What If There Were a DRTV Expo and No Fortune 500 Co. Went?

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LONG BEACH, CA - The DRTV Expo and Conference here was billed as a "Spotlight on Business," but turnout from major corporations and brand managers was weak for the three-day event.

As was the case in years past, most of the attendees consisted of people in the highly entrepreneurial infomercial industry, which has suffered in the last two years from diminished TV sales volume.

In what could be interpreted as a cruel and embarrassing twist of fate, the corporate sponsor of the event, Kent & Spiegel Direct Inc., Culver City, CA, was plagued by bankruptcy rumors as it laid off most of its staff a week prior to the expo. Its executives spent much of their time performing spin control, dismissing the rumors as "not true."

Conference Highlights

While most of the seminars addressed issues that confront entrepreneurial DRTV marketers - "knock-off" products, media costs and retail's cannibalizing effect on DRTV sales, to name a few - one seminar addressed the needs of corporate brand marketers. Moderated by Adam Komack of Williams Worldwide Inc., Santa Monica, CA, the seminar titled "Corporate America Goes Bonkers Over Direct Response Television" highlighted corporate campaigns.

Komack was joined on the panel by Garrett Bess of Great! Response, the direct response division of Grey Advertising in New York, and Doug Garnett, a manager at TV Tyee, the infomercial production company in Portland, OR.

The three discussed recent DRTV campaigns for Hanes Printables Inc., Charter Hospitals and Prestone Products Corp., to illustrate how major corporations use DRTV media to build brand awareness and generate leads or sales.

"Many companies use DRTV to liquidate part of their media costs," Bess said of the Prestone example. Prestone launched a DRTV campaign in February for its Bullet Wax auto care product, which was offered exclusively on TV before being distributed in retail. While many studies have demonstrated that most people are more comfortable buying "As Seen on TV" products at retail stores, Bess said that Prestone had to make the TV offer enticing by packaging it with special offers.

He also demonstrated a case where a corporation failed to generate significant DRTV sales because of "overbranding." Dow Brands once aired a DRTV spot for a line of Ziploc food containers.

"The problem with this campaign was that most people recognize the Ziploc name and expected that they could find this product at any retail store," Bess said. "It's one case where the product was overbranded."

Corporate Attendance

While major corporations were not clamoring to attend the DRTV Expo, there were several executives from established corporations who said they were interested in learning more about DRTV marketing.

"We're thinking about putting together some kind of DRTV program," said John M. Hazlin, vice president of marketing for O-Cedar Brands Inc., Cincinnati, OH. "I'm not sure how much I really want to talk about it, though." The marketer of mops and household goods, whose commercials carried the recognizable jingle "O-Cedar makes your life easier," was curious to learn how his company could replicate the success of other DRTV marketers. The Smart Mop, marketed by Smart Inventions Inc. in Santa Monica, CA, was a big infomercial hit, while the PVA-10X mop has been a recent hit for National Media Corp., Philadelphia.

Time Inc., a division of Time Warner Corp., also sent a contingent of three executives to learn more about DRTV marketing.

"We do a lot of DRTV," said Bianca Janosevic, associate manager of the company's TV group. "We're basically here to learn." She declined to discuss the company's current DRTV marketing plans.

Also from the publishing sector was an executive from Macmillan Publishing USA, New York, a division of Viacom Corp.

"We're looking at a lot of different ways to market our products," said Julie D. Sanders, senior manager of special markets at Macmillan. "We're doing a lot of stuff on the Internet."

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