CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/DRTV; Fmcg advertisers are starting to wise up to DRTV

DRTV could point the way ahead for makers of fmcg goods, Alasdair Reid says

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

Tango hotline?

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.’

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content