Time to respond: Rating points don't respond; people do

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Want to place your next direct response television ad on the hit show Grey's Anatomy? Perhaps you have your sights set on next year's Superbowl. The fact is that when it comes to direct to consumer response, you're probably better off with a rerun of Friends or Law and Order.

Although it may be counterintuitive, the networks and shows that do not generate water cooler chat are often your best bet for DRTV media buys. In fact, those networks and shows that appear to be "no-brainers" because of their excellent ratings and audience followings often prove deadly to DRTV results, for two very important reasons.

First, the rates for prime time and other "in program" placements undermine the very economics on which most DRTV campaigns stand. While many brand advertisers have jumped on the DRTV bandwagon, ironically, the times that encourage and support DRTV advertising are not those premium spots coveted by the general advertising world. Rather, they are those lower cost day-parts and programming, which can deliver an ROI that makes sense when measured by the strict metrics of DRTV's allowable media efficiency ratios.

New analytics are now being test marketed that measure minute-by-minute viewership of commercial breaks, as opposed to the traditional show-by-show measurement. Utilizing this information, studies have show that people watching the lowest-rated shows are far more attentive to commercials than those watching engrossing, first-run, top-rated shows in which commercials are a reason to get a snack.

This gets us to reason number two why top rated shows often prove deadly for DRTV spots. Simply put, consumers are less likely to break away from a favorite program to respond to a call to action, no matter how compelling the offer.

Daytime talk shows, cable (including reruns), game shows, music channels and other "diversionary" TV programming tends to deliver the greatest likelihood of success. Are their ratings low? Perhaps, but it matters little, because DRTV advertisers are not buying gross rating points. They are buying responders - and sales. And, like our title says, rating points don't respond, people do.

But, it is not quite as simple as reruns versus top ten programming. Today, there are considerably more rerun types of programs than standard network blockbusters. It is critical to understand the demographic make-up of the stations' programming mix because even within a targeted station, not all shows will be appropriate or desirable for every product.

The bottom line is that to be successful with your DRTV campaign, you have to do your homework. That means utilizing the right media and market research as part of the process for developing a winning media strategy. Competitive analysis of the category or product as well as sales information from your own company can be extremely useful. And of course your agency's prior experience with similar products is invaluable as a historical guideline and starting point for the right test and roll out schedules.

The pressure is on. Today, the average household has more than 90 stations available at the touch of a button. And while airtime may be an evaporating commodity, it is one that is always in demand by advertisers. Add to that the Internet, video games and the computer and it's easy to see why targeting the right "eyeballs" at the right time is critical.

In today's fragmented and competitive marketplace, more than ever, DRTV marketers must be smart about where they advertise and when. And it all begins with the right programming, aimed at the right audience, under the right conditions to compel them to respond. And responding is what DRTV is all about.

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