Doing More With Less – Avoid the Big DRTV Mistake

Direct response advertising is enjoying some much-deserved positive momentum. Marketers and advertisers no longer get carte blanche to create “on location,” beautiful 30-second spots that are measured only by their ability to win awards in France.

Today’s economy requires return on investment metrics that track from initial targeted prospect to converted sale, as in “3 of profit for every campaign dollar I spend.” It makes sense that bigger portions of the advertising budget are being allocated to DM results that can stand up in the boardroom.

For many, the light bulb finally has been illuminated. But there is a problem. Advertisers are increasingly pressured to do more with less. As more advertisers find their way to direct response – and specifically to direct response television – many try to carry over general advertising creative and media strategy to create a new advertising hybrid. This lack of understanding of the medium is driving an incorrect application, invariably to sub-optimal result.

DRTV has a specific application. It is best used within a portfolio of other DR tools for lead generation and customer acquisition. It applies where the audience pool is large and heterogeneous, like homeowners (for security systems or home refinance) or young adults (for military recruitment or magazine subscriptions).

The temptation is to use DRTV as a surrogate for general awareness TV. It costs much less, and the spots are cheaper to produce. “I can get a low CPL and generate GRPs (and maybe still get one of those Gold Lions!).”

Used this way, the DRTV ad becomes a marketing “spork” – asked to accomplish acquisition and brand awareness/consideration objectives. If you have ever been plagued by the dreaded spork, you know that it does nothing well, or rather, it does two things very poorly. The same is true for DRTV. The more it strays from its custom-built purpose of lead generation, the less effective it becomes.

DRTV requires a strong, branded call to action with a clear, straightforward value proposition. It is made to make the telephones ring immediately. It should be modular so offers can be exchanged and the spot optimized based on response. There is nothing subtle about direct TV. It is made to drive behavior at that instant.

This is not to say that direct TV cannot help advertisers build their brand. It can, and it should. But so should all direct marketing and, indeed, all customer interactions with the brand. The premise that DM takes equity out of the “brand bank” while general awareness advertising puts equity in is ridiculous. Every interaction should put equity into the brand bank, and “brand equity” should equal the sum of those branded customer experiences, plus the brand intangibles.

Even with its specific recipe for success, the direct TV application continues to evolve. Most recently, the use of targeted, response-driving television is finding a new home in video on demand. Much like the interactive space, VOD lets marketers “telescope” targeted advertising along with programming, custom-matched to the target consumer profiles and the downloaded content.

The VOD spots also can be interactive, with opportunities to navigate from the ad to other branded content, creating a customized experience. VOD spots can be measured for effectiveness in real time, and content can be optimized on a per-download basis. While VOD direct TV content is used mostly for acquisition, it offers opportunities for real-time persuasion hand-raiser interaction and integrated retention/loyalty marketing for existing customers.

Long-form DRTV offers a different opportunity. It is specifically equipped to tell a story. It benefits brands and products that require demonstration, or are transformational and thus require more consideration – hence the application for small appliances and exercise equipment as well as investment strategies and career path choices. It traditionally is used as a persuasion tool: 8-minute or so “pods” with a 60-second, repetitive call to action.

Similar to short form, long-form strategy is evolving. It retains its persuasive power but now is based on creating a more multidimensional experience. It is becoming more interactive and customized to the viewer.

Our client Mercedes-Benz is using interactive TV in a targeted, collaborative way. Viewers are granted an all-access pass to experience and experiment with the new generation M-Class. They can order customized brochures, see technical specifications and even set up a test drive. This represents long form’s future: random access, interactive “experience” media. As marketers grow more sophisticated, the “experience-o-mercial” will replace the infomercial.

DRTV, whether short or long form, is powerful when crafted and deployed correctly. Technology is facilitating an evolution in the medium that will make it even more powerful. As marketers, it’s our job to recognize the need for rigorous application and focus on driving response, regardless of pressures that might suggest a compromise in favor of other metrics. Avoiding the more-with-less mistake will yield better results in the short term and strengthen direct response’s place in the marketing mix in the long term.

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