DRTV changes channels

Direct response television (DRTV) may seem downright old-fashioned as mobile and social marketing surge. But this traditional channel is not only highly adaptable, it’s also still highly effective—even in this increasingly digital world.

DRTV is television content that’s designed to drive viewers to another channel (e.g., the telephone or a website) to take an action, such as purchasing a product or filling out a survey. This alone is no easy feat. Yet, the ubiquity of handheld computing devices and the deluge of online content make the DRTV marketer’s job even more difficult, as consumers’ attention is increasingly drawn away from TV. Not only is it more challenging than ever to engage consumers, channel fragmentation can make it more difficult to track the impact of individual television spots.

Additionally, the shift in the way people consume media affects one- and two-minute, short-form DRTV spots, as well as long-form, 28.5-minute infomercials. Short DRTV spots have traditionally showcased products also available at retail, or that sell for lower dollar value than those sold in the longer infomercials, which have been more likely to promote health equipment, beauty programs, or business and self-improvement courses not available at retail. This has been the case in DRTV for decades and continues to separate the two types of promotions, though both short- and long-form face nearly identical challenges in driving customers online.

“The audience is now savvier. They can go to a website, which converts at a much lower rate than phone calls, and get additional information there or on their mobile. There is audience fragmentation and the metrics have gotten more difficult,” says Ron Perlstein, president of InfoWorx Direct, a marketing agency that specializes in DRTV.

But Perlstein insists that DRTV provides marketing options unavailable anywhere else; long-form informercials are beneficial to products with higher price points, for example, because the format provides an opportunity to go into detail about the products. The key, according to Perlstein and other industry watchers, is for marketers to leverage newer digital channels to enhance their DRTV campaigns, making their calls-to-action more effective than they were in the days when consumers were glued to a single screen.

DRTV practices can excel when marketers take a multichannel approach, add innovative storytelling, and use creative integration with television programming. But the industry still must resolve growing issues around attribution and consumer mobility.

DRTV works best in a multichannel environment

While DRTV marketers can no longer claim exclusive command over viewers’ time in front of a screen, many marketers report that the growing number of devices has actually benefitted their television efforts.

“With the prevalence of screens, [consumer] interactivity with TV also increases,” says Beth Vendice, president of direct response agency Mercury Media‘s Performance Group.

On the whole, this effect has been positive, because it offers companies an additional revenue channel, according to Vendice. But she emphasizes that the rise of digital has complicated marketers’ approach to DRTV, requiring them to consider how each spot ties into a multichannel campaign. “We don’t let a DRTV campaign go out the door unless there’s a search or email element,” Vendice says.

Direct response firm Acquirgy has taken a similar tack, recommending that marketers incorporate a strong search engine marketing (SEM) effort to coincide with any DRTV rollout. Viewers who see a DRTV spot are likely to log on to their computer and conduct an Internet search—a deceptively complicated action from a marketing standpoint.

For instance, while companies are increasingly likely to include a URL in a DRTV spot, consumers might type a company name, product name, or other type of descriptive term into their search engine instead of remembering a Web address the way they might recall an easy-to-remember phone number. This could mean trouble for marketers with strong DRTV creative, but without a solid SEM strategy.

“There are lots of infomercials and short-form DRTV spots airing where there is no search presence,” says Irv Brechner, EVP of corporate communications at Acquirgy. “If someone sees an ad for Schticky Lint Roller and they aren’t doing any paid search, but their competitor Sticky Buddy is, that consumer will buy from the competitor.”

One of Mercury’s clients is the wheelchair and electric scooter manufacturer Hoveround, which has been using long-form DRTV programs for about 17 of its 20 years in business. Even though its customers skew older—generally 65 or above—the company has moved quickly over the past five years to incorporate new technologies into its marketing campaigns, urging viewers to learn more about their products and place orders for them online at hoveround.com.

“We’ve really started to keep TV more as a foundation of our marketing mix, but it doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting it used to,” says Jeff Hilton, VP of marketing for Hoveround.

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While television also remains the centerpiece of the Home Shopping Network’s (HSN) marketing mix, the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week direct marketing network has also been moving quickly to integrate a variety of online channels into its offerings, realizing that is where shoppers are heading.

“We provide unique, compelling content across platforms to drive engagement and constantly promote back and forth between TV, online, and mobile,” says Kurt Kostur, SVP of marketing at HSN. “[We use] tune-in alerts via mobile, when-to-watch signup online, host mentions, and promos driving to online from TV.”

In March HSN LIVE—a concert series that markets new albums—featured Lionel Richie directing fans prior to the broadcast to go to the network’s Facebook page for a live preshow with songs from his new album Tuskegee. The page had an exclusive behind-the-scenes special and provided the opportunity to order the album.

The concert itself was broadcast on HSN, directing viewers throughout to call or order he album through HSN.com. When the show wrapped, viewers were directed to catch an encore and live chat with Richie through the HSN Facebook page. Richie sold 20,000 copies of his new album in an hour and each of those buyers had the option of signing up to receive information about similar offers in the future.

Changing content of DRTV

As the marketing landscape gets more crowded, even some brands not traditionally interested in DRTV have become attracted to its ability to broadcast their story in a more sustained way than would be possible through other channels. Acquirgy’s Brechner points to brands like Keurig and Western Union, which have made recent moves into DRTV, and believes that more will be jumping into the area.

“DRTV is a superior medium to tell the story, demonstrate a product, and provide testimonials, because of the length of the commercial, whether one or two minutes or 28.5-minute infomercials,” says Brechner, who adds that even though digital channels have made tracking DRTV more challenging, it still remains one of the best options for marketers under pressure to prove ROI. “That’s one of the things we’ve really been working on: ways to create successful infomercials with high production values and good branding, but still enough direct response to generate sales.”

He gives the example of a long-form DRTV campaign Acquirgy recently rolled out for Hoover, built around the concept of a house in which every room was dirty and various company products helped restore it to cleanliness. While it used the memorable demonstrations familiar to infomercial viewers, it also added branding elements such as going through four decades of Hoover products.

“The extreme demos and Hoover’s Dirty House drove home our unique selling proposition, and the compelling consumer offer drove both online and retail sales—exactly what we planned,” says Brian Kirkendall, VP of marketing for Hoover.

In this way, DRTV is an increasingly attractive option even for marketers trying to reach younger audiences who are more likely to be using the latest-and-greatest smartphones and tablets.

Pat McLean, VP of digital brand strategies for Capital One, emphasizes that the bank’s goal through its DRTV efforts has been, “to take this direct response engagement model to a more affluent crowd in a younger and more tech-savvy demographic.” He adds that this audience “makes a statement about our brand, that we’re digitally forward-thinking and have the type of brand and type of product that is relevant to that more tech-savvy crowd.”

Providing incentives valuable to prospects is vital to ensuring this sort of engagement, according to McLean. To create these incentives, Capital One began using Viggle, a loyalty program for television that rewards individuals who check in to shows they’re watching. The program launched earlier this year with Capital One, along with Pepsi, Gatorade, and other major brands serving as strategic partners. Viewers watching various TV content are directed to unlock additional Capital One content that’s related to what they’re seeing.

“The best example of this interaction was during the NCAA basketball tournament when we were heavy in DRTV weight and had a heavy presence on Viggle,” says McLean. “As Viggle users interacted during the NCAA, they were exposed to additional content sponsored by Capital One [and] related to the tournament—trivia and so on—that allowed them to earn more Viggle points.”

Weaving DRTV into standard programming

Narrative DRTV ads with high production values can also drive viewers to branded websites, continuing the offline experience online. To engage prospects, marketing analytics firm Turn Inc. used a cliffhanger narrative for its high-profile B2B DRTV spot during the June 10 Mad Men season finale. Knowing the show’s audience includes marketing executives, Turn’s DRTV spot also provided data for a case study on its cross-channel analytics platform.

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The spot, developed with Turn’s agency of record Gyro, used a 1960s ad agency setting and a narrative of a woman angrily shooting at her cheating man to emphasize the 10-millisecond speed of Turn’s platform. The spot directed viewers to the microsite turn.com/decision where they could view three alternate endings to the spot, read a diary on the making of the film, and were prompted to enter their email addresses to receive further information.

“It’s hard to explain the technology of what we do to someone who doesn’t understand it, so being able to take the idea and apply it to something people can identify in the real world makes that connection for the customer,” says Paul Alfieri, VP of global marketing for Turn Inc.

Turn will draft a case study on the spot using its own analytical tools to measure the ad’s impact, and then make that available to prospects. While the TV spot was a one-time campaign piece, the company approached it as part of a multichannel B2B marketing push. “We’re looking at this as a fully integrated package with TV, online, and also PR and social, all working in concert to do this. We need to have all those elements there,” Alfieri says.

Tracking troubles rear their head

Perhaps the biggest challenge for DRTV marketers operating in a digital world is the muddling effect that online ordering has had on tracking efforts. For most of its history, DRTV drove consumers to place orders through an easily-tracked phone number that varied depending on the time and station that ran the ad.

“That was a very easy business model from an attribution standpoint,” says Rob Medved, CEO of Cannella Response Television. “Marketers and agencies could easily evaluate the media based on the revenue or orders or whatever measurement was triggering the response for that individual piece of media.”

The Internet, before it became standard in households, initially had only a modest impact on the DRTV industry. Medved estimates that about 15% of revenue came in through the Web. But as consumers became increasingly comfortable with online ordering, the percentage of online revenue also increased; now 50% of orders occur online instead of via the phone.

“Marketers don’t know how to attribute those online sales back to a specific piece on TV, so they put it back in as a single line item,” he says.

Digital attribution can be easier in limited or local market media, where a team can review the zip codes of the order files or the IP addresses of where the order came from to get a better sense of attribution. But in broader campaigns, spending goes beyond individual pieces of media.

A popular solution to this has been to add a backslash to the on-screen URL, such as taebo.com/tbs for a Taebo commercial that runs on TBS. But this has met with mixed results as most consumers tend to input the basic URL and ignore anything after “.com.”

Hoveround experienced this so it now uses a unique toll-free number but just a general URL for each of its 60- and 120-second short-form spots, encouraging viewers to call and order one of the company’s wheelchairs or vehicles. Hoveround made this decision after working with Mercury Media and iMarketing LTD to track SEM efforts, and noticing that when it used unique URLs, conversion rates dropped.

“We still felt that for our audience it might be a little too much for them to type it in,” Hilton says. “We find we get more response if we keep it simple—sort of one plus one equals three.”

Infoworx Direct’s Perlstein says he’s seen some marketers go even further and remove the URL from their spots altogether. “As a marketer, we want phone calls—they convert at a much higher rate if you have a live agent—so we have several offers now in which we don’t have a URL,” he says. “I was at the gym yesterday and saw one of the most famous exercise equipment ads with no URL.”

Conversely, Acquirgy placed directives at the front of the URL, such as tbs.taebo.com, which resulted in a greater number of viewers who type the unique URL into their browser.

An additional challenge is the shift to mobile phone. Whereas traditional landline phones provided a marketer with clear geographic and even socioeconomic insights into individual customers just by their area code, that’s no longer the case, as individuals can move to any part of the country and still use a number they may have gotten years ago.

“DRTV used to be, ‘Let’s drop an 800-number on an extended TV ad and get [customers] to take immediate action relative to our product or service,’” says Capital One’s McLean, whose company has been using DRTV to promote its mobile apps and features. “If you think about people’s behavior today, most are sitting with the second screen as they’re watching television, so we have to think about the opportunity that provides in terms of extending the message.”

According to the recent report “The Multiscreen Marketer” from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), television viewership decreases as viewers gain access to more screens. Consumers with just a television and computer now do 87% of their viewing of TV content (as opposed to online video) on a television, those who also have a tablet and smartphone do just 69% of their TV viewing on a TV set.

Conversely, the impact of TV commercials actually grows with more screens. While 42% of two-screen viewers (consumers that view content on a television and a computer) say they are likely to recall advertisers on a favorite show, that figure rose to 46% for three-screen viewers (consumers of content on, for instance, a mobile handset, a computer, and a television), and 53% for four-screen viewers.

To track the impact of its DRTV spots, Mercury looks at how many unique hits it gets on the client’s target website. This allows them to gauge when the Web hits came in, and line them up when the spots aired.

Still, the need for a cross-channel solution to measure audiences across multiple screens is considerable. In fact, Nikesh Arora, Google‘s SVP and Chief Business Officer, singled out this demand during the company’s April quarterly call. “Our clients and partners want complete solutions that work across all screens: desktop, mobile, tablet, and…television.”

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