CAMPAIGN DIRECT: ISSUES; Leave a message on Vera’s answering machine

ITV’s single-number direct call facility has potential, yet cynics believe it won’t work, Michele Martin says

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

Laser.



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

time.



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

year.



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

Broadcasting.



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

preference.



But even Darell-Brown is anticipating hiccups in an expected pre-

Christmas trial. ‘I would be surprised if it doesn’t throw up problems,’

he says.



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

6,000 lines.’



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

reassuring hand.’



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.



BRIEFS



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

million.



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

Paris.



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

Europe.