Creative Masterclass: How to write for tv - Composing an effective DRTV ad should fuse the tried and tested rules of direct response with great ideas that tap into the emotional core of the television viewer

A decade ago, direct response tv as we know it didn't exist in this

country. Above the line agencies would produce eye-poppingly beautiful

thirty second ads, with tiny telephone numbers tacked on the end just

long enough for any interested viewer to start reaching for a pen.

Needless to say, nobody got as far as calling back.

On the other side of the Atlantic, advertisers wanted far more than

thirty second slots to maximise their product's potential. The medium of

television was working so well for direct sales that thirty minute

'advertorials' were commonplace.

The lesson was a simple one, and comfortingly familiar to direct

marketing creatives: take time to sell your product, be it a coffee

maker, a car loan or a charity. Show your viewer what makes this product

different from any other and persuade them of the benefits they will

enjoy by responding.

Although much has changed since the first real direct response ads

appeared on our screens in 1992/3, these basic rules still apply today.

Test them, play with them ... but don't ever forget them!

Daylight saving

Effective direct marketing means reaching the right audience at the

right time, and that's usually before 6pm, given how hugely expensive

prime time slots can be. Work out who wants your product - a children's

educational cd-rom, a home improvement loan, an appeal to Save the Sad

Furry Creature - and talk to those mums or senior citizens when they've

got the time and inclination to listen.

Become your viewer

Your DRTV ad can be as funny/heartbreaking/aggressive as you like, but

it must connect with your target audience. Can you see them? Can you

imagine how it feels to be a harassed housewife with yowling toddlers

hanging off each leg? A retired teacher who spends most of his time in

the garden?

A traffic warden with a passion for collectibles? The more closely you

can identify with these people, the more likely you are to offer them

what they want. And it'll help you steer clear of the trap of adopting a

tone of voice which your viewers might find alienating.

Arts and Crafts

Television is a medium which evokes emotional response from people, and

your starting point is a great idea to create the emotional impact that

you're looking for. But your ad won't succeed unless you can combine

emotion with logic.

First persuade your viewer that they want what you're selling through an

accumulation of emotional and practical benefits to them, then urge them

to take immediate action.

Unlike above the line advertisements, with DRTV you'll know how your ad

has done in a very short space of time. You can always make alterations

if your response rate isn't satisfactory, but it's far more cost

effective to get that winning formula right first time, so make sure

you've included ...

The tools of your trade

The tools of your trade include captions, which can summarise benefits,

supply additional information to the voiceover or simply urge a call to

action. Don't shy away from a flash or a starburst if it's appropriate

to your product. And whatever you're selling, keep your telephone number

up long enough for the viewer to register and respond to it. For

example, with a ninety second commercial I'd recommend you display your

number a minimum of fifteen seconds.


Ninety seconds may seem a long time to fill, but by the time you've

introduced your product, explained its benefits, urged the viewer to

respond and given them time to do so, you'll have plenty to cram in. I

remember the director of my first ever direct response ad, reading my

earnest, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink offering and crying 'this isn't

a script, it's War and bleeding Peace!'. It was his first brush with

DRTV too, and he never cared to repeat the experience.

One thing I've learned since then is to make spaces in my scripts. Wall

to wall voiceover is distracting, avoid it whenever possible, but when

push comes to shove, sometimes there's so much to say that it will take

all your skill to insert those breathing spaces.


All of the above are important marketing tools, but trying to put a

mailpack on the telly just won't work. Your images must move and excite

the viewer, and they should flow seamlessly from that original 'great


Just because it's DRTV doesn't mean it can't be beautiful, even for


Our research has shown that tv audiences don't automatically expect

their charity ads to look like they were made for tuppence-ha'penny with

a hand held camcorder. In fact the appeals they responded to best all

had great production values in common.

Love it, love it, love it

DRTV is developing all the time - the advent of interactive tv is upon

us, and the internet and emarketing are already changing the way we buy,

sell and give. I'm looking forward to the next decade. Remember, however

fast you go, hold on tight to your custard creams ...

Lisette Teasdale is senior copywriter at WWAV Rapp Collins.