What makes good DRTV?

LONDON – The advantage of direct response TV advertising over brand advertising is that it provides marketing directors with an immediate gauge of a campaign's success, writes Sandra Money, head of TV at Watson Phillips Norman.

Within two weeks or less a client will know how their DRTV campaign is working, not through research (which is a semi-artificial situation) but in real terms of how the viewer reacts to it. No calls, no success. Many calls, big success.

A client has an immediate gauge to inform him if what he is offering is appealing to viewers/customers, and if necessary he can adjust his offering. Testing and improving is part of the DRTV process - it's an ongoing process never a fait accompli.

For many clients DRTV is cost-effective television. The production costs are less because large production budgets would impact the ROI. The media costs are also less because peak viewing hours are not the best time to air a response commercial.

Viewers are either unlikely to leave their favourite programme to spend time on the phone or, if the offer is irresistible, your call handling system may not be able to handle the number of calls.

DRTV makes sound economic sense as part of the media mix for any client who has a business that involves picking up the phone or going on line to get the product -- eg financial products (such as insurance, credit cards, mortgages), holiday bookings, travel, hotels, and of course fundraising.

It could also be valuable for any client who wants to add to their database interested customers who may not buy their product immediately -- car sales are a good example of this.

DRTV has been and still is seen as the ugly duckling of television advertising, brash, lacking production values, too in your face.

When I first crossed over from brand advertising (where I spent more than 20 years working on the world's largest brands) I was amazed at how little regard there was in many direct response television commercials for brand values.

However, just because a commercial has a tight production budget doesn't mean it has to look cheap. I spent many years in Australia where production budgets for brand advertising were always tight because the small population base of Australia put a limit on the number of sales even the most successful commercial could produce.

I liked the challenge of achieving great production values on small budgets. I missed this discipline when I moved to the USA where production budgets are often extravagantly large. So, when I crossed over from brand to DRTV I really felt the contribution that I could possibly make was to try to achieve the same production values in direct response as were achieved in brand production.

The creative kudos for writing television commercials still seems to rest with brand advertising, but writing DRTV is so much harder. To start with you have a restricted budget, then you have to achieve the same results as brand advertising: interest in the commercial, awareness of the product and desire for the product. 

But a DRTV creative has to go that one step further and prompt a viewer/customer comfortably ensconced on the couch in front of the TV to want the product enough to get up and do something about it NOW. And all this in 60 seconds (more or less).

DRTV ads don't have the luxury of generous media exposure. They have to be so convincing and beguiling that the viewer/customer is motivated to action by that one exposure. And believe me that takes some talent. But get it right and the results can be spectacular. I have had one client who had been using press for leads at a cost of £100 plus who reduced this to under £5 by using television.

In developing a good DRTV campaign there are a number of things to remember:

The best creatives in the world can’t get a response when what is on offer   has no appeal in the market place. The right proposition is essential.

The creative thinking behind a DRTV commercial is very different to that behind a brand commercial. Sticking a phone number on the end of a brand commercial is unlikely to succeed and is a poor test of DRTV for your product.

When creatives write DRTV they start with the premise that they are selling NOW not creating a desire for future purchase. The whole commercial should be step by step selling of the product that is so convincing that the viewer/customer wants that product NOW.

Not surprisingly, the success of DRTV has made the medium attractive to more clients in recent years. The amount of direct response advertising one sees is now far in excess of that visible just a few years ago.

If you are buying DRTV for the first time my advice is to involve seasoned direct marketers in the creation of your ad. A production house that works alone simply making your ad look pretty or somebody willing to do something 'on the cheap' won't do.

The whole premise for creating a DRTV campaign is to sell product and a vital ingredient in that is drawing upon the knowledge bank of people who are direct marketing professionals. If you give the medium its best chance it will give you the best results.

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