May 27, 2011

Review: Furniture Fix

Description: Panels used to fix old cushions
Main Pitch: "The quick fix for old sagging sofas"
Main Offer: $14.99 for one set (6 panels)
Bonus: 2nd set (just pay P&H), 4 furniture movers and Couch Pouch
Marketer: Hampton Direct
Producer: Concepts TV
Prediction: N/A

Not sure why I didn't review this sooner (it was in my folder), but now it seems it's too late to make a prediction. Last week, it was No. 5 on the Jordan Whitney report and No. 20 on the IMS report. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bona-fide winner (it's too soon for a True Top 50 check), but it's enough to make a prediction on my part unfair.

That said, I remember my thoughts when I first saw the commercial, and I am very familiar with the product. I like both a lot. The commercial is well conceived, and I love the "1,000 pounds of sumo" magic demo. Clever! I also think the product solves a real problem, and it has a solid track record in catalogs. In other words, it won't surprise me if the campaign ultimately does well.

Review: Nail Perfect

Description: A manicure station
Main Pitch: "Salon-perfect nails every time"
Main Offer: $9.99 for a complete set with polish chair
Bonus: 2nd set with polish chair
Marketer: Smart Inventions
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

I don't pretend to know what women will find appealing when it comes to items that don't solve a clear problem, like this one. It's one reason why I rely heavily on basic market research and preach its merits to my clients. So my only thought here is that if this does appeal to women, it will appeal to younger women -- and that's a problem.

Tweens? Can't get them to buy DR. Ask any toy company that has tried. Teens? There has only been one successful campaign on DRTV in recent years: Allstar's Bumpits. College age women, young moms ... I've only seen pockets of response, rarely enough to make a DRTV campaign workable. (By all means, post a comment if you can cite examples to contrary.)

Bottom line: This business is all about odds, and having a successful campaign when young women are your target is not playing those odds smartly.

Review: Tidy Tower

Description: A hanging rack
Main Pitch: "The instant storage rack that fits in any room"
Main Offer: $29.95 for one with two hooks
Bonus: 2nd one with hooks (just pay P&H)
Marketer: Allstar
Producer: Cole Media
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

The primary positioning for this product is laundry hanging/drying, and such items have a poor track record on DRTV. Allstar tried and failed in 2010 with Handy Dryer. Sully and Telebrands tried and failed in 2007 with the Pop-Up Hanger. And Hamilton Beach tried and failed later that same year with the overpriced Quick Dry. Speaking of price, this product's price will also hurt response.

For those who would argue this is more of a closet-expansion solution: Well, those items have a bad history as well. I have personally failed with at least two such solutions in my career. All in all, this may be another one of those categories that does well on live shopping but doesn't translate to DRTV. I guess we'll see.

Review: Spider Mat

Description: A sticky dashboard mat
Main Pitch: "Conforms and sticks to any surface"
Main Offer: $14.99 for two
Bonus: Two more (just pay processing)
Starring: Anthony Sullivan
Marketer: Telebrands
Producer: Sullivan Productions
Prediction: On the Fence

Past history indicates this product shouldn't work on DRTV. The late, great Billy Mays did the Max Grip Dash Tray (No. 2) in 2009, and it didn't roll out. But who knows how close it was or why it ultimately didn't succeed? Maybe there were problems other than response that Telebrands has now solved. If so, I think this one has a decent shot. The spot is well done, the product solves a problem and there are some cool demos. Kudos to the Sullivan team for their creativity. I like the "centrifugal force" demo a lot (but not the British pronunciation of the word).

The only other thing that bothers me here is the positioning of the product. I like that the marketing team tried to make this more interesting than just a piece of black silicone, but to me the Spiderman theme makes the product for young males. Since DRTV buyers are still predominantly older and female, that might be a liability.

May 26, 2011

Weekly Round-Up

There's a lot of testing going on these days. Here are eight new reviews to keep you up to speed:

  1. AeroSling. Pitch: "The gym in a bag." Comments: This "suspension training" contraption seems uninspiring compared to Randy Couture's Tower 200. Plus, the commercial I saw online is quite amateurish. [a]
  2. Cat's Meow. Marketer: Allstar. Producer: Concepts TV. Pitch: "The fun new grooming corner that actually brushes your cat's coat while she plays." Comments: I like this product a lot. Could be a nice sequel to Emery Cat, especially since the products complement each other. [a]
  3. Clean Cut. Pitch: The "touchless paper towel dispenser." Comments: This is an overpriced solution in search of a problem. At $139.95 for one, only a rich germaphobe would buy it. [a]
  4. Fabtastik. Pitch: "The revolutionary fabric adhesive that creates an instant mend." Comments: What do you get when you cross Mighty Mendit with Style Snaps? A campaign that is highly unlikely to succeed. [a]
  5. iRays. Pitch: "Reading glasses that ... transform your vision with light." Comments: A beautiful (no doubt expensive) commercial for a classic "Siren" product. I can't think of a single DR marketer who hasn't pursued this concept at some point. All have failed or failed to go forward for one reason or another. [a]
  6. Luv A Dub. Marketer: Allstar. Producer: Hutton-Miller. Pitch: "A back scratcher and washer [for dogs] all in one." Comments: Added this one late, so I'm just posting for posterity. (It didn't work.) [a]
  7. Magnetize It. Pitch: "Goes on anything and everywhere without leaving holes or marks." Comments: What do you get when you cross Style Snaps with the Bedazzler? That's right: Same answer as before. [a]
  8. Pyramid Pan. Marketer: Allstar. Pitch: "Food cooks evenly on both sides without turning." Comments: Silicone products have had mixed results on DRTV. However, this one has a classic benefit (fat drips away) and a new benefit (no turning), so I think it has a pretty good shot at working. [a]

May 25, 2011

Dueling Slushy Makers

Review: Easy Freezy

Description: A slushy maker
Main Pitch: "Turn any drink into a frozen treat"
Main Offer: $10.99 for two
Bonus: Two more plus recipe guide (just pay processing)
Marketer: Telebrands
Prediction: On the Fence

Yesterday, I reviewed Ontel's Slushy Magic. Today, I was alerted to the fact that Telebrands is testing this similar item (HT: Lana R.) in a Khubani vs. Khubani showdown. Comparing the two, I give the edge to the Ontel campaign for two reasons.

First, I think the Slushy Magic commercial is correctly positioned toward kids only. This commercial tries to have it both ways, but the argument for an adult buying this item to make coffee drinks is weak. Plus, the name and the jingle at the end clearly make this product for kids only, so the time spent selling adults is ultimately wasted time. This is not to mention that when it comes to making commercials that appeal to kids, no one does it better than the Hutton-Miller team. Advantage Ontel.

Second, the design of Slushy Magic seems superior to the design of this  product, which sacrifices mug capacity for a chilling core that also keeps the slushy cold. That's a nice feature and a good selling point to be sure, but I think the perception will be that the mug can't hold much liquid -- a stronger, offsetting weakness. Advantage Ontel again.

On the other hand, this offer is much stronger than the Slushy Magic offer (and $2 cheaper!) -- advantage Telebrands -- and the commercial is pretty solid otherwise, so anything is possible.

May 24, 2011

Review: Slushy Magic

Description: A slushy maker
Main Pitch: "Transform any drink into a frosty, cool slushy ... [with] no ice, no blender, no mess."
Main Offer: $19.99 for one with spoon straw and drink guide
Bonus: 2nd complete set
Marketer: Ontel
Producer: Hutton-Miller
Prediction: Likely to succeed

I usually refrain from giving predictions for items that are targeted toward kids because I don't have a good understanding of the criteria for such products. For instance, I know one of the key criteria for "adult" DRTV products -- solving a problem -- doesn't apply. I also know "wow factor" is much more important, possibly the No. 1 criterion. You have to get the kids to bug mom. Beyond that, I lack the experience necessary to say whether a kids' item could be a DRTV hit or not.

So why the prediction here? One reason alone: When I watched the commercial, my "inner child" wanted the product. My rational brain also told me that slushies are popular, and there is no cheap and easy way to make them at home. True, you can just go down to the local 7-11 and buy a slushy, but this product lets you make any flavor you want. You can make healthy ones, too. Come on mom, please!

On a side note, the $12.99 price point [this originally tested with] is noted as a first. Telebrands has been testing $10.99, something I also noted and am tracking with interest. I want to see if another bit of common DRTV knowledge -- that people only respond to $5 price breaks -- will be disproved by these tests.

Finally, on another side note: I love the kiddie twist on a classic DRTV line in this commercial. The secret is ... "snowflake science." How clever!

Review: Joy Readers

Description: A set of reading glasses
Main Pitch: "An entire collection of quality designer reading glasses that are perfect for everyone"
Main Offer: $29.99 for four pairs with soft cases
Bonus: Hard case, sunglass readers
Starring: Joy Mangano
Marketer: Telebrands
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

This is a good test of an interesting question: Is value alone enough to make a DRTV campaign work? Conventional wisdom says you need more than just a great deal: You need an innovation or a "twist." After all, "unique" is one of my key Divine Seven criteria, and "different" is one of my top SciMark Seven criteria, for a reason.

It seems Telebrands is banking on Joy's brand to be their twist, but I don't think it will be enough. That they are also trying to get $10 more than average for a base offer will also work against them. It's a great experiment, and I applaud them for giving it a shot, but unfortunately I think this experiment will fail.

Review: Presto Plunger

Description: A self-cleaning plunger
Main Pitch: "Leaves the dirt and germs behind, dry and clean, every time"
Main Offer: $14.95 for one
Bonus: 2nd one (just pay P&H)
Starring: Adam Jay
Marketer: Allstar
Producer: Jordan Direct
Prediction: On the Fence

Plungers fail most of my criteria for DRTV products, but this one has the one thing that has been shown to trump my criteria: "wow factor." The demos are truly amazing, and that might be enough to motivate a purchase.

May 21, 2011

Thoughts on 'Infomercial Nation'

Note: This post has been updated to fix an unintentional inacurracy. See correction below.

Here are my thoughts on Friday's 20/20 special "Infomercial Nation" ...

Overall, it was pretty fair. They treated Suzanne Somers fairly. Jennifer Nicole Lee, too. She should have given better answers, and the marketer shouldn't have allowed those claims to be in her show. Too many are lazy when it comes to these things. There's a fine line between puffery and deception, and many DR marketers need to develop a better feel for where that line resides. The best people in the business have developed that feel and, subsequently, they don't get caught making these obvious mistakes. ABC had nothing on Guthy-Renker for a reason, to cite just one example.

The Photoshop stuff is a more serious allegation the industry will take seriously -- so ABC should have been more balanced there. We have the ERSP, and the vast majority of DR marketers today would never condone or participate in such practices. Not sure if ABC spoke to the ERA, but they should have. That's just bad reporting.
[CORRECTION: Speaking of bad reporting, several people wrote me to say Peter Marinello from ERSP was included in the report. Turns out I missed it. Oops!]

The stuff about product performance was also mostly fair. 20/20 actually led with products that passed their testing, and praised them for it. That surprised me. But I still have mixed feelings about Consumer Reports being involved. It seems to me that most consumer products would fail their rigorous testing procedures, and that doesn't mean the products are rip-offs or that they don't provide buyers with real value. The Magic Bullet is a great product that many people I know love. I've never heard anyone complain because it takes 20 seconds instead of 10 seconds to make a blended treat. They were reaching on that one.

It's also amusing to me that the special ended with a CTA for the latest issue of Consumer Reports, esentially making the "report" an infomercial of sorts for the magazine. I wonder if they will calculate their ROI ...

Lastly, I have to admit to feeling a bit vindicated by the segments on Belly Burner and iRenew. I had to eat a little crow when the former product made my True Top 50, and I took some heat for my "don't spend the money" comment on the latter product. But in both cases my chief concern was the claims being made. I knew that even if they could be defended, the media and the goverment would be all over them. It turns out I was right -- although I take no pleasure in that.

My personal view is caveat emptor. There are many products (from industries the media doesn't sensationalize) that would fail real scientific testing. Plus, consumers aren't stupid. They know a bracelet that increases strength and balance and a belt that gives you ripped abs without exercise are long shots. If they decide to risk a little bit of their money on those unlikely dreams, that's on them. More is wasted on less every day.

For ratings, ABC would like its viewers to believe we DR practitioners are mentalists, scam artists or worse who use our clever tricks to dupe the weak-minded people of lower-class America into buying our products. But it's just not true. I'll bet more than a few executives at ABC wear energy bracelets to the golf course or go home to their Ab Circles with the belief they can get a body like Ms. Lee in just a few minutes per day.

May 20, 2011

Only 7% Buy Off TV

In advance of tonight's 20/20 special "Infomercial Nation" (which will have aired by the time many of you read this), ABC has released a Langer Research Associates study of infomercial buying habits. Lots of interesting information, but here is one factoid that caught my attention: "Just 7 percent of Americans report buying from infomercials very or somewhat often."

When I started in the business, I often heard that "only 10 percent of people will buy off TV." The stat was used in sales to support the argument that DRTV creates huge pent-up demand at retail, where the 90 percent prefer to buy. At first, I wondered why the number was so low. After I'd been in the business a while, I wondered why it was so high.

Joking aside, after a few years I began to wonder if some of the more egregious industry practices combined with the proliferation of the Internet and better retail merchandising of DRTV items had negatively impacted the 10 percent number. So one year, I did some basic calculations using DMA data I had come across and the most recent Census Bureau population statistics I could find. The result: I discovered a little less than 9 percent were buying off TV at that time.

That was several years ago now and, although the comparison certainly isn't scientific, I think the Langer research is a good estimate of where we are today. In other words, that origial 10 percent figure from the "Golden Age" of DRTV is now down to 7 percent -- and most likely shrinking. It's easy to come up with reasons why, many of which are beyond our control. What's more interesting to me is what this says about the people who persist in buying off TV. There is truth in my jest. Why is the percentage still relatively high? What kind of people would endure multiple upsells, high S&H charges and the other travails of ordering direct and still buy from DRTV "very or somewhat often"?

I have my theories and 20/20 will certainly have theirs, but I'm curious to hear what people in the industry think. Use the Comments area or email me your thoughts, and I will blog about it at a later date.

May 19, 2011

On DRTV Product Names

In his latest quarterly newsletter, naming expert (and my former colleague) Steve Rivkin interviews Marshal Cohen, author of Buy Me!.

"It seems the vast majority of (DRTV) names ... are either highly descriptive (Swivel Sweeper, Shoes Under, One Second Needle); or benefit-driven (Hercules Hook, Windshield Wonder, Smooth Away)," Rivkin asks. "Are there specific pros or cons to either approach?"

Cohen replies:

When you can sell with the name it is a good name. In today’s competitive world of products as well as information overload, it takes a lot of advertising to make a name easy to remember. Or a name that tells it like it is.

Shake Weight, whether it works or not, it sure is easy to remember. Just the name alone lets you figure out how simple the product is to use and to get your arms toned like an Olympic weightlifter. If you can tell the consumer, in a believable way what your product does, just in its name, it is a meaningful name. By general rule of thumb, a strong name is a name that helps market the product.

The complete interview is here.

May 12, 2011

Review: Neck Right

Description: An inflatable neck pillow
Main Pitch: "As comfortable as a pillow and soothing as a massage"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one
Bonus: 2nd one (just pay processing), surprise gift
Marketer: Telebrands
Producer: Blue Moon
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

If only this came out in time for David Carradine to buy one. He might still be alive today ...

Moving on, I'm going to have a take a stand here and say "social risk" will prevent this one from being a success. Yes, it's true: Fitness IQ's Shake Weight and (as I was reminded at Response Expo) SAS Group/Hutton-Miller's Neckline Slimmer both overcame the same challenge. In the former case, I'd argue it even worked to their advantage. But this one is different to my mind, and it presents a "physical risk" as well. (The "ask your doctor" stuff doesn't help with that perception.)

I mean, a pressure cuff for your neck? We all know how those things can squeeze. Maybe Mr. Carradine wouldn't have been safe after all!

May 09, 2011

Shelf Master: Old Gold?

Current/Original Marketer: Telebrands
Original Hit Year: 1999 (No. 13 on the JW Annual)
Prediction: N/A

Note: Thanks to George S., this post has been updated to include missing information.

The site is already down, so no need for a prediction. I couldn't even find a good image online to use for this posting, so I had to use a photo of the original packaging. In fact, the only reason I'm writing about the product is for future research.

For the record, this is the third failed attempt at marketing a shelf solution I've noted in recent years. IdeaVillage/Sullivan tried a shelf with a built-in level called Perfect Shelf in 2009. Several years before that (2002), Telebrands tested a lighted corner shelf called Bright Shelf (HT: George S.). In any case, it seems corner shelves are another relic of DRTV's "Golden Age" that can't be brought back.

May 06, 2011

In The News

Just got back from Response Expo in San Diego where my buddy Dean (shown above) just made the front page of the North County Times business section.

Here's the core of the article:

Some industry insiders have ... labeled the area [of North San Diego County and Southwest Riverside] as "Infomercial Alley," referring to a 35-mile long corridor that stretches from Carlsbad and Oceanside on the coast to San Marcos and Temecula on the inland side.

An estimated dozen or so companies are situated along the corridor and may generate more than $1 billion in annual revenue, according to estimates provided by many of the businesses. These firms range from developers of specific products ---- like the Pillow Pets ---- to warehouse distributors and media producers of the commercials ...

Several insiders interviewed couldn't cite specific reasons why these infomercial-related companies are here, but most say that it may relate to the balmy weather, and the trove of advertising and marketing experts living here as well.

It may also be related to the desire to live elsewhere instead of less-tony infomercial meccas established in Florida and New Jersey ----- considered by many to be the birthplace of the industry ---- or Riverside County's sweltering Coachella Valley, where leaders Guthy-Renker LLC and Thane International Inc. are based.

"Infomercial Alley"? I'm not sure about all that, but San Diego certainly is beautiful -- and I can see why DR professionals would prefer it to the Fairfield, NJ area (where I once lived and worked).

Anyway, congrats Dean.

SciMark Report from May Response

My latest column is now live on the Response magazine Website. Reviews include: PumMagic, Jack Rack and Chest Magic [a].