December 31, 2007

IMS Top 50

The December issue of Response is out, and for the sixth year it includes a feature article on the top 50 short-form spots of the year as measured by the Infomercial Monitoring Service (IMS).

I won't bother to reproduce the entire list here, but I would like to offer an important observation on it:

The vast majority of campaigns that made the list are not traditional DRTV campaigns.

By this I mean they aren't cost-per-order (CPO) campaigns launched using short-form media. They are either cost-per-acquisition/lead-generation campaigns (Enzyte, Gold Kit, Nutrisystem), or short-form versions of successful long-form infomercials (Total Gym, Proactiv, Swivel Sweeper). Such distinctions are important because they distort the picture.

In the former case, the economics of a CPA/lead-gen campaign are completely different than a campaign driven by a CPO. That's because the customer may have a lifetime value in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, so high CPOs that would quickly kill a traditional campaign can be acceptable.

In the latter case -- short-form versions of long-form hits -- the buyer has been "pre-sold" by the infomercial. In this scenario, the short-form simply becomes another channel of sale (e.g. retail, the Web) driven by the long-form advertising.

I call these distortions because DRTV novices will look at lists like the IMS 50 and tend to draw erroneous conclusions about what products and product categories they should pursue.

Take fitness. Looking at this year's IMS list, we might be tempted to conclude that a medium- to high-priced fitness item is a solid bet in short form. The No. 1 item of the year is the AB Lounge XL. The No. 5 item is the Total Gym. And the No. 10 item is the Bowflex Tread Climber.
But if any of these products had tried to launch using CPOs and spot advertising exclusively, it would have bombed quickly and disappeared. That's because short form is the wrong form for fitness items over $20 (with rare exceptions). The overwhelming majority of hits on the list were infomercial hits first.

There is a third trend reflected in the IMS list this year that also bears mentioning: Several companies that view DRTV as a traditional advertising expense made the list. Again, this distorts the picture because such companies use DRTV media in a completely different way than a pure-play DRTV player would. They see it simply as discounted media, and could care less whether they get an immediate sale or not.

This is perhaps the most troublesome trend because another way of saying "an immediate sale" is "a direct sale." And if the top 50 DRTV lists no longer represent products and services that sold well direct, the whole exercise has become pointless.

That said, the traditional DRTV items that did make the list this year stand out even more than in previous years because they were competing at a relative disadvantage. Unlike their rivals, they had to deliver immediate sales and immediate profit in order to keep airing.

This part of the IMS list I will reproduce here, if only to let my readers see how short the "real DRTV" hits list really is!

1. Perfect Pushup (#6 on the IMS list)
2. Urine Gone (#19)
3. Tweeze (#20)
4. Patch Perfect (#24)
5. Listen Up (#36)
6. Infinity Razor (#43)
7. Hercules Hooks (#44)
8. My Lil' Reminder (#48)

December 11, 2007

New This Week: GroutStar, ProGauge, Lids Off Jar Opener and more

I'm back on track and all caught up, so here's a timely report on the latest DRTV spots to air.

1. GROUT STAR ($19.95) is a kit for cleaning and sealing grout. The main claim: "Restore your grout to like new," and "apply it just once,and you’ll never scrub your grout again." The offer includes a bottle of deep cleaner, a bottle of sealer, an application brush and a chamois. The bonus is a bottle of Permashine (adds shine to tile) and a grout repair kit for fixing missing or damaged grout.
Product (D7) Score: 7 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Poor**
Comments: This is a winning product idea (7 out of 7!) saddled with a bad commercial. To fix this spot, I would start over with a new spokesperson, shoot 'wow' demos that capture the transformative effect of the product, and clarify the strong but confusing offer --among other things. With the right commercial behind it, this could be a major hit.

2. PRO GAUGE ($19.99) is a gauge that screws onto a propane tank and tells you how much gas you have left. The main claim: "Never run out of gas again." The bonus is a 19-piece cutlery set with carrying case (just pay S&H). This is a Telebrands item.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: OK**
This product is out of season and will fail for that reason alone. But even in season, it would face several challenges. First, the running-out-of-propane problem is not very painful, in my opinion. It doesn't happen often, and most BBQ grills have some built-in method for determining when you're running low on gas. Many people even buy a back-up tank as a solution to this problem. Second, the price is high relative to the value: A gauge for $20 is just not a compelling deal, even with the knives thrown in.

3. LIDS OFF JAR OPENER (2 pay, $24.99) is a countertop appliance for opening jars. The pitch: "Takes the struggleout of your hands at the touch of a button." No Bonus. This is a Black & Decker item.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
Comments: This product isn't unique -- similar solutions exist, including a modest hit/line extension called the One Touch Jar Opener -- and it is priced high for DRTV. However, this is a great holiday item and should do well enough in the run-up to Christmas to justify its budget.

4. FULL BAR (Soft Offer) is a weight loss plan featuring all-natural bars. Before every meal you eat a bar, drink a glass of water and then wait 30 minutes before eating. The main claim: "Clinically proven to help people lose an average of 40% of their excess body weight in just three months."
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: OK**
P.T. Barnum is reputed to have said, "There's a sucker born every minute." Some marketers believe you should add to that phrase, "especially when it comes to dieting." But even the most gullible dieters won't fall for this obvious ploy. Eat less by filling up your stomach with healthy stuff before every meal? If people could live by those rules, they wouldn't be spending millions on diet products that promise you can eat all you want and still lose weight!

5. POWER TWIST ($199) is an exercise device for improving your twist.
Product (D7) Score: 2 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Awful**
Comments: I only included this spot in my report so I could, for the first time ever, use the "awful" rating. Enough said!

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 12/7/07,” IMS (1, 2, 4, 5); "Vol. XVII, No. 8-B for 12/7/07," Jordan Whitney (3)

* See my July 24, 2007 post for a complete explanation of the D7 product score.
** See my October 22, 2007 post for a complete explanation of my commercial rating system.

December 06, 2007

New This Week ... and last week, and the week before that

I am way behind on my new items reports. The fourth quarter blues have given way to the madness of first quarter preparations. At the same time, many DRTV players (including me) have decided to test in December despite the horrible media environment. All of this means things have been hectic, to say the least.

To catch up, here's a quick report that combines three weeks' worth of new items. I only had time to evaluate the first six. The rest of the report is for informational purposes only. I promise I'll do better in the new year ... but focusing on my 2008 hits has to come first!

1. AQUA GLOBES ($14.99) are decorative glass bulbs for keeping house plants properly watered. The pitch: "Add beauty to your plants and keep them perfectly watered every day." The complete offer with bonuses is four globes -- red, blue, green and rainbow -- with gift boxes for each. This is an Allstar item and a Blue Moon commercial.
Product (D7) Score: 6 of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
Comments: Fred Vanore does excellent work, and this commercial from his studio is no exception. It hits all the key selling points and employs all the right DRTV techniques in a clear and compelling way. As for the product, it has the potential to be a winner if it can overcome two weaknesses that I see. One, it's a piece of art. That's good for the perceived value, but risky from a taste perspective. Some people just may not like it. Second, it has a crediblity issue. It's hard to believe an open-ended spout will correctly water even delicate tropical plants without overwatering them.

2. MONEY CLAMP ($19.95) is an ultra-slim combination wallet and money clip. The main claim: "Holds the same amount in one-third the space of a regular wallet." The bonuses are two additional clamps (without the wallet), one metal and one plastic.
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Poor**
Comments: Some of the D7 criteria are more critical than others. For example, an item lacking in credbility may succeed despite that shortcoming. But there are some criteria that are inviolable, and being unique is definitely one of them. This product fails in that category, and the cheesy quality of the commercial won't help either.

3. CHIC SHAPER ($19.99) is an undergarment that is worn over the bra to correct posture. The added benefit is it lifts and enhances the bust. The pitch: "Instant results that will get you noticed." Comes in choice of black, white or beige. The bonus is clear straps for evening wear. This is an Ontel item and a Sullivan commercial.
Product (D7) Score: 5 of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
Sully's team does great-looking commercials that add perceived value to any DRTV product, and he hits all the right selling points in this spot. The only issue I had was clarity, which may be a shortcoming of the product itself. It takes a while to understand this isn't a bra. Rather, it's an undergarment that works with the bra. And viewed in that light, it becomes less compelling. The real problem this product is solving is poor posture, and that may not be a big enough problem to compel women to buy it.

4. SMART LIDZ ($10) are silicone lids that fit any size bowl. The pitch: They create a vacuum seal that locks in freshness. The offer includes four lids of various sizes, then they double the offer. The bonus is a jumbo lid free, just pay S&H. No URL.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
Comments: This Chef Tony commercial has a lot going for it. Great demos, great presentation and a great offer. However, the product doesn't solve a painful problem in my opinion. Or, at least, there are a lot of other solutions to the problem on the market, from vacuum sealers to whistling Tupperware. Additionally, it has a credibility problem. It's hard to believe these lids will stay on, let alone create a vacuum seal.

5. ROTO WRENCH ($19.95) is a box wrench that adjusts to any size bolt. The pitch: It has 16 sizes in one and 12 gripping teeth so it grips and won't slip. The bonus is an "always straight nail gripper" that holds a nail straight while you hammer it. No URL.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
Comments: Tools are always a tough sell, in my opinion. Yes, there have been several hits in this category, but you have to have something uniquely compelling with multiple uses. This product doesn't hit that bar. It addresses a nuisance, not a painful problem, looks weird and lacks credibility.

6. COLD HEAT GLUE GUN ($24.99) is a cordless glue gun for crafts. The pitch: Heats up "seven times faster than a typical glue gun." The offer includes a charging base and eight glue sticks. The bons is 100 glue sticks free, and free shipping.
Product (D7) Score: 2 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
This is a bad extension of the Cold Heat brand, which is male-oriented and stands for "a soldering iron that rapidly cools." This glue gun is female-oriented and, as far as I can tell, doesn't cool down any faster than a regular glue gun. Additionally, it fails five of the Divine Seven. It's not all that unique. It has limited appeal (craft people only). It doesn't solve a painful problem. It's $5 too expensive for DRTV. And it lacks credibility. Other than that, I love it!

7. NAPA GRAPE LIGHTS ($14.99) by Telebrands are decorative hanging lights that look like bunches of grapes.

8. LONG LITE (24 for $19.95) is a disc that sits in the bottom of a light bulb socket and extends the life of the bulb up to 300%.

9. PETICURE ($29.99) is a cordless nail buffer for cats and dogs.

10. DREAMSHIELD ULTRA (Soft Offer) by Homedics is a mattress and pillow cover/protector that keeps out the dust mites that aggravate allergies and asthma.

11. HOT LEGS ($19.99) are strips of cold wax with anesthetic for "pain free"' hair removal.

12. BETTY CROCKER ALL-IN-ONE (2 pay, $14.95) is a set of fill-and-bake pans. No URL.

13. DOUBLE-TAKE BRA (2 pay, $19.95) is a bust-enhancing bra.

14. CHIRO WALLET ($19.95) is a wallet designed to prevent chiropractic problems related to sitting on a bulky wallet. No URL.

15. L'AZZIO ($24.95 trial) is a hot air stlying brush that straightens, volumizes and curls.

16. INSTACURLS (2 pay, $19.95) is a set of curlers that comes with a microwaveable cap for setting the curls. The pitch is "curls in two minutes."

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 11/16/07, 11/23/07 and 11/30/07,” IMS; "Vol. XVII, No. 5-B, 6-B and 7-B for 11/16/07, 11/23/07 and 11/30/07," Jordan Whitney

* See my July 24, 2007 post for a complete explanation of the D7 product score.
** See my October 22, 2007 post for a complete explanation of my commercial rating system.

December 03, 2007

The Three Keys to DRTV Success

Sometimes in business, we overcomplicate things. This is especially true when it comes to DRTV. As many industry leaders have told me over the years, "This is a simple business." And it's true. Unlike startups that rely on venture capital, the DRTV business is self-funding and low risk/high reward. Unlike brand-oriented businesses, we don't have to wait years to cross over and realize a hit. Results are immediate and measurable.

Not that's it easy. The DRTV landscape is littered with the smoking wrecks of DRTV companies, and dozens of new players try to break in and fail every year. There are many reasons for this, but I am more interested in the companies that have survived the test of time. For example, how is it that a Telebrands, an IdeaVillage or an Allstar can deliver hit after hit, year after year?

Thinking about this led me to a simple but profound conclusion. For an established DRTV player with capital (an important distinction), there are really only three keys to DRTV success:

1. Consistently identify hit products.

Of course, this is easier said than done. But the top companies do it over and over again. One reason is that they know, and strictly adhere to, established screening criteria for DRTV products (such as my "Divine Seven"). Even if they don't have a formal list like the one I've created, they know in their gut what works and what doesn't -- and they rarely take shots outside of that framework. Look at the long list of bombs this year from this perspective, and it will become clear why they failed: They tried to break the mold and failed.

2. Clearly communicate key selling points using proven techniques.

As with DRTV product criteria, there is proven knowledge out there for how to present a product's selling points to the consumer. I've created a list of 10 Tried & True techniques, but there are more than 30 points in my private notes, both major and minor. The lessons range from hard facts proved every year (e.g. 2-minute commercials sell, 30-second spots do not) to psychological lessons proved over the decades (e.g. clearly spelling out the problem your product solves increases response).

3. Don't screw up when managing the results!

This is really my way of saying, "the devil is in the details." I've seen campaigns fall apart and whole companies come unglued because of poor management of an otherwise successful campaign. Conversely, I've seen mediocre products and "just OK" commercials produce real success in the hands of a well-run organization. There's a lot to talk about here, but again the rules are simple. Make sure your media agency knows what it's doing and provides you with accurate and timely information. Maximize successful campaigns by constantly testing new networks, new media (e.g. print, online) and new channels of distribution (catalogs, international). Use the right metrics when evaluating call center and Web site performance. Be relentless in your quest to optimize back-end results until they meet or exceed industry standards. And then there's retail, about which I will only say this: A strong presence on retail shelves can cover a multitude of sins!