ITV’s single-number direct call facility has potential, yet cynics
believe it won’t work, Michele Martin says
Direct response TV advertising has always been in a Catch-22 situation.
It has spent years persuading advertisers it is a mainstream medium, yet
stories abound of the problems advertisers have in handling customer
response when they use it.
But all that could be a thing of the past if ITV delivers what it
promises through a new telephone answering system. Code-named Vera - for
Viewer Enquiry Response Advertising - the initiative is the brainchild
of the ITV companies, together with the sales houses, TSMS, Carlton and
Vera promises to be the largest and most technologically advanced
facility of its kind in the UK, handling about 6,000 calls at any one
And because of its capacity, ITV promises that anyone who advertises -
even during high-rating programmes - will be able to make their spots
responsive and still handle enquiries.
The system will also use an 0345-style number that will have independent
marketing backing. The hope is a memorable number will allow people
engrossed in peak viewing to pick up the phone afterwards rather than
forgetting about the ad altogether. A familiar number would cut out the
need for unknown ones in large type that ‘spoil’ creative.
Few would deny Vera is a good idea - not least because direct response
commercials already account for one in five British TV ads and its users
are becoming more mainstream. Once the preserve of direct-sell
manufacturers and financial service companies, brands such as Tango,
Martini and McVitie’s Ace biscuits have all run DRTV campaigns this
Yet the system’s arrival has had a mixed reception. Some see it as a
belated offensive against Channel 4, which has arguably stolen the DRTV
high ground with its heavily marketed message that small, targeted
audiences give most efficient response. Others say it is a defensive
position against newer stations such as Channel 5 and Granada Sky
This scepticism is not entirely without foundation. Even Tony Darell-
Brown, an account director at Laser, comments: ‘We are doing this
because of the general move among advertisers to put telephone numbers
on ads - but we’re not really co-ordinated to launch it yet.’
And Vera still has to prove its mettle to advertisers in two ways.
Technically, the system claims to be the UK’s most advanced, but it has
not been tested to see if it lives up to its claims. It works by
answering the viewer’s initial call through a sophisticated voice-
activated system that asks which advertiser they would like. It then
uses a state-of-the-art switching system to direct callers to either
accredited call-handling bureaux or the advertiser’s own facilities,
using either automated systems or live operators, depending on
But even Darell-Brown is anticipating hiccups in an expected pre-
Christmas trial. ‘I would be surprised if it doesn’t throw up problems,’
It would seem premature for advertisers to count on the system’s smooth
running. It has not even signed a final deal with a telecomms provider -
although at present Mercury looks to be a favourite. Nor is ITV clear on
how much the system will cost advertisers. Wally Ross, client sales
manager at Carlton, indicates they will not be charged. ‘We make our
money from an increased volume in advertising,’ he explains.
However, Darell-Brown says: ‘There will be some charge for handling
calls and a cost to set up the script.’ Yet both are adamant Vera will
cost no more than other bureaux, although they will not give estimates.
It is issues such as these that raise questions within the industry.
David Stubley, business development controller at Channel 4, says: ‘I
know companies that have tried to advertise in Coronation Street or
Inspector Morse but no-one leaves their sofas to pick up the phone. It
may be all right for daytime and late night, but then you don’t need
Mark Blears, account director on McVitie’s and Ace at Leo Burnett, adds:
‘It’s a good idea, but my concern would be if it could cope running five
campaigns off one number.’
Some, however, do find the concept exciting despite the grey areas
encountered so far. Claire Myerscough, head of the new direct response
media specialist, Zenith Direct, comments: ‘This is partly a marketing
tool to raise ITV’s profile against Channel 4, but it might be
particularly popular with inexperienced advertisers who want a
If it can see off any initial teething troubles, ITV could have a winner
on its hands. But it could take a few months to assess whether the
reality of Vera lives up to the promise.
The first Brad Inserts Guide, published in association with Radio
Times, was launched earlier this month. The guide is a single point of
reference for the industry aimed at clients, printers and agencies.
Separately, the Radio Times has also launched its own brochure, Inserts:
The Inside Story, which will be mailed to 3,000 contacts. The inserts
market is now worth an estimated pounds 220 million to pounds 300
Ogilvy and Mather Direct has hired the former Lowe Group European
business director, John Owrid, as group development director. Owrid, who
left Lowes at the end of 1994 to become the managing director of brand
identity specialist, Wickens Tutt Southgate, had looked after Lowes’
pounds 3.5 million Braun account. Before that, Owrid worked at BDDP in
British Airways has slashed the number of direct marketing agencies that
handle its pounds 12 million account from seven to three. Carlson, Tullo
Marshall Warren and Grey Integrated have been retained, while Claydon
Heeley International, Cole and Hansle, Draft Direct and Carter Gresty
are no longer on the roster.
CMP Europe has won the Hewlett-Packard printer division’s direct
marketing account in the UK, following a pitch against KLP, Business
Address, Pinnacle and Maritz. CMP Europe is involv-ed in developing
direct mail campaigns to both the channel and end-users. It has worked
with other Hewlett-Packard divisions, promoting network products in