March 31, 2010

Everyone Wants To Break The Rules

Allstar broke the rules in 2008. The company introduced a product that had no business being on DRTV. It violated what is arguably the No. 1 rule for DRTV products: It has to solve a problem.

This particular product didn't solve a problem -- at least not a real problem. In fact, the product was quite silly. Sure, it had sold well in other channels, but a blanket with sleeves? On DRTV? Give me a break.

By now, everyone knows the result of that "blunder." Snuggie was the No. 1 short-form product of 2009. And sure as day follows night, just about every company in the DRTV industry tried to have the next hit in this new "snuggly garments with a twist" category. For example:

  • TELEBrands tested Therma Scarf, a snuggly scarf
  • Lipenwald tested Cozy Caftan, a snuggly caftan
  • The Vermont Teddy Bear Company tested Hoodie-Footie Snuggie Suit, snuggly pajamas with feet and a hood
  • A novice introduced the Wearable Towel, a summer snuggly cleverly tagged "the towel with arm openings"
  • And of course National Express tested the infamous Kuttles for 2, a Snuggie for lovers with a third sleeve

The list goes on. Of course, Allstar itself wasn't immune. After launching every line extension that could be imagined -- a Snuggie for kids, a Snuggie for dogs, a Snuggie for cougars who like leopard prints -- the company went after its own string of Snuggie-inspired flops (e.g. Chill Away, a Snuggie jacket without a zipper).

So what can we learn from this? To paraphrase Al Ries: If you always try to break the rules, you will live a life of chaos. Or more to the point: You will lose a lot of money.

As it turns out, there is no "snuggly garments with a twist" category. Snuggie was an outlier. And just because Allstar broke the rules and got away with it doesn't mean the rules are no longer in effect. In fact, just because a lot of hits have broken the rules doesn't mean the rules aren't valid. Consider:

  • ShamWow! wasn't unique when it came out (old item and Billy's Zorbeez was ahead of it). But being different from what's already on the market is still critically important to DRTV success.
  • Prayer Cross is $40. But if you want to generate enough response to sustain a DRTV campaign, a price point of $20 or less is still your best bet.
  • Bumpits are for young women. But if you want to appeal to the biggest group of DRTV buyers by far, you will make sure your item is for older women.

Examples like the above are why I always talk about odds when people ask about the rules. Can the rules be broken? Absolutely. But do you want your hit rate to be better than 1 in 50? Then stick to the rules.

Further complicating things: Sometimes new categories do emerge that can routinely break certain rules. When I saw three hits in a row in the men's fitness category (Perfect Pushup, Iron Gym and Tower 200), I knew a new category had emerged that could consistently break the "priced right" and "age appropriate" rules from the Divine Seven. These are expensive products for young men -- not your typical recipe for success.

But more often than not, an outlier is simply an outlier. There is no new category. Yet for some reason, every DRTV marketer in the industry will go crazy trying to prove that point, again and again. It's wholly predictable.

Watch it happen again this year when some lucky company finds that next rule-breaker that hits it big. One hit will spawn 50 bombs as everyone chases the dream.

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