for the long story."


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