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.