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)

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