DRTV could point the way ahead for makers of fmcg goods, Alasdair Reid
Direct response television advertising is TV’s twilight zone - its
answer to the small ad ghettos of newspapers like the Sunday Express.
This is the world of nasal hair clippers, orthopaedic furniture and
abdominal muscle exercisers, the only highlight being the occasional
‘remember this record is not available in any shop’ cheesy compilation
Or at least it used to be that way. In the past couple of years, DRTV
has started to come out of the ghetto. A surprising number - 20 per cent
- of all ads now carry a telephone mechanism. It’s almost obligatory
these days in some categories, especially for financial services, cars,
telecoms and computers.
DRTV techniques are now also used for fmcg brands. Remember the Apple
But Tango isn’t the only fmcg brand to be considering the benefits of
direct response. Last week, it emerged that Unilever could be planning a
major shift in media strategy by testing direct response TV ads across a
number of its brands (Campaign, 19 April).
I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter, Pond’s face-creams and Peperami have
all recently run direct response numbers in their commercials. With
Spillers, McVitie’s and Martini all having experimented with the medium
recently, Unilever is in good company. And more companies are to follow
What are they all up to? It makes sense for advertisers to include a
‘for more information’ response number in commercials, but what can fmcg
advertisers gain from using DRTV techniques? Consumers aren’t going to
reach for their phones and credit cards to order cans of Tango. Or are
The most innovative agency in this field - responsible not just for
Tango but also the Martini and the Automobile Association DRTV campaigns
- is Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury. Rupert Howell, one of its managing
partners, maintains that people are getting confused because they are
trying to hang on to the old categories and definitions. ‘The important
thing to realise is that the distinctions between advertising and direct
marketing are breaking down. DRTV is traditionally about selling off the
screen, but what we do is part of a broadening of the DRTV category,’ he
Howell says that it’s like a video game: ‘Level one is watching the
commercial. Level two is where the respondent phones the response number
and is informed and entertained some more. The respondent also gives
their name and address and can be confident that they are not going to
be sold to. It’s only at the third level that you might give them
promotional material or attempt to sell direct.’
For fmcg advertisers, getting the name and address of interested
consumers is probably the most important part of the process. A customer
database can be used for follow-up promotional and marketing exercises
that will reinforce brand loyalty. That’s becoming increasingly
important at a time when big-name fmcg brands are coming under threat
from own-label producers.
According to Dominic Proctor, J. Walter Thompson’s chief executive, the
current buzzword in the US is ‘micro-marketing’. ‘It’s all about
establishing a one-to-one relationship with the consumer - and that’s
no less important for fmcg than for any other type of advertiser,’ he
argues. ‘The crucial thing is how you develop the relationship with the
consumer once you have made contact.
‘It involves a whole new way of thinking. You’re not necessarily doing
DRTV because you tack a phone number on to the end of your commercial.
It’s about the whole brand package and integrating existing brand values
into something larger called relationship brand marketing,’ he adds.
We’re going to see a lot more of this too, not just because the big
multinational advertisers have seen how well it works in the US, but
because broadcasters, especially Channel 4, are keen to drive the medium
David Stubbley, the business development manager at Channel 4, says
there are now four distinct DRTV sectors. There are the traditional,
off-the-screen sales people and also a slightly newer sector - companies
such as Daewoo and First Direct that maintain a longer term relationship
with their customers via the telephone. Then there are companies that
use response mechanisms to reinforce brand messages and build data-bases
that can be used for follow-up marketing exercises. But Stubbley expects
to see growth in a fourth area - sampling.
‘If you are launching a product, the objective is to encourage trial. If
you go the DRTV route, you have their details,’ he explains.
It sounds convincing, but will creatives buy it? To get a response you
surely have to blitz viewers with the telephone number. Isn’t that going
to undermine creative standards and carefully nurtured branding
As Stubbley points out, some advertisers get around this by putting
brand ads at the start of the break and the phone number in a ten-second
slot at the end.
But Howell believes that conventional thinking is amiss: ‘The phone
number doesn’t have to get in the way. On Apple Tango, the number was
on-screen for one-and-a-half seconds and we’ve taken four million calls.
The reason is they know they’re going to be entertained rather than sold
to. When that’s the case, you don’t need to batter people over the head
with phone numbers, you really don’t.’