August 03, 2010

Interview: Mark Rothman on DRTV & Celebrities

This is the second installment of my new "guru interviews" feature. In February, I interviewed Travis Gomez from Cambridge Commerce about a crackdown by major credit card companies on certain aspects of the DRTV business model.

For my second interview, I spoke to Mark Rothman of Platinum Rye Entertainment about something a little more entertaining: celebrities ... and how best to use them in DRTV.

Platinum Rye is an international firm based in New York City that specializes in connecting Fortune 500 companies with celebrity talent. Mark has been responsible for developing the firm's DRTV division and is fast becoming the go-to guy for this area of the business.

TSR: Let's start with the misconceptions. What can't a celebrity do for your DRTV campaign?

Mark: A celebrity can’t make your product work in that if the product isn’t effective or doesn’t solve a problem, no matter the name or face you use, it will still probably fail. Celebrities can bring more visibility and credibility to your product, but if the product is a dud then there is nothing the celebrity can do except maybe lift sales a little. But eventually customers will stop buying. If you look at some of the best celebrity DR campaigns, they usually have a pretty good product behind it and the celebrity just lends it more credibility and helps it stand out from the rest of the clutter. This works especially well in the beauty and fitness categories.

TSR: Does a celebrity have to use and genuinely like your product to be effective as a spokesperson?

Mark: According to the new FTC guidelines, the answer is yes. But in general, as with any campaign (DR or not), it should be believable that the celebrity would use the product. It wouldn’t make sense if you had a teen star endorsing an anti-aging cream, an older actress touting an acne medication or a well-known bachelor promoting a cooking device that feeds a whole family. The goal is to make the endorsement seem as organic as possible even though the celebrity is getting compensated. It is important for the celebrity to try and like the product before they agree to endorse it, which prevents them from coming to the set and not being able to work the gadget or breaking out in a rash from your beauty product (it's happened). If the celebrity truly likes the product, it will come across in the spot and make it all the more effective.

TSR: Speaking of the new FTC rules, what effect if any have they had on celebrities' willingness to work in DR?

Mark: It hasn’t changed their willingness so much as it has changed the amount of time and review that their legal team, agents and managers must spend reviewing the deals and the products. Celebrity representatives are very wary of future legal action that could be taken against them and their clients. The positive effect is that you get better contracts that protect everyone involved. Also, when a celebrity signs on you now know that he or she believes in the product and has used it. Obviously the money is still a big factor in getting them to sign on the dotted line, but it is no longer the only reason.

TSR: Earlier you alluded to categories and/or types of products where celebrities make sense. What would be your top five?

Mark:

  1. Beauty. There are so many of these products out there that if you are a new brand, the only way to get noticed is either to have your spot on all the time or to have a celebrity that will get people talking. You can almost throw acne treatments in as a separate sub-category because this is so popular and has done well with celebrities in the past.
     
  2. Fitness. Again, there a ton of products out there and seeing a bunch of fitness models show you their abs and bodies isn’t the same as seeing your favorite athlete or celebrity telling you that this is how he or she stays in shape. It makes the product stand out more and usually does not require as big or costly a star as a beauty campaign.
     
  3. Kitchen products. With the influx of celebrity chefs and the increase in cooking shows, this is a growing category and may even overtake fitness in the next few years. Again, having a celebrity chef or food network star will lend your product credibility and help it stand out. Plus, most chefs will cost you much less than a major celebrity.
     
  4. Financial services. This category has seen more and more celebrities and or athletes in the last two years. I have seen how celebrities spend money, which makes me cautious about taking their advice on how to spend mine! But having a celebrity definitely makes the average viewer stop and watch as opposed to some supposed “financial guru.”
     
  5. Household products. This makes sense if your spokesperson is someone you can see doing chores like cleaning or organizing, etc. For example, a TV mom would work well for a vacuum or space-saving device. Otherwise, it's important to realize most of these celebrities have housekeepers.

TSR: What process would you recommend marketers use to help decide if the product should be the "hero" or a celebrity is needed?

Mark: Their budget and their guts. If you have the budget to afford a celebrity, you might as well test it out against the spot without it because that is the only way to know 100% if the celebrity will work. Also, if you think you need an A-lister and can only afford a D-lister, you are probably better off not using a celebrity. But if you can find someone in-between that makes sense for the brand and that you can afford, it's worth the risk. Finding those in-between celebrities is one thing we specialize in.

A lot of times, though, it comes down to gut feelings. That is how a lot of deals are done. Someone feels strongly that a certain celebrity will make the product a hit, and they do whatever it takes to get the deal done. Results vary when doing it this way, but you want to put your best foot forward. If you feel a celebrity is going to do it for you, then you have to try it because if the campaign fails without that celebrity it's going to be costly to mount another production and get the celebrity for a product that has already failed.

Got a question for Mark? Feel free to email him at mrothman@platinumrye.com.

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