*Sharper Image’s Holiday Effort Avoids DRTV Come-Ons

The Sharper Image is set today to debut its first-ever noninfomercial-type television campaign- an effort that features no premiums or aggressive prospecting discounts and none of the “three-easy-payments” pitches common in direct response TV marketing.

The national campaign timed for the holidays is simply made up of three branding spots that end with calls to action for the stores, the telephone and the company’s Web site at www.sharperimage.com.

“Usually direct marketers discount their products to make the customer an offer they can’t refuse just to get their information. We’re not digging into our margins in this commercial,” said Meredith Medland, director of global Internet marketing, The Sharper Image, San Francisco.

The product? The $39.95 Q Ball – a talking, clanging blue-and-silver 1990s version of the liquid-filled eight balls from about 25 years ago that when shaken and turned over reveal a message.

In August, The Sharper Image e-mailed a test offer of $10 off the Q Ball plus free shipping to an unspecified number of customers and was satisfied enough with the results to have 400,000 units produced for the holidays – the most ever for one of the company’s gadgets.

The previous company record was 100,000 units, set by last year’s Weebot, an electronic pet that, like most of toydom, was overshadowed by Furbies.

The Q Ball campaign – which was produced and run by a private consultant – is set to run through the fourth quarter.

In other holiday-related developments, The Sharper Image has spent a significant chunk of the $30.7 million it raised in a second stock offering in July to beef up its back end and redesign its Web site to include personalization features and the ability to place orders with multiple ship-tos in a single transaction.

“We realize that people are going to be ordering gifts so we want them to be able to send them to more than one place without having to go through the ordering process more than once,” Medland said.

The company projects it will see more than $25 million in online sales in 1999, accounting for 10 percent of the company’s total sales, compared to 4.9 million in online sales last year.

Medland also said she expects the Web site to increase The Sharper Image’s customer file this holiday season as 70 percent of the company’s online sales during the holidays last year were from new customers. She added that its average order size online is about $119 excluding sales at the auction site, which it launched in March.

Medland said the company’s No. 1 source of online sales come via its presence on America Online. A close No. 2 is through 6,500 affiliates, which it manages through affiliate program broker LinkShare, New York.

Medland declined to say how many of the affiliates are active – affiliate programs always have a large percentage of Web site owners who sign up and then generate little or no sales – or pin dollar figures to either channel other than to say that The Sharper Image’s AOL deal is profitable.

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