Resist old sales theory

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Years ago, most direct response television advertisers subscribed to the "theory of sales resistance." The theory held that certain times of the day and days of the week were tougher to generate response and that a natural resistance existed among viewers to picking up the phone and ordering when watching a favorite program.

As a result, DRTV advertisers avoided primetime programs, major sports events and nearly any show in which viewers had more than a passing interest. They bought time on late-night and weekend shows, especially reruns and old movies. The notion was that people would gladly break away from a boring or already-seen show to call and order a product.

Despite all the changes in our industry, the theory retains a powerful hold on buying patterns. We still see direct response advertisers who hesitate to buy primetime or even experiment with anything other than traditional DRTV slots and stations.

Yet DRTV spots have delivered great results on all types of network shows. Buying opportunities exist today that didn't exist even five or 10 years ago. Advertisers and their agencies must recognize that though the theory of sales resistance still has some validity, it needs to be modified based on the following factors:

• Ease of ordering. Responding to most DRTV spots is a snap today. You encounter no busy signals and aren't on hold for a lengthy time. You can even use URLs instead of a toll-free number. In addition, many response vehicles don't require a purchase. Unlike years ago when lead generation spots were rare, today the response may be merely a request for more information. The speed and ease of DRTV transactions don't require viewers to leave their programs for very long.

• More sophisticated creative. The right creative approach can melt resistance no matter when a spot runs. DRTV creative has made huge leaps in terms of production values and innovative concepts, motivating viewers to respond no matter what show they're watching. The demonstrations are more convincing and the benefits are presented more compellingly. The new DRTV creative doesn't just sell hard, it sells smart.

• The delayed response. Not long ago, people in our industry thought that if you didn't generate a response within seconds after the spot aired, you would never produce one. We're finding that a more sophisticated viewing audience is willing to jot down a number or URL and respond after their program has ended.

• Well-targeted buys. When the theory of sales resistance was the norm, few DRTV advertisers targeted an audience through their buys. Prior to cable, TV really was a mass medium, and the goal was to secure as many inexpensive spots in the best DRTV time slots as possible. With the proliferation of cable stations targeting every demographic, all this changed. If you make a well-targeted buy and use the right creative, you'll generate excellent results.

• Multiple ways to respond. Today, you have options besides dialing an 800 number. You can respond by clicking on a Web site. You can call your doctor and ask about the advertised pharmaceutical. You can go to a store and ask about a special offer. You can print a coupon. The more options viewers possess, the more likely they'll overcome the inherent resistance to respond.

This last point is critical. It is a challenge to generate a response no matter when a spot runs. Even if you're just asking them to scribble a Web site address on a piece of paper, that's asking a lot. Traditional DRTV periods reach people at times when they may be less resistant.

But this doesn't mean that other time periods are ineffective. Any DRTV advertiser or agency that unilaterally avoids nontraditional slots or programming is making a major mistake. With an amazing variety of cable/satellite channels, plus many new independent networks, more DRTV buying opportunities exist than ever. Evaluate all opportunities, not just some of them.

A lot of generalizations exist about the DRTV business, and many of them are rooted in the way things were rather than how things have changed. As DRTV has become a more accepted form of advertising, the old theory of sales resistance has become the new theory of sales responsiveness.

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