TV becomes direct response

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Within the next five to 10 years, TV is going to become a direct response medium. This doesn't mean we're going to be inundated with spots for psychic hot lines, personal injury law firms or any of the low-rent offers that comprise a tiny percentage of the direct response TV business.

Nor does it mean that 30-second, awareness-building spots will disappear completely. But there is going to be a significant shift toward 1-800 and spots designed to achieve all types of responses: a direct order, a request for more information or a visit to a Web site.

This isn't a DRTV pipe dream. The transformation of the medium is already occurring. The most obvious sign is the newly ubiquitous dot-com commercial. Virtually non-existent little more than a year ago, these spots are everywhere today.


People don't perceive advertising as direct response because the creative approach is different. The elliptical style, bewildering concepts and off-the-wall humor are the essence of image-building advertising. They seem to have little in common with direct response advertising for exercise equipment, travel offers and healthcare services.

They have little in common, that is, until the address appears on the screen. At that moment, the true purpose of the commercial becomes clear: The advertiser wants viewers to respond to the commercial with a visit to and a purchase from their site.

In the future, TV advertising will rely increasingly on direct response techniques such as longer-length spots that better explain the site/offer and provide more screen time for the Web site address, the use of incentives and special promotions to increase back end sales and the use of direct response media buying strategies (cable, dayparts, late night, weekends).

We'll see this happen because advertisers won't just settle for site visits, especially when the economy isn't so hot and there are greater demands for accountable advertising and bottom-line profits.

Already there's grumbling about "dilettantish" visitors who click through to other sites without making purchases (or who fail to stay long enough to view on-site advertising). Direct response techniques will help increase on-site purchases.


The second driver of the DRTV revolution is cable. Not only do new cable stations continue to proliferate but they also are increasingly narrow in focus.

For many years, certain advertisers steered clear of TV direct response because they perceived it as a shotgun when they needed a rifle. With cable channels that specialize in everything from golf to cooking to health, this perception has started to change.

As the predicted 500 cable stations becomes reality -- and as each carves out even more specialized niches for advertisers -- there will be a corresponding increase in 1-800 spots targeting these markets.

Third, TV direct response is going to become a dominant force because it is becoming a far more versatile strategy than in the past.

For some time, a relatively small percentage of advertisers used DRTV, and those that did tended to follow a creative and media-buying formula. As successful as this formula was -- two minute lengths, late night and weekend buys and creative that relied on demonstration and repetition to make the phone ring -- it also was limiting. Some advertisers were turned off by the creative approach; others didn't see the formula working for their particular type of product or service.


Today, DRTV is redefining itself. While there are still two-minute direct response commercials, there are also 60-second, 30-second and even 10-second spots.

Infomercials no longer revolve exclusively around get-rich-quick concepts; highly informative, well-produced commercials have been created for a number of Fortune 500 companies.

Offers for expensive products and services -- stereo systems, vacation packages, cars -- have disproved the old saw that viewers wouldn't pay more than $19.95 for a direct response product.

Just as significantly, entire industries have jumped on the DRTV bandwagon. Pharmaceuticals companies in the past year or two have had some of the most successful direct response offers for direct-to-consumer prescription medications.

If you look at the spectrum of TV direct response advertisers, you'll find everyone from the country's top corporations to not-for-profits to companies. This diversity is self-perpetuating, and it's inevitable that advertisers and their agencies will continue to test innovative approaches, thereby broadening the discipline.

Certainly there will be resistance to this trend. I've heard agency people talk snidely about direct response even as their agencies are supering 800 numbers and addresses over their supposed awareness-building commercials.

What these people don't realize is that the direct response commercials of the future won't be the direct response commercials of the past. In many ways, they will be hybrids of general and direct response advertising. The creative quality and production values will be as high as any award-winning spot, but they will incorporate response-producing techniques.

As more and more of these hybrids become realities, and as they generate highly cost-effective leads and sales, resistance will melt, the line between direct response and general advertising will blur and the assumption will be that a TV commercial should produce immediate, measurable results.M

Mr. Bliwas is president-CEO, A. Eicoff & Co., Chicago, a direct response TV specialist and unit of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

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