January 28, 2011

The Delusion of Single Explanations

In his 2007 book "The Halo Effect and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers" (available here)," IMD Professor Phil Rosenzweig talks about something he calls "the delusion of single explanations":

Many studies show that a particular factor ... leads to improved performance. But since many of these factors are highly correlated, the effect of each one is usually less than suggested.

A recent conversation reminded me, once again, that this delusion is common in our industry. The conversation was with a producer and went something like this (names have been omitted to protect the guilty) ...

US: "We like the rough cut but think the spot really needs an additional perspective. We were thinking a great way to do that would be to add testimonials."

PRODUCER: "Go watch [big hit of the year in same category]. You won't see a single testimonial."

A variation of this is to say, when someone points out that a Tried & True Technique is missing from a spot, "Well, [big hit] didn't have [missing technique], and it was a huge success."

In a 2006 article on this topic, Prof. Rosenzweig comes up with a clever way of showing why this way of thinking is obviously flawed:

A particularly striking example of poor thinking can be found in the June 19, 2006, edition of Fortune magazine ... That edition featured the second in a series called “Secrets of Greatness,” which is typical of a time-honored approach in business reporting: to highlight a successful company and explain what led to its success ...

According to Fortune, Sony’s success is testimony to the need for openness (emphasis mine) — both internally and externally. That’s said to be the key to greatness at Sony, and of course it all makes good sense ...

According to Fortune, Motorola’s great triumph is illustrative of another business legend: the bunch of bright people who barricade themselves against outside influences and, against all odds, emerge with a brilliant idea [the RAZR] ... Not only did the RAZR team shield itself from distractions elsewhere in Motorola, it also pursued its vision with single-minded determination (emphasis mine). Did the engineers go out and talk with customers? Not at all. The team deliberately ignored conventional wisdom from market research ...

[A]s you’ve probably spotted by now, the lessons from Motorola are exactly the opposite of the lessons from Sony.

(The full article is here and well worth the read.)

In our industry, marketers look at a ranking such as the Jordan Whitney, IMS or True Top 50 and make the same mistake. At least now we have a name for it.

January 27, 2011

Review: Thera-Spin

Description: An electric callus remover
Main Pitch: "Eliminate dry, hard skin and calluses in just a few seconds"
Main Offer: $10 for one with three heads
Bonus: 2nd set plus satin robe (just pay S&H)
Marketer: IdeaVillage
Website: www.TheraSpin.com
Prediction: On the fence

A power Ped Egg is a great idea. In a few years, it could be as big as its predecessor -- or possibly even bigger. But now? It's too soon.

This is always an interesting conversation when it arises in DRTV conference rooms. I call it "The Phoenix" conversation. (And yes, I have noticed that I have a tendency to reference mythology. Someday, I will do an article or seminar on The Siren & The Phoenix). This conversation starts when someone asks the big question: How long before a DRTV hit can rise again? Some say seven years. Some say three.

I say it depends on too many factors to determine a set number. Some of these: How long since the item was last available? Some items have longer "tails" at retail than others. And how different is the new item? Identical items seem to fail more often than not (see my Old Gold? archive). But old items with a twist (Moving Men becomes EZ Moves, Quick Chop becomes Slap Chop) seem to do better, perhaps compressing the time required for a Phoenix to rise from the ashes.

In this case, although there is an important twist (power), I think it's way too soon to call Ped Egg an "old item." If this campaign works, it won't live up to its full potential because the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

Review: Pajama Jeans (v2)

Description: Pajamas that resemble jeans
Main Pitch: "Look like designer denim jeans," feel "as comfortable as your favorite pajamas"
Main Offer: $39.95 for one
Bonus: Grey crewneck t-shirt
Marketer: Hampton Direct
Producer: Concepts TV
Website: www.PajamaJeans.com
Prediction: On the fence

I've reviewed this item before. About this time last year, it was tested with a different creative. I stand by my comments then because the price is still too high and fashion is the category with the lowest odds of success on DRTV. However, I've moved to being "on the fence" because Concepts did a better commercial (the original is here) and the item remains completely unique in the marketplace from what I can tell.

This may be one of those items women "just gotta have" and are willing to spend a little extra on. It also solves a problem (it grows with you, to be polite) that will resonate with women and is reminiscent of what Cami Secret accomplished. Finally, and this may be biasing my opinion the most given what happened with Shake Weight, the ladies of The View loved it!

Review: Sok Mate

Description: A sock organizer
Main Pitch: "You'll never have to sort, mate or lose socks again"
Main Offer: $9.95 for two
Bonus: Two more (just pay S&H)
Website: www.GetSokMate.com
Prediction: Bomb

Sock organizers are what I call a "siren" item. The name comes from mythology, and I use it to refer to any item that repeatedly lures companies to DRTV shipwreck. I've written about at least two other sock organizers in blog history (Sock Angel & Sock Clip), tested one and evaluated at least a half dozen more in my career. Not one has gone on to success. The main reason: This just isn't a painful enough problem.

January 25, 2011

Review: Ab Ray

Description: An ab exerciser
Main Pitch: "The fast, effective way to tone your abs and body"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one with DVD & Diet Guide
Bonus: Express Bands (just pay processing)
Starring: Morgan Thompson
Marketer: Telebrands
Website: www.GetAbRay.com
Prediction: On the fence

This one has been tried before. In June of 2008, Fitness Quest gave it a shot at $29.95. (My original review is here). Now that the price point is in line for short form, this one may find succees. It is primarily an ab product, after all. My only concern is all the activity in this category. It seems 20 ab items are tried each year. One always succeeds, but the other 19 fail. I'm not sure this one is different or exciting enough to be the one that comes out on top.

January 24, 2011

SciMark Report from January Response

My latest column is now live on the Response magazine Website. Reviews include: HD Aviators, Healthy CFL and Mighty Guard [a].

SciMark Report from December Response

Got tripped up by the new filing system on the Response Website and didn't realize my latest columns had been posted. In case you missed it, my December column is here. Reviews include: B-Lifted, Scarfy and HD Audio Headphones [a].

Review: Amaze Vase

Description: A multi-level flower vase
Main Pitch: "Create fantastic floral displays just like the professionals"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one with hanging wire, decorative beads and Arrangements Guide
Bonus: 2nd complete set (just pay processing)
Marketer: Telebrands
Website: www.GetAmazeVase.com
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

I started off confused as to why anyone except flower enthusiasts would want this. Then they started mixing flowers with food and really lost me.

January 18, 2011

Fall True Top 50

My seasonal True Top 50 report for the fall of 2010 is finally ready. This ranking covers September, October and November of last year. The criteria remains the same as the Summer report, specifically:

  • Only the 75 rated national cable stations were included
  • Any spot shorter than two minutes was excluded
  • Campaigns were ranked by spots aired and money spent (with the latter given twice the weighting)
  • Campaigns for services were excluded (since this ranking is about products)

As always, I welcome your feedback. In a later post, I will check my predictions against this report and let everyone know how I did.

January 05, 2011

Rounding Out the Year (2010)

Here are eight quick reviews of the last few campaigns I collected before the end of the year:

  1. Chamease. Pitch: "Stronger than leather ... [it's] a reusable scientific breakthrough in cleaning" and "never use paper towels again." Comments: Microfiber for cleaning is a proven loser. It has never worked in short-form DRTV. In this case, the campaign is also likely to fail because the problem solved is a weak one (the cost of paper towels and Swiffer pads). Value comparisons are good for helping prospects justify a DRTV purchase, but they are rarely strong enough to be the main driver of sales. [a]
  2. Convert-A-Classic. Pitch: "Convert classic memories on tape to digital files stored onto your computer." Marketer: Allstar. Producer: Kingstar. Comments: Love the product and the pitch. I expect big things. [a]
  3. Fast Attack. Pitch: "Intense bubbling action ... will power through even the toughest clogs." Comments: The only clog removers that have had success in recent years are devices; e.g. Ontel's Turbo Snake. A liquid solution has no shot given the competition in the category. On a related note, any powerful chemical raises safety and environmental concerns that I believe only a trusted brand can overcome. [a]
  4. Natural Waves. Pitch: "The ingenious hair-styling clip you just scrunch, apply and let dry for beautiful waves that look perfectly natural without the hassle." Marketer: Allstar. Producer: Blue Moon Studios. Comments: It's possible this one could be a hit, but anything to do with women and style is a big unknown in my book -- and the hair category doesn't have a great track record on DRTV. Many are tried; few are successful. [a]
  5. Speed Waver. Pitch: "Creates a variety of waves in half the time of curling irons." Marketer: Helen of Troy. Comments: This is the $40 solution to the problem Natural Waves purports to solve. It also faces the same challenges from a pure direct-response perspective. Of course, this clearly isn't a pure response play, and I don't know enough about the model to predict success or failure. [a]
  6. Stash It Basket. Pitch: "The ingenious new slide out basket that gives you the extra kitchen space you need." Marketer: Allstar. Producer: Blue Moon Studios. Comments: Blue Moon has a knack for identifying everyday organizational problems. As I've written previously, organization in general is a tricky category for DRTV because only a small percentage of the population is passionate about it  (the Felix Ungars of the world). Most people are happily messy. But there appears to be specific types of organization everyone is into. The early indication is that organizing the two dozen or so spices we all have (see Swivel Store) is one example. Cleaning up counter clutter and/or unburdening overstuffed drawers would seem to be another likely candidate, so I wouldn't be surprised if this one does well. [a]
  7. The Rack. Pitch: "The fitness breakthrough that transforms into three body-sculpting positions." Comments: This one seems to meet all the criteria for the relatively new short-form men's fitness category that products such as Ontel's Iron Gym and Tower 200 tapped into. At 30 pounds, though, the shipping costs must be horrible! No wonder the full price is $150. (Also, am I the only one who thinks this product was inspired by some musclehead's grandmother's walker?) [a]
  8. Tush Turner. Pitch: "The swiveling seat cushion that makes getting in and out of any car easier." Marketer: Telebrands. Producer: Blue Moon Studios. Comments: Up until about the halfway point of this commercial, this campaign registered as "likely to fail." This type of solution has been tried at least twice before, and I'm closely familiar with the dismal results. I thought the addition of memory foam was an inspired idea but not enough to turn a loser into a winner. Then the creative mentioned using this swiveling cushion on chairs at home, and suddenly the product doubled its appeal. Nicely done. Of course, I still wonder about any campaign that relies solely on seniors to roll out. Experience shows you need Baby Boomers to have the "legs" for a national campaign. But perhaps the problem this solves is so universal among seniors, it won't matter. (On a side note, I'm surprised to see Bernie M. in a commercial. I didn't know the prisons allowed for this sort of work-release program! More to the point, I'm not sure he's the right choice for a testimonial given all the negative press he has received.) [a]

It's Not All Good Press

Not all of the press AJ gets is good. To be fair, I am including this link to a recent NY Post article.

Two observations. First, the reporters' issue is not with AJ or Telebrands, but with a DRTV technique that has been around for decades. AJ is just taking the hit for the industry as a result of his high profile and the newsworthiness of the product.

Second, what some hourly customer service rep at a call center says is poor evidence of anything -- as anyone who has listened to their recorded calls can attest.