The Facts Behind the Myths of DRTV

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I've spent a good portion of the past decade sitting in the boardrooms of major corporations explaining the truth about direct response advertising.


Direct response is considered by much of corporate America to be the bastard stepchild of the advertising business, and there is a tremendous amount of misinformation spread about it.


Here is a sampling of the most common direct response folklore that I encounter almost daily:


Direct response television myth No. 1. Only people living in trailer parks (and usually married to relatives) watch DRTV.


The facts. Though it is true that the above demographic is the primary purchaser of most of the get-rich-quick schemes sold on infomercials, the truth is that everyone who watches television also watches direct response.


I've sold cell phones, Internet services, expensive consumer electronics, $2,000 exercise machines, $10,000 hair transplants, real estate, $1,500 computers and $5,000 vacation packages to very upscale demographics via DRTV. Lexus and Land Rover market luxury vehicles via infomercials.


It is possible to market successfully and cost-effectively to almost any economic target demographic via DRTV. It is simply a function of the proper creative, offer and media plan.


DRTV myth No. 2. DRTV always looks like your Uncle Willie shot it with his own camcorder and should feature either a screaming pitchman or a celebrity last seen during the 1978-79 season of "The Love Boat" as the primary spokesperson.


The facts. Though a lot of DRTV does fit the above profile, the creative approach and production quality of DRTV varies widely. DRTV attracts many underfinanced entrepreneurs, and their creative approach often reflects their limited budgets.


However, I've worked on DRTV campaigns for some of the best-known brands in the world, and almost without exception they insist on production qualities on par with their traditional television advertising.


Properly designed direct response is usually much more product-, feature- and offer-focused than most traditional advertising (which often means that unlike many traditional commercials, the consumer actually understands what is being sold), but that doesn't mean it has to be devoid of creativity.


Production quality is a function of budget. Major corporate marketers that want production quality on par with their traditional television advertising need to be prepared to invest accordingly, though they will be surprised at the production efficiencies of most experienced direct response production companies compared with their traditional agencies).


DRTV myth No. 3. Direct response media are available only between midnight and 5 a.m. on low-powered WB and non-English-speaking stations.


The facts. All broadcast stations and cable networks, including upscale networks such as NBC, CBS, ABC, Bravo, Discovery, A&E and CNBC, accept direct response advertising, and it runs around the clock, seven days a week. Again, it all becomes a function of budget - better day parts cost more. But good direct response is all about profitability, and smart direct response marketers care less about where it airs than where it airs profitably.


DRTV myth No. 4. It is impossible to brand a product using DRTV.


The facts. Though traditional advertising agencies would love to have you believe this one, it simply isn't true. Prove it to yourself by taking this little test: Next time you are in a group of people, ask them how many have heard of the George Foreman grill, Ron Popeil, NordicTrack or Tae Bo. Most likely everyone in the room will know those "brands" that were built via direct response.


Depending on the product or service that is being marketed, direct response offers tremendous potential to brand because marketers can achieve much higher media budgets through the efficiencies of "profitable advertising." The power of direct response is especially apparent when you compare budgets of traditional campaigns via direct response.


Twenty million dollars spent over 12 months on DRTV would be an enormous budget, and virtually everyone would see your message. But $20 million spent on traditional advertising is potentially insignificant. I am not advocating that direct response is a total replacement for traditional branded advertising - because it is not. But for clients that have complex messages, tight advertising budgets and benefit from a consumer response to their advertising, it should, at least, be a part of their marketing mix.


Accurate information on DRTV is often hard to find. Traditional advertising agencies don't understand it. Instead, they fear it and try to dismiss it. But in a business world increasingly built on consumer direct marketing models, many companies would be well-served to get the facts and investigate the potential for themselves.


• Tim O'Leary is CEO of Respond2 Inc., Portland, OR.
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