December 28, 2010

Snuggie in the Times: A Missed Opportunity

It's always interesting to see how the mainstream media covers our industry. In the December 21st issue of The New York Times, advertising reporter Andrew Newman writes at length about Allstar's Snuggie. From a PR perspective, it's a major score for Allstar. But from an industry perspective? Not so much.

The problems start with the caption for the story's main image (shown above). It reads: "New ads for the Snuggie have a holiday theme but skip the toll-free numbers for ordering, because the blankets are now sold largely in stores" (emphasis mine). Ouch. I cringe along with the executives of Allstar and any other DRTV marketer trying to squeeze a little extra advertising subsidy out of direct buyers.

Then there's the second paragraph:

Consumers purchased about four million Snuggies during the 2008 holiday season, according to Allstar Products Group, its maker. Typically, a success story for a kitschy infomercial product would end there, with the Snuggie going the way of items like the Clapper (“Clap on! Clap off!”) and Pocket Fisherman (“The biggest fishing invention since the hook!”). But not so for the blanket with arms, which, from a marketing perspective, turns out to have legs as well.

There are two significant errors in just the bit I highlighted. The first error is implying that a successful DRTV campaign lives and dies during a single holiday season. The second error is using The Clapper as a negative case study. Sorry, Mr. Newman, but if Snuggie goes "the way of ... the Clapper," everyone involved will be thrilled. After all, The Clapper is still at retail after 26 years, and its brand name and slogan must have close to 100% recall by now. Talk about having legs!

Newman (or "Newman!" as Seinfeld would say) also gets confused, as most of the media does, when trying to explain the short-form business model. In explaining Allstar's shift from 120s to shorter commercials meant to support retail, he writes: "[T]hey are not, by any standard measure, infomercials since they are only 30 seconds long and do not seek a direct response from consumers." Not sure what "standard measure" he means given an "infomercial" is a half-hour long.

He continues: "The Snuggie has, in fact, evolved nearly completely from a direct-response brand to a retail brand, with about 95 percent of current sales coming from bricks-and-mortar retailers." But that's the plan for all short-form products these days. Snuggie didn't evolve: It just became one of the few to meet, and then wildly surpass, DRTV-to-retail expectations.

Perhaps this is all just quibbling, but I think Mr. Newman missed an opportunity to explore the real reasons why Snuggie is important and what advertisers can learn from its success. The problem is that journalists who write about advertising come from a 'brand advertising' bias that looks down on DRTV as, in Newman's words, "kitschy" and "corny." This blinds them to its genius and turns every story about our industry into essentially the same story: Some fly-by-night cornballs got lucky and became legitimate.

In a future post, perhaps I'll answer my own challenge and explore what Mr. Newman didn't. In the meantime, the full article is here. Let me know what you think.

December 21, 2010

Review: Fast Brite

Description: A cleaner for cloudy headlights
Main Pitch: "Brings your headlights back to showroom new in as little as 30 seconds"
Main Offer: $10 for one bottle of polish, one bottle of protectant
Bonus: Double the offer (just pay S&H)
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

This commercial features what I sometimes call a "contrived" problem. That's when you start with a product and try to contrive a DRTV-level problem for it to solve. In this case, the creative team did their best, but I seriously doubt most people are going around concerned about hazy headlights -- especially since that concern is all about prevention (i.e. preventing an accident).

Another way to evaluate advertising, in general, is to focus on the promise an ad makes. In this case, the promise is restoring your headlights to "showroom new." But I can't think of anyone who would care about that. Restore a car's finish to "showroom new"? That I get. But its headlights? It's an odd idea and more evidence that this one's a stretch.

AJ Goes to Extremes to Find Next Great Pitchman

Since the industry has (wisely) given up on trying to replace the late, great Billy Mays, I guess AJ decided to look for a child with the potential to become him! Actually, these kids are more inventors than pitchmen, but they do a pretty good job explaining their products on national TV.

Video above and here.

December 15, 2010

Review: Clever Cupcakes

Description: Silicone baking cups
Main Pitch: "The fast, easy way to make perfectly shaped, gourmet cupcakes at home"
Main Offer: $10 for a 12-piece set with recipe guide
Bonus: 2nd set, just pay P&H, plus free decorating kit
Marketer: National Express
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

Fun baking items that don't solve a strong problem have a terrible track record on DRTV. The only exception I can think of is Allstar's Big Top Cupcake, and that was a super-cool product with strong "kid appeal." Another category that has been terrible on DRTV is silicone bakeware. That means this is a "double whammy" product that is highly unlikely to succeed.

December 09, 2010

Review: Royal Ring

Description: A replica of Lady Di's engagement ring
Main Pitch: "Celebrate the royal engagement with this timeless heirloom ring"
Main Offer: $39.90 for one
Includes: Velveteen box, certificate of authenticity
Marketer: Telebrands
Prediction: ?

This is not my area of expertise, but I see a lot to like here. Hits like the Obama coin proved DRTV marketers can capitalize on the public's momentary passion for certain figures.

I guess success or failure really depends on how excited the American public is about these events in England. Lady Di certainly made anglophiles of a lot of people. Perhaps her son and her ring have the same power, which would create an interesting play on the words "halo effect."

Review: Classy Covers

Description: A spandex cleavage cover
Main Pitch: "Covers your cleavage with a touch of class"
Main Offer: $14.99 for two (solid black, black lace)
Bonus: Two more (solid white, white lace), just pay processing
Marketer: IdeaVillage/Miss Oops
Producer: Concepts TV
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

This idea is obviously a winner, but I don't think this product is different enough from Ontel's Cami Secret to work on DRTV. The problem it solves is essentially the same, and the argument made against camisoles (they "ride up and add unwanted inches") doesn't ring true given their popularity.

In many ways, DRTV success is all about timing, and the timing for this one is wrong. In a few years, though, it could be a big hit.

On a side note, I do love the original name Miss Oops gave this product: Boob Tube. Now that's clever!

Review: Strap Magic

Description: A non-slip accessory for straps
Main Pitch: "The ultimate solution to stop purse straps from slipping down your shoulder"
Main Offer: $10 for three (black, brown and red)
Bonus: Three more (tan, ivory and navy), just pay P&H
Marketer: Ontel
Producer: Blue Moon Studios
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

When I first saw this type of product on QVC, I loved the idea. Then I did some market research and learned many women don't view 'slipping straps' as a pressing problem. At least not one worth "calling now" to solve. It will be interesting to see if the research was right.

Review: Diva Dangler

Description: A hanging earring organizer
Main Pitch: "Display and organize all of your earrings in just seconds"
Main Offer: $19.95 for one in pink and gold
Bonus: 2nd one in leopard and silver (just pay S&H), ring stand, pair of earrings with enrollment in Earring of the Month Club
Starring: Irene and Sharon, the inventors
Marketer: The inventors
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

These ladies seem nice, and I wish them well in general. I try to be objective, though, and the idea of hanging your jewelry has been tried before on DRTV (see Blingeez). So I've seen enough to know this idea is a tough sell on DRTV. Also, this particular offer is confusing and has a string attached (club enrollment) that will supress sales.

December 04, 2010

AJ on the The Early Show

Telebrands CEO AJ Khubani went on The Early Show recently to discuss the industry and some popular DRTV products. Video above and here.

Some pretty standard stuff, but he does talk a bit about his criteria for DRTV products. Given I learned a lot of what I know about the business from AJ, you'll notice my Divine Seven echoes many of his points.

December 02, 2010

Weekly Round-Up

Update: The original version of this post incorrectly identified the producer of Splatter Chef and Sit Right as Sullivan Productions. I regret the error.

Catching up after the holiday, so here's a long round-up of the latest items I didn't have time to give full reviews:

  1. Aluma Wallet. Pitch: "Fashion meets function with this trendy aluminum wallet." Marketer: Telebrands. Producer: Sullivan Productions. Comments: With the exception of Slim Clip, a personal triumph, wallets haven't been great on DRTV, especially ones targeted toward women. This one is supposed to be unisex, but I think it's more female-oriented and, as a result, unlikely to succeed. On a side note: This is the first Sullivan production I've seen in a while without Sully as the pitchman. [a]
  2. Celebrity Sweat. Pitch: "Go behind the scenes with Hip-Hop sensation Nelly as he takes you to the gym and shows you some of his favorite workouts for building muscle-tone." Starring: Nelly. Comments: I'm not going to tell him the problems with his campaign. Might see him at a show. You tell him! [a]
  3. Eye Lovely. Pitch: "The fast, cosmetic-free way to take the bags away." Comments: The site is already down, which is never a good sign. In any case, the positioning seems too narrow. Everyone has wrinkles, for example, but not everyone has puffy eyes. [a]
  4. Nano Bamboo. Pitch: "A virtually indestructible (bamboo) cleaning cloth with nano technology" Starring: Saul Judah. Comments: I've never seen the "clean with just water" pitch work. Cleaning cloths in general seem to be a tough sell. Super-asborption works, but not much else. [a]
  5. Night Bright Mat. Pitch: "It's a floor mat. It's a light. It's the Night Bright Mat." Comments: Cool idea, but it's been tried before without success. Good pitch, though. If I were coming at it cold, I'd give it even odds. [a]
  6. Poof Comb. Pitch: "Instantly volumize your hair and add inches of height." Marketer: Telebrands. Producer: Concepts TV. Comments: I think this one has credibility problems. If a comb could accomplish this, no one would have gone for Bumpits. [a]
  7. Push Up Max. Pitch: "From the makers of Iron Gym ... the most extreme push-up you'll ever do." Marketer: Ontel. Producer: LoudMouth TV. Comments: As a retail strategy, this makes a lot of sense. [a]
  8. Rapid Roaster. Pitch: "Cuts cooking time by 50 percent." Comments: The creative is weak, and the product is only useful on occassions where a full bird or roast is being cooked. I'm not sure how often that is for the average family, but I'd wager it isn't very often. [a]
  9. Santa's Genie. Pitch: "The easiest and fastest way to hang and store your Christmas lights." Marketer: Inventor's Business Center. Comments: Sometimes seasonality can be overcome (e.g. with summer items), but this is the worst-case scenario. Not only is media scarce in fourth quarter, planning inventory for Christmas has got to be a nightmare. That's because there's no "tail" on sales to bail you out. I'd never even attempt it. [a]
  10. Secret Styler. Pitch: "Look thinner and sexier in seconds." Comments: This one is a lot more style than solution, and that's always a problem. I think it's unlikely to succeed. [a]
  11. Sexy Legs. Marketer: IdeaVillage/Guthy-Renker. Starring: Leeza Gibbons. Pitch: "Cover spider veins, bruises, blemishes, tattoos and more." Comments: Great idea for a product, and with these two companies teaming up? Prediction: Hit. [a]
  12. Sit Right. Marketer: Telebrands. Pitch: "The new way to ensure you sit 'posture perfect' at home, in the office, or in your car." Comments: This one seems pretty lackluster to me. To use S7 terminology, I'm not sure it's really needed. The car angle is the only one that made sense to me. For work or home offices, you can buy this style of chair at most retailers. Anywhere else, you aren't sitting long enough for it to matter. [a]
  13. Splatter Chef. Marketer: Telebrands. Pitch: "Easily prevents kitchen splatters and stovetop and microwave messes." Comments: This is a classic "Swiss Army knife" product, and such multi-function items never seem to work on DRTV -- especially kitchen items. Also, Allstar tested the exact same item with the same pitch about a month ago. The site is no longer active. [a]
  14. Tie Pods. Marketer: Zoom TV Products. Pitch: "A better way to secure almost anything when you're on the move." Comments: I think this solves a major problem -- with bungee cords. The question is how often your average person uses a bungee cord. The demos didn't strike me as very "every day." [a]
  15. Twist Scarf. Pitch: "The most versatile fashion accessory ever." Comments: I reviewed a better version of this product idea recently for the forthcoming December issue of Response magazine. It's called Scarfy. I declared it "unlikely to succeed," so I think this one is even less likely to succeed. [a]
  16. Whoa Buddy. Marketer: Jarden. Pitch: "Helps your dog eat up to 5x slower." Comments: I like this commercial. They led with real-people testimonials as a way to introduce the problems the product solves, and it works really well. I'm a lot less enthusiastic about the product. Pet bowls have a poor track record on DRTV so far (see Tidy Table), and this concept has been tested before with poor results. I think that's because the problem isn't universal and this is "segmenting a segment" (targets the segment of the dog owner segment that has a dog who eats too fast). [a]

December 01, 2010

Good to Know

"Because of the high risk of failure, hair color is one of the categories with the highest consumer resistance to trying private label or new brands."

Colin Hession, global beauty consultant
Quoted in Advertising Age, 10/18/2010

SciMark Report from November Response

Last month's SciMark Report in print is now available on the Response Website. Reviews include: EZ Moves, Touvit Forte and the Sideshow Skillet. [a]

Review: Itty Bitty Brella

Description: A tiny umbrella
Main Pitch: "Opens in your car"
Main Offer: $14.95 for one
Bonus: None
Prediction: Bomb

Amateur hour. This is also a terrible category for DR. I'm not even talking about the fact it's a crowded category. Umbrellas are an impulse item, but the impulse is usually generated by rain. And when it rains, you need an umbrella right then -- not in 4-6 weeks. Buying an umbrella long before it rains is a bit like prevention, so it better be a groundbreaking umbrella. A revolutionary umbrella. The last umbrella you'll ever need. A mini-umbrella, which can easily be found at retail, doesn't hit that bar.

Plus, while less umbrella is good inside the car, it's a problem outside the car. On rainy days in NYC, I see ladies getting soaked all the time. Their dainty, pretty umbrellas that fit in their handbag just don't do the job. My umbrella may be the size of a Scottish claymore and horribly inconvenient to lug around, but I don't get wet. Bottom line: This is one of those products that may actually create a problem instead of solving one. And what good is an umbrella that doesn't address the core problem an umbrella was meant to solve?