Where Is DRTV Headed Next Year?

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It's that time of year in the media business when making predictions becomes front and center, and the future of new fall television show previews will be debated. Network ratings projections will be tossed around as well.

In the end, no one will really recall much of what was predicted-thank goodness!

As Yogi Berra once said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

Trying to predict trends in direct response TV is tricky, since some products become surprising overnight successes.

Few predicted that the Little Giant Ladder, the Magic Bullet, Drill Doctor and the George Foreman Grill would take off and became the hits they did.

They worked because of a combination of great research, good creative execution, solid marketing strategy, smart media placement and knowing the consumer mindset.

It's not any easier today to identify the hot products that will become sales winners through DRTV. But I will make a few predictions about what we may see in the coming year in our business. Feel free to agree or disagree. That's the fun of this.

Prediction 1 An automaker will develop an infomercial

Car and sports utility vehicle sales pale in comparison to a year ago. Remember "employee pricing?" Now the industry is certain to come up short of meeting last year's sales numbers. Gas prices and a slowing economy are conspiring to dampen sales enthusiasm. Something's got to change.

Someone with vision in this industry will decide that the avalanche of clutter in 30-second ads is doing as much to hurt as it does to help. Using a long-form spot to drive traffic to showrooms will be the big idea someone finally embraces.

Prediction 2 The proposed/planned tests of online auction-type TV buying will fail

It all sounds so wonderful: a station/network putting its inventory online for price bid/negotiation. Eliminate the middleman/sales force. Let market conditions really take over. Don't expect it to happen.

While most people think the real resistance is the seller, the clamor to test is coming primarily from advertisers who don't like the current process.

Agencies pride themselves on their clout, keen buying skills and veteran negotiators in wooing clients to hire them. If media buying becomes an online game, agency differentiation is hard to market. Do you say that your agency has better keyboard people? Quicker fingers?

Until clients decide to do this themselves (and that may be the biggest fear of all) the buying and selling business will not change all that much.

Prediction 3 The dot-com industry will increasingly turn to DRTV to drive Web site traffic

As the Internet business becomes a game of size and content aggregation, the mission becomes pretty clear: increase consumer awareness of your site, get your visits/unique visitor numbers up, move more product and increase revenue.

Just as TV advertisers in the past realized that adding a site helped drive sales, so the dot-com industry is going to recognize the power that DRTV has in gaining brand and site recognition.

They will turn to TV for the awareness, ability to influence, demonstrate, sheer size and all the other benefits of the broadcast medium. Marketing veterans of other categories are joining online companies in key positions, and they understand the power of TV as a core vehicle to build a business.

Prediction 4 Advertising return on investment will continue to be pursued, investigated and debated

Media companies like to say content is king. Advertisers beg to disagree. To them results are king.

Marketers have led the current charge to dig into what advertising techniques work and which don't. They have prodded their agencies to develop metrics that can be used as real ROI tools. Maybe they can learn something from us in the direct response business.

Direct marketers have held us accountable from day one. We have crafted workable metrics in our industry that help us gauge the effectiveness of a DR campaign. And if we stay smart, we will do a better job in the year ahead working to get these leading national advertisers to take a fresh look at how we do business-and maybe do some business with us, too.

There is always an occasional experiment from a Fortune 500 company with direct response TV, but it's not enough. We need to build upon the great stories and case histories we can point to and identify a forum that will resonate with these advertisers.

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