Direct response getting respect

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When OxiClean pitchman Billy Mays met Procter & Gamble Co. Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley last summer at a wedding, the encounter may not have been as unlikely as it seemed.

Mr. Mays and his direct-response industry have married into conventional consumer-products marketing in more ways than one. Increasingly, they're selling their wares in stores while still taking toll-free orders from consumers. Mass retailers are shedding reluctance to carry such direct-response staples as Orange Glo International's OxiClean. Some, such as drug-chain heavyweight Walgreens, devote entire front-of-store sections to "As Seen on TV" goods.

old dogs, new tricks

But wait, there's more. Noting success of these upstart rivals, package-goods stalwarts whose brands have been "seen on TV" for years in 30-second ads increasingly are dabbling in longer-form direct-response ads. P&G's Swiffer WetJet motorized floor-cleaning gadget made its U.S. debut on Comcast's QVC home-shopping network in 2001. More recently, a flight of WetJet infomercials helped propel the brand past Clorox Co.'s rival Clorox ReadyMop in four-week data from Information Resources Inc. in November for the first time since ReadyMop launched last January, according to Alliance Capital Management's Sanford C. Bernstein.

P&G's Dryel home dry-cleaning kit, on the market since 1999, recently tried a bare-bones direct-response ad in addition to its ongoing 30-second ads, both from Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. As with Swiffer, the pitch was for consumers to call in for coupons rather than the products.

"Both the brands are doing well," said a P&G spokeswoman. "They're seeing an increase in sales, shipments and awareness. ... They attribute that to their overall communications mix, of which DRTV is a piece."

Clorox has been doing DRTV, too, including a two-minute ad to help launch ReadyMop last January. When Clorox launched OxiClean-rival Clorox Oxygen Action last summer, it turned to Encino, Calif.-based direct-response shop Inter/Media Advertising to supplement conventional 30-second ads from Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, San Francisco.

Clorox is spending under 1% of its media budget on DRTV and is learning about the medium, a spokeswoman said, adding that the marketer is exploring how DRTV might help it develop alternative distribution channels for some products.

Joel Appel, president of Orange Glo, a Quaker Oats Co. marketing executive for Gatorade before leaving to join the business founded by his father, said, "We never could have put the kind of spending we've done behind our brands without direct response." Though industry insiders say brands can't turn a profit on DRTV ads once they have national retail distribution, direct sales still help pay the media freight.

Changing retail attitudes have opened the door for hybrid DRTV-to-retail rollouts, said A.J. Kuhlbani, president of TeleBrands, marketer of such products as Amber Vision sunglasses and the Roll-A-Hose. "It used to take three to four years to get full retail distribution for DRTV products," he said. "Now, you see `As Seen on TV' products in stores within a month of going on TV."

other advantages

The P&Gs of the world can afford big media budgets without those operators standing by. But direct-response offers other advantages. Brands such as Swiffer can develop a consumer database for direct-mail or e-mail offers aimed at building repeat sales of replacement supplies.

Mr. Kuhlbani has no doubt OxiClean opened eyes of package-goods advertisers to direct-response. At a trade show last year, he said he met with P&G executives who quizzed him extensively about DRTV.

But the marriage isn't always a smooth blend. When Mr. Mays met Mr. Lafley, he says he needled him gently about informal complaints P&G had registered about OxiClean ads. Mr. Lafley's "a really nice guy," said Mr. Mays, though he referred questions to company lawyers.

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