Success in any medium requires a thorough understanding of which techniques make a campaign breathe and grow versus those that cause it to wither and die on the vine. Winning creative for direct response television (DRTV) spots—whether short-form or long-form—hinges on several dictums that have not changed, regardless of consumers’ growing practice of commercial-skipping.
Of course, following the creative rules does not guarantee success. Tim Hawthorne, president and executive creative director of full-service DRTV agency Hawthorne Direct, in Fairfield, Iowa, points out: “Poor creative rarely can inhibit a great DRTV product from hitting a home run. Great creative rarely can prohibit a poor DRTV product from striking out.”
That said, great creative paired with a great product should produce orders beyond a direct marketer’s wildest dreams. Assuming you have at least a decent product, give it a fighting chance in today’s DRTV landscape by incorporating the following creative strategies into your campaign.
Make sure you spend sufficient time on the parts of the creative that are most important. In every medium, the critical tasks for your creative are to gain attention and close the sale. Not that everything in the middle doesn’t matter, but if you don’t gain attention and don’t close the sale, the rest of the spot won’t matter. In DRTV, this means you should focus your effort on making the opening (first 20 to 30 seconds) and the call to action as compelling as possible. The opening is akin to the envelope of a direct mail package, the front cover of a catalog, the headline of a space ad—if you don’t capture the prospect’s interest and curiosity here, what follows is for naught. So make that infomercial or spot opening emotionally powerful. In the call to action, leave nothing to chance: Make sure the prospect understands not only what she will get when she responds, but also the value of what she is purchasing. And don’t forget to include information about your guarantee, to note that the offer isn’t available in stores … in other words, close that sale!—Shari Altman, president of Altman Dedicated Direct, a direct marketing consultancy in Rural Hall, N.C., that specializes in continuity, auto-replenishment and loyalty programs
Match your creative strategy to your product. If the product is new and unbranded (e.g., an entrepreneur’s invention), go for information rich and a hard sell. If the product is branded (e.g., Apple, Nissan, Bose), then go for imagination rich and a soft sell.—Tim Hawthorne
The most common and, not coincidentally, effective creative tactic is using a problem/solution approach. It allows for a high degree of creative interpretation while still resonating strongly with viewers.—Ian French, president and executive creative director of Northern Lights Direct Response Television, a full-service DRTV agency with headquarters in Toronto
Before production starts, do your homework. Make sure you understand the benefits of your product as customers see them, so you know what to emphasize in your program. And make sure you understand the demographics of your customers, so you know to whom your creative is speaking. Knowing these things before the scripts are even written is key to developing a spot that resonates with your prospective targets.—Shari Altman
Traditional DRTV is like a carny side show. Viewers are on the midway headed for the Ferris Wheel. Use your most dramatic money shots, magical transformations and demonstrations to sidetrack them and pull them into your pitch. Great examples:
4 money shot—a Ginzu knife cutting a tin can in half;
4 magical transformation—Bowflex body before-and-afters; and
4 demonstration—OxiClean’s Billy Mays making stains disappear before your eyes.—Tim Hawthorne
Don’t just entertain prospects. People don’t make major purchase decisions in the midst of being entertained. Entertainment isn’t an emotion. Buying involves intellect applied to emotion. Give people time out from the entertainment to make their rational purchase decision.—Tim Hawthorne
The only thing that matters is the product or service. The focus of the commercial always must be on how the viewer will benefit from the product or service being offered. Creative concepts that veer from this objective are a waste of time.—Ian French
Consumers need a reason to believe. You can’t just tell viewers that your product or service is better than other options available to them on the market. How is your product or service better? Provide the science behind the product, the advantages over other services, etc.—Ian French
Testimonials are critical in DRTV. To get the most mileage out of testimonials, ensure that they talk about the specific benefits and features of your product, and are not just general statements like “I love it.” Specific comments can help allay fears and answer questions your prospects might have in a way that is much more believable than having your host or announcer address these issues.—Shari Altman
Create dynamite testimonials by casting semi-professional actors. They generally will be more attractive and articulate than the average population. Provide them with the product to use for a specified time, then record their true reactions to the product.—Tim Hawthorne
Graphically reinforce key selling points. Studies have proven that when viewers see and hear information, their retention of this content increases dramatically. When the spokesperson or presenter emphasizes the components of your sales pitch, make sure you display this information in text on the screen at the same time.—Ian French
Make sure the toll-free phone number and URL are large enough to read and on screen long enough for the viewer to write down the information. If possible, create a microsite that reflects the creative of the commercial to prevent viewers who go online to buy from having to navigate your site to find the offer they just saw.—Ian French
Test multiple offers—high price, low price and a very high price. It’s impossible to predict with ultimate certainty how the public will respond to your offer, and media testing is cheap. You may think $79 is the most anyone will pay, but you may discover that an unthinkable price of $99 still generates significant response and even greater profit.—Tim Hawthorne
Remember to test a “Christmas tree” offer (i.e., one with all the trimmings), such as multiple premiums. If viewers don’t bite on this offer, they probably won’t go for your slimmed-down offer either.—Tim Hawthorne
In your call to action, include a segment that teases prospects about an upsell or add-on item they can get at a special price when they place their order. Including a teaser for your upsell or add-on will increase the number of these items or services sold and thus your average order size.—Shari Altman
Traditional DRTV is about immediacy—moving product right now, not in two to four weeks. You have to boldly ask for the order in the call to action: Review the product benefits and features; recreate a miniature experience of the emotions you have evoked in the infomercial or spot body; keep it simple to continue moving prospects toward the sale close; and be sure to support your strongest messaging with on-screen graphics for reinforcement of these sales elements. —Tim Hawthorne yy
By featuring its toll-free phone number and URL in large text that remains on the screen throughout the call to action, Manulife makes sure prospects know how to follow up on its offer.