The next hit product is already on the shelf

Throughout my career in direct response television, I’ve watched many brand marketers seek to leverage DRTV’s retail power for their brand. Too many of these good starts followed the same failing path:
• Marketing is tasked with finding products that will “work” on DRTV.
• Marketing and engineering together seek out inventors to locate that product.
• The DRTV team gives up in exhaustion after evaluating one too many Rube Goldberg-esque devices that are useful only to the inventor.
These teams are right to think that their company would be invigorated by the retail sales of a great TV product. And they are right that not all products will deliver the strong benefits of DRTV. What these teams were missing is a surprising, simple and powerful truth in DRTV:
The next mega-hit is already on the store shelf.
This has been true in DRTV for years. The George Foreman Grill, the Popeil Showtime Rotisserie, the Drill Doctor and even the acne treatment ProActiv are based on products that existed well before TV brought these products alive.
Each of these campaigns added smart packaging, merchandising and communication to existing solid products and turned sleeper items into compelling consumer mega-hits.
What should brands do differently? Once we accept that the next product is already on the shelf, the DRTV equation changes drastically – and becomes less risky. Rather than seek the newly invented oddity, brands should look at their existing products. In my estimation, thousands of products sitting on store shelves lack only the vision, savvy and investment needed to drive massive retail sales with DRTV communication. To find those products, here are five guidelines:
• Look for products that have lackluster sales but are loved passionately by consumers who buy them. This behavior indicates a disconnect between what consumers think a product will deliver and the reality of its value, a disconnect that DRTV communication can bridge.
• Another way to identify potential products is to look at products that sell only when consumers walk into the store looking for them. In these cases, DRTV can be the engine that drives more traffic seeking the products.
• If you have a potential product but think the message is “old,” challenge your assumption. Marketing teams too often dismiss products because “that’s been tried by our competitors” or “we’ve already done that.” But 99 percent of those attempts to introduce a product were made without adequate communication.
• Find products with messages that seem old to you but would be new to consumers. Even if a product was the belle of the housewares show and the entire industry was talking about that idea in 1994, that buzz probably never reached consumers. If you’re the first to communicate (a la George Foreman), it doesn’t matter if it’s been on the shelves before. DRTV supplies the communication that makes the difference between success and failure.
• Look for products with important, complex benefits. Again, DRTV can bridge the communication gap. When these benefits are communicated successfully, the results are high margins and long life at the retail store.
Consider ProActiv. Its active ingredient had been around for years and was common in acne products found in many stores. But Guthy-Renker had the vision to package it right and had the savvy to build DRTV that drove that message out into the market. The result: Another lackluster retail product reached massive market penetration on the shoulders of DRTV.
Products like the Foreman Grill were on the shelf well before DRTV made them mega-hits. Sitting on the shelf, the grill looked like a sandwich maker or a waffle iron. It took DRTV to prove that it was much more.
So when you have a list of potential products, how do you succeed with DRTV?
Do your homework. Some DRTV producers encourage you to just jump in and discourage the idea of market research. This approach leads to failure more than success. You need an agency – not a producer – that will build the DRTV marketing groundwork to drive your brand’s DRTV success.
Don’t just dive in. Instead, evaluate three or four products together to identify the one with the best TV viability. Looking at several products at once helps isolate the product(s) with the best potential. Research like this also can guide the marketing communication for these products.
But do not use traditional advertising or traditional viability research. Most successful DRTV products would fail “top two box” interest tests. These tests ask consumers to choose their interest in a product based on nothing more than a 100-word description. It’s kind of a silly idea. Products don’t sit on the shelf at retail for lack of 100 words. They sit on the shelf when they’re missing the extended visual communication DRTV can provide.
Finally, look for products with the right margins. Most brand DRTV needs a 50 percent or higher margin against MSRP. If you need TV sales to be profitable, the margin needs to be 75 percent or more. But don’t get hung up on TV profit. Plan to use TV sales to fund media. Retail sales will be five to 15 times higher than TV sales. The big profit opportunity for DRTV products is at retail.
Choose a commercial length. You have two choices: short form and long form. Short form includes DRTV spots of 30, 60 and 120 seconds. If you want to sell on TV as well as at retail, you’ll need at least 60 seconds and usually need to start at 120 seconds. If TV sales aren’t too important, 60-second spots may be your best retail driver.
Be careful not to jump too quickly to short form. This length is comfortable for brand marketers because it seems familiar. But if you stop there, you may miss the bigger opportunity.
Don’t be afraid to go long. Think 30 minutes instead of 30 seconds. Remember, products have been sitting on the shelf, especially the complicated ones, because their value isn’t self-evident. Consumers need to be shown why they should care about the product, and that may take more time.
And as you go long, know that you’ll need to learn a new communication form. Long form doesn’t succeed by taking a 30-second spot and adding a few features with a patina of high-end production values.
Few brands can imagine DRTV’s power to radicalize their markets. Short form reaches out to consumers with basic communication that drives retail and supports it with TV sales to offset media costs. All in all, this is a powerful equation.
Even better, though, may be the long-form opportunity. Long form offers the chance to alter the market with high-margin products that have long market lives.
So look through the lackluster products sitting on retailer shelves. Then take a risk. Find the right brand DRTV agency, research the “winning” products and take them to market. It’s hard work, and you’ll find it challenging. But be ready to ride the rocket that only DRTV can add to your brand.

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