A New View of DRTV

The “yell-and-sell” TV ads from the early days of direct response haven’t gone away. But direct response TV (DRTV) advertising is evolving as much as other marketing channels. The biggest change is a surge of new advertisers that have already established their brands outside DRTV. Dyson’s a good example.

“The recent economic downturn drove a lot of brand marketers into DRTV,” says Ian French, president of Northern Lights Direct. These brands can use DRTV to increase their reach for relatively low cost, especially if they take advantage of scatter pricing. Ecommerce companies are another increasing presence on DRTV.

In addition, it’s become more difficult to sell directly through TV; the audience has shrunk and customers don’t respond as readily. The demand from new advertisers has bumped media rates up and competition has made DRTV less effective in some verticals. “It’s no longer a unique proposition that you’re selling products in direct response,” says Robert Yallen, CEO of Inter/Media.

These changes have led DRTV advertising tracker IMS Report to recast its definition of direct response. It now includes any spot with a call to immediate action—even if it’s just to phone in for an informational DVD, says Cory Lorenz, director of marketing at Northern Lights.

Because direct selling is so tough now, DRTV marketers are pushing products into retail outlets more quickly than they did a few years ago. That push has, in turn, led advertisers to buy shorter spots that aim to drive prospective customers to retailers, as well. “Long form is an ineffective way to increase your brand awareness and drive [customers] to retail because few people actually see it,” Yallen says. Longer spots are mainly available in late night or early morning hours.

There’s also a shortage of inventory for ads of 120 seconds and longer, and the cost of even a 60-second spot can be prohibitive. Northern Lights Direct’s French says that longer ads usually work better when selling direct, but admits that “it’s possible to have a 30-second [ad that] drives traffic. We have clients who want to get on very, very expensive syndicated programming. A 10- or 15-second drive to the Web can accomplish that. But those are in addition to the workhorse, which is typically the 60.”

TV to Web

Smart marketers are using DRTV in conjunction with the Web and social media, Yallen notes. “Once you start running TV, your digital results increase immediately,” he says.

To be effective, using DRTV to push customers online also must be coordinated with search. “Very few people are going to write down a URL,” French says. For example, uSell.com, which buys used cell phones and other devices, is one company that uses search engine marketing and banner ads to complement its 30- and 60-second spots.

“We use PPC [pay-per-click] advertising to bid on our own keywords so that, when the customer sees our commercial [and] types in our name…we’re going to come up first,” says COO and cofounder Nik Raman. DRTV drives most of the company’s sales volume. Consumers also search the names of celebrities or catchphrases featured in ads, so those terms must be part of good keyword strategies. “We did a campaign for Smile Train, which is a charitable organization,” French says. “It was called ‘Save Mary,’ and we asked people to search ‘Save Mary.’ We had a search campaign set up specifically to capture that traffic.”

But Web strategy doesn’t end with ads. USell has built its reputation so that it comes up organically in the top search results when consumers look for places to sell an iPhone. “The key to building reputation was building up great reviews from customers,” Raman says. “We view TV as a way to get people into our funnel, but then what’s important is we provide them with a great experience.”

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