April 28, 2008

New This Week: SkinFinity … and that’s all!

I thought we hit bottom in early April. But after finding four items to post about last week, we’re back to only one item this week. The industry buzz is that response levels haven’t rebounded and are still 20% below average. Meanwhile, media rates are about 20% above average. So I can understand why everyone’s so gun-shy. If you’re considering a test, it’s probably best to wait for response levels to rebound – unless you’ve got a high level of confidence that yours is the next big hit.

1. SKINFINITY ($19.95) is a long-handled lotion applicator. The pitch: “The first spa-inspired lotion applicator designed to get to those hard-to-reach spots.” The main demo is women using it to apply lotion to their lower backs. The offer includes 10 disposable lotion pads. The bonuses are three additional skin-care heads – a loofah, a bath sponge and a pumice stone—plus a travel bag. www.SkinFinityProducts.com
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
This is an interesting product that meets a lot of the D7 criteria, but I don’t think it solves a big enough problem – at least not positioned primarily as a lotion applicator. The other heads are just as valuable to consumers, if not more so. So if it fails (and I think it will despite the 6 out of 7 rating) the marketing team should consider giving all four heads equal time and making the core message more about reach in general.

Source: “Vol. XVII, No. 27-B for 4/25/08,” 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.

April 23, 2008

New This Week: The Doorman, Silver Lightning, Kitchen King Pro and more

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! It's my first 7 out of 7 since January, and it’s called The Doorman. More below.

1. THE DOORMAN ($19.95) is a wireless doorbell and intercom system that works like the intercom system in apartment buildings. When someone rings the bell, you can ‘two-way’ them to find out who it is. The main benefit: It “allows you to speak directly to them without having to go to the door, so you can easily find out if the visitor is a welcome guest or an unwelcome solicitor.” There’s even an alarm button for scaring thugs away. The bonus is a generic version of Telebrands’ First Alert magnetic alarms. You get four with your order, just pay S&H. This is a National Express product and a Concepts TV commercial. www.DoorbellTV.com
Product (D7) Score: 7 out of 7!*
Commercial Rating: OK**
This product meets all the criteria for a DRTV hit. It’s a great idea that solves a real problem, especially for older people. I expect it to do well. That said, the creative is just OK, the offer is a bit confusing and the Web site for the product is not optimized for DRTV buyers. If the results are close but not exactly where the marketing team wants them, they should go back and fix these three key areas.

2. SILVER LIGHTNING ($10) is a plate that instantly removes tarnish from silver. You lay it in a sink of hot water and add baking soda. Then, you dump in your tarnished silverware. The pitch: “The electrolytic reaction” removes “even years of tarnish … as quick as lightning with no mess, no chemicals.” The offer includes Jewelry Lightning, a smaller plate for cleaning bracelets and necklaces. The bonus is a second set of both plates free, just pay S&H. This is a Telebrands product. www.SilverLightning.com
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: OK**
This is an “old is gold” item, or in this case an “old is silver” item (I couldn’t resist). It comes from the archives of Telebrands greatest hits, having taken the No. 10 spot on the Jordan Whitney “Top Thirty Direct Response Spots of 1996.” (Historical note: The original spot starred Robin Leach.) So it should be a slam dunk, right? Not necessarily. I see two weaknesses. One, not people many I know use real silver utensils except on special occasions. That means this product doesn’t solve a common, everyday problem (if America is like the people I know). Will people buy this for that rare occasion? That’s the big question. Two, the explanation for how the product works isn’t very credible. Some mention is made of an “electrolytic reaction.” Huh? How does that make a plate that sits in your sink clean tarnish? That said, this product has some great demos, and they may carry the day. As long as people see a need for this, Telebrands will have resurrected another hit.

3. KITCHEN KING PRO ($19.99) is a manual food processor. You load it with ingredients and turn the handle to slice, dice or mince. The pitch: "Prepare food like a master chef." The main offer also includes a non-slip base that suctions to a counter, a whipping/mixing attachment and a salad spinner attachment. The bonuses are a recipe guide and a Mandolin Lid that slices and juliennes (just pay S&H). This is an Ontel product and a Sullivan Productions commercial. www.KitchenKingPro.com
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
This product is very similar to Billy Mays’ Vidalia Chop It, which I reviewed in March, so my comments are going to be similar. (One point of difference that I like: the suction base.) The main issue I see is that this is a manual device. As I wrote before, I don’t see why consumers would “choose this item over an electric food processor, especially if they’re elderly and have dexterity problems.” This product also has a ton of features, including multiple attachments. Although the Sullivan team did an excellent job of explaining each one, it’s a lot for a 120.

4. BONA HARDWOOD FLOOR MOP ($39.99) is a MicroFiber spray mop for hardwood floors with a built-in floor cleaner cartridge. The main claim: Unlike other floor cleaning products, it "won't streak or leave behind a dulling residue," and it "removes tough, dried on sticky stains quickly and easily." It’s also “environmentally responsible,” featuring something called a “GREENGUARD” certification. This is a Sullivan Productions commercial and a BonaKemi product. BonaKemi is the North American subsidiary of Bona, a Swedish company that specializes in hardwood floors. The spokesman is Lou Manfredini, also known as “Mr. Fix-It.” www.BonaClean.com
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Excellent!**
This commercial is beautifully done and hits all the right points for DRTV. Kudos to the team at Sullivan Productions. My problems are all with the product. For one, the focus on hardwood floors obviously narrows the market. As I often preach, “DRTV products are advertised using mass media and sold in mass-market retailers, so they must appeal to the broadest demographic possible.” That said, this campaign will likely have a different goal – branding at DR rates – so this probably isn’t a consideration for BonaKemi. Two other problems should be, however. The first is the cost. At $39.99, this product is twice as expensive as most DRTV items. I would have done two payments of $19.99 at a minimum, just to get the lower price point on the screen. The second problem is the number of other hardwood floor solutions on the market. True, this is a much fancier solution with the cleaner built in and a cool Swiffer WetJet spray function. But consumers may just decide the other solutions they’ve purchased are good enough.

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 4/18/08,” IMS (1-3); "Vol. XVII, No. 26-B for 4/18/08,” Jordan Whitney (4)

* 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.

April 22, 2008

Five Bona-Fide Hits: Buxton Bag, Mighty Putty, Sham Wow and more

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these posts. Technically, I’m supposed to do it every 90 days, but my last post was October of last year! So for this update, I’m going to skip ahead and cover the last 90 days.

That is, I’m about to identify five items that I consider bona-fide hits because they’ve been on one of the short-form charts for the last three months, and have made at least a few appearances on the other chart. (More on this methodology here.)

Here are the verified hits, followed by my predictions for each one:

  1. Buxton Bag
  2. Kinoki Foot Pads
  3. Mighty Putty
  4. Dr. Frank’s Pet Pain Spray
  5. Sham Wow

1. Buxton Bag - I gave this bag for the highly organized a 6 out of 7. “It features a solid problem opening, compelling demos and a classic value comparison,” I wrote. “If women like the product, this one should be a hit.”

2. Kinoki Foot Pads – I didn’t give this product a rating, but I did write some brief comments when it first came out: “They use Japanese reflexology as an explanation in their pitch, something that lacks credibility with the American mass market,” I wrote. I guess I was wrong. Kinoki Foot Pads are selling like crazy. But the credibility problem has hurt them. Try searching the brand name on Google and you’ll see more scam reports than product sites. ABC’s 20/20 even did an expose, although I think it was unfair and unbalanced.

3. Mighty Putty – Ouch. This is a big one that I called incorrectly. I gave it a 4 out of 7. “It’s an interesting product, but the marketing team needs to go back to the drawing board on what will motivate consumers to purchase it,” I wrote. Apparently not. One of my criticisms was that the product was shown solving “unusual and infrequent problems” in the original commercial. The marketing team later fixed this, adding more everyday uses. Another criticism was that the “magic demo” – Mighty Putty pulling a tractor trailer – was “off-the-charts unbelievable.” As I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to tell what DR viewers will find credible, and I totally misread this one. In fact, the commercial’s producer, John Miller of Miller Direct, has taken the magic demo to the next level. I’ve learned quite a bit from him in recent weeks.

4. Dr. Frank’s Pet Pain Spray ­– I predicted that this item would be a winner, giving it a 6 out of 7. “This product has one major limitation: It's only for people with older dogs & cats,” I wrote. “That said, a Telebrands product targeting the same market ... did very well last year.”

5. Sham Wow - I loved the commercial for this super-absorbent shammy cloth the moment I saw it, and I gave the product a 6 out of 7. “This spot is true to the roots of DRTV,” I wrote. “[T]his product is likely to be a hit and take market share from Zorbeez.”

Several other items popped up on my radar, but they were either too new, appeared and disappeared (Magic Jack, Save-A-Blade) or only appeared on one list (Aqua Globes, Smart Lidz). During the next 90 days, I’ll keep an eye on these items and see if they cross over – or disappear.

April 17, 2008

Magic Jack: The Year's Biggest Hit?

I recently spoke to the inventor of Magic Jack, the device for turning your regular phone into a VOIP phone that promises you'll "never pay a monthly phone bill again." He said the product is a major winner. In fact, he said, "This will go down as the best DRTV product ever."

Here's what I wrote about the Magic Jack when I reviewed it in January:

It’s a tough sell on DRTV. As a lead-gen campaign, it could work (provided they fixed the confusing offer, which mentions three different price points). As a pure-play DRTV campaign, it will likely fail. That’s because the DRTV buyer is older, less tech savvy and less trusting of new technologies in general.

So was I wrong? We'll see. This week, the Magic Jack long-form show is #18 on the Jordan Whitney "Top Infomercials" chart and #9 on the IMS "Infomercial Rankings." Meanwhile, the short-form spot is #18 on the IMS "Spot Ranking." (It does not appear on the Jordan Whitney Top 60 short-form list this week.) That's pretty impressive. Much better than I expected, to be honest.

But if it's as big as the inventor says, we should expect to see it take the top spots away from the likes of Guthy-Renker's Principal Secret or Euro Pro's Shark Steam Mop on the infomercial charts, and BodyRev's Perfect Pushup or Telebrands' Ped Egg on the short-form charts.

April 15, 2008

New This Week: Open It!, LayBack and Insta-Drain Tiles

Despite poor response levels, several people are going for it. Either that, or I’m seeing commercials that launched earlier for the first time. In any case, this week three spots caught my eye.

1. OPEN IT! ($9.99) is a multi-purpose tool for opening packages. It looks like a pair of orange shears and has angular cutting heads designed to open clamshells and other plastic packaging easily. Inside the handle, there’s also a slide-lock utility knife for cutting packaging tape and plastic ties, and a flip-out screwdriver for products that are secured to the package with a screw. The pitch: “You’ll always have the right tool to open any kind of package.” The offer is buy one, get one free. www.BuyOpenIt.com
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: OK**
I guess it’s commonly believed that “the third time’s the charm” because here again is a third-to-market product trying to make it on DRTV. Allstar’s Package Shark, a clamshell opener only, was the first to market and met with some success. A set of five products collectively called Open Smart launched the following year and failed to take off on DRTV. Now comes the Swiss Army Knife version of this idea, which is unlikely to succeed unless people think it’s different enough. That said, I think it has the strongest perceived value of the three, value being a major hurdle the others had to overcome.

2. LAYBACK (2 pay, $9.99) is a curved device for stretching out your back. All you do is place it on the floor and “lay back.” As the commercial says, “gravity does the rest.” The main claim: It “gently restores the natural curvature of your spine,” giving you “back relief in just five minutes.” The offer is buy one, get one free. This is a TeleBrands product and a Sullivan Productions commercial. www.BuyLayBack.com
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
Several products have enjoyed DRTV success in this category, and back pain is clearly a mass-market problem. But will this product be perceived as a good solution for that problem? I doubt it. Moreover, if this product does solve the back-pain problem, wouldn’t anything that supports the arch of your back do the same thing? As for the commercial, it hits the right points (albeit with audio effects that sound a little like a porn soundtrack), but ultimately it’s difficult to make something that lays on the floor visually exciting.

3. INSTA-DRAIN TILES ($19.95) are no-slip tiles that snap together to create outdoor walkways and patios. The pitch: They “give you the beautiful look of stone” but also “let water drain through them, leaving no puddles.” They’re specifically aimed at areas where mud usually gathers. The offer is for six tiles. There’s no bonus, but the commercial promises that “the more sets you buy, the more you’ll save.” www.InstaDrainTiles.com
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: Good**
This is a good product for DRTV that meets many of the criteria. For one, it’s truly unique – unlike anything people have seen before. It also solves a real problem: Having to walk in mud to get to certain parts of your property. However, I have two issues with this product that I think will ultimately limit its appeal. One is the offer. People who would otherwise want this are going to take pause when they realize six tiles aren’t nearly enough for the job they want to do, and the vague promise of a special discount on additional tiles won’t be enough to get them to call. The other issue is the appearance of the product. Although the commercial does its best, I think people will see through the “beautiful look of stone” claim and realize this is some kind of inexpensive plastic they don’t want on display in their yard. For many, the practical benefits of the product will be sufficient to overcome this barrier. But for others, that will kill the sale.

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 4/11/08,” IMS (1); "Vol. XVII, No. 25-B for 4/11/08,” Jordan Whitney (2-3)

* 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.

April 08, 2008

New This Week: GrillTamer … and that’s it!

We’ve finally reached the low-water mark. Tax season is right around the corner, which means response levels are at their lowest, and no DRTV player with experience is going to bother taking a shot. That leaves the “newbies.” Only one was imprudent enough to go for it this week – largely because his item is seasonal, and the season starts now.

1. GRILLTAMER ($39.95) is a device for propping open the lid of your barbecue grill that also has a built-in thermometer. It was invented by someone named Mike Macken. As the story goes, “His original ... design was to simply prop open his grill lid so he could see what was going on inside of the grill and extinguish flare-ups before dinner was burnt beyond recognition. After several years of development with the addition of a high quality thermometer, a hardwood handle for safety and thousands of meals later... the GRILLTAMER was born." The main claim: It eliminates “flare-ups and hot spots.” The offer is for one device. The bonus is a jumbo container of Macken’s “Grand Champion Master Blend” seasoning, and Macken is also the spokesman. www.GrillTamer.com
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7*
Commercial Rating: OK**
This item won’t work on DRTV for several reasons. One, BBQ thermometers aren’t unique, and attaching one to a fancy way to prop open your grill doesn’t overcome that weakness. Two, the product doesn’t solve a big enough problem. Obviously people have figured out how to grill meat without ruining it. Three, the price is too high for TV (by about $20), and the offer isn’t a good value. Four, the product isn’t visually exciting. Add seasonality to the mix, and you have an item that is wrong for DRTV. A better way to test the item would be to impulse merchandise it near barbecue grills in select stores.

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 4/4/08,” IMS (1)

* 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.

April 07, 2008

Results of My 2007 Hits Study

In January 2007, I decided to track and rate the first 100 DRTV products launched that year. I had two goals. One goal was to validate my "Divine Seven" criteria. A second goal was to calculate the actual success rate for DRTV short-form launches. I had heard from industry gurus that one in 10 items succeed. Or is it one in 20? It depends on whom you ask. So I wanted to know the real number.

Well, at long last the results of my research are in. I apologize for the delay, but deciding what qualified as a "hit" proved harder than I thought. Some items appeared on one chart and not the other. Some items appeared and then disappeared ... and then re-appeared. So for this experiment, I decided I would wait for the annual lists to come out before making the call. I also decided that I would distinguish between items that appeared on both charts (the true successes), and items that appeared on only one chart (probably hits but you never know). As I mentioned in a previous post, the hardest part about this is that there are ways to force an item onto the charts.

Many of the items I didn't monitor made it onto the annual charts. Again, I only monitored the first 100 items launched in 2007. So if an item was launched before January (e.g. Infinity Razor), or after the first 100 items of the year (e.g. Mighty Putty), it isn't included here. For those first 100, here are the results:

Made It Onto Both Charts*

  1. Perfect Pushup (#6 on IMS, #10 on JW)
  2. Listen Up (#15 on JW, #36 on IMS)

Made It Onto One Chart

  1. Samurai Shark (#24)
  2. Go Duster (#33)
  3. Huggable Hangers (#55)
  4. Bender Ball (#57)
  5. Ped Egg (#59)
  6. Sonic Scrubber (#64)
  7. Craft-Lite Cutter (#74)
  8. One Touch Jar Opener (#80)
  9. Aqua Dots (#83)
  10. Forearm Forklifts (#91)

* Meaning the item appeared on both the IMS "Top 50 Short-Form Spots" for 2007 and the Jordan Whitney "Top (100) Short-Form Spots for 2007."

The "one chart" for all 10 items is the Jordan Whitney. No item appeared on just the IMS.

So, depending on how you calculate it, the industry hit rate for a sampling of 2007 is either one in 50 (if both charts are required) or one in eight (if one chart is required). My thinking is that a "triple" or "homerun" item will appear on both charts, and anything less will only make the one chart.

What about the "Divine Seven"? How good is a scientific approach at picking winners before they air? The answer is: quite good. Most people go on gut, hence the one in eight statistic. But my system predicted one in three hits correctly. That is, I said it was going to be a hit when I first saw it, and it was. The items I correctly predicted are:

  1. Listen Up - D7 Score: 6 out of 7
  2. Samurai Shark - D7 Score: 6 out of 7
  3. One Touch Jar Opener - D7 Score: 7 out of 7
  4. Huggable Hangers - D7 Score: 6 out of 7
  5. Twin Draft Guard - D7 Score: 6 out of 7

So five out of the 16 items I predicted would be hits made it. I consider any item that gets a five out of seven or better a potential hit, so long as those five qualities are the middle five (mass market, problem solver, priced right, easily explained, age appropriate). That's because these are the most objective. The other two (unique, credible) are too subjective. I can look at a product and think it isn't unique enough, or highly doubt it will work as promised, but I can't speak for the DRTV audience. Moreover, a good producer can create a commercial that overcomes these weaknesses, whereas no creative in the world can fix a product that is too niche, too complicated for short form, etc.

About Twin Draft Guard: The item is seasonal, so it didn't make the annual lists. But it was on both charts for the entire winter, so I can't say it wasn't a hit. In fact, I think this item will continue to do well year after year (read more). I should also add Ped Egg to my list because I gave it a five out of seven when I saw the product for the first time (when the commercial did not demonstrate the "dead skin catcher" feature), and a seven out of seven when I saw it the second time. But to keep things honest, I'll go off my first impression when I thought it was a knockoff of One Step (which I accurately predicted wouldn't work on DRTV).

In a further spirit of fairness, I should also talk about the items I thought wouldn't work, but did. There's really only one that caught me by surprise: Perfect Pushup. It broke the mold in three key areas. One, it didn't solve a real problem. I'm not even sure what that problem would be (imperfect pecs?), but suffice to say no one needs rotating push-up handles. Two, it was twice as expensive as a DRTV product should be (2 pay of $20). That didn't seem to affect the response to the item, but it did allow a competitor (Push-Up Pro) to come in and take market share with a half-price deal. Three, it didn't appeal to women or older people, the two largest segments of DRTV buyers.

My advice: If you have the cash to go after that one in 100 grand-slam item, you should throw all criteria out the window and just go for it. Otherwise, stick to what's proven to work.

A few other items did OK despite what are normally fatal flaws. I have to exclude Go Duster and Forearm Forklifts from that list because I have information that the ecomomics of both campaigns were different than a typical DRTV product. I don't account for commercials run for retail because they aren't hits in the pure sense. I suspect the Sonic Scrubber also falls into this category, but I have no information. In any case, it got five out of seven but failed in the critical "easy to understand" category. The Craft-Lite Cutter is a niche item -- all craft items ultimately are -- but the photo use carried the day.

As for Aqua Dots, I can't say I was surprised by this one. It got a four out of seven, but only because it failed the same categories every kids' item fails: 1) it's for kids only; 2) it's fun instead of problem-solving; and 3) it doesn't appeal to older people except perhaps as a gift for the grandkids. Routinely, a kids' item does well even though the bar is much higher and the working media will be limited to the four children's networks. Aqua Dots did well enough on those networks to make it onto the bottom of the JW chart. (I was surprised, however, to learn this product had been recalled due to contamination with a substance that turns into a date-rape drug.)

That leaves Bender Ball, the worst performer and an item that should have failed without a doubt. I have no explanation for why it made the JW chart. There are numerous possibilities other than it defying the criteria, and I stand by my assessment. The Bender Ball is a small, inflatable ball. I see no reason people would believe it has special properties. Maybe someone can post a comment and explain this one to me.

So what have I learned? With the exception of those unpredictable grand slams and the occassional item that sneaks onto the charts despite its many flaws, most hit items have the core D7 qualities. Still, it's important to keep in mind that there are no magic formulas, no guarantees of success. As business guru and best-selling author Prof. Phil Rosenzweig says, we can only increase the odds of success. Anyone who promises a blueprint for success is promising a delusion.