August 27, 2007

New This Week: Invisi-Lifts, Invisible Shield, Insta Bag and more

Here’s a quick update on the latest DRTV commercials to air:

1. INVISI-LIFTS ($19.99) are transparent adhesive strips that provide an “instant breast lift.” The offer includes 10 strips and 10 nipple covers – then they double the offer to 20 and 20. The bonus is a three-pack of sunless tanning cloths.
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7 (What’s “D7”?)
Comments: This is a mass-market product that solves a common problem for women, two important strengths when considering a product for DRTV. However, this product also has several weaknesses that will make it a tough sell. One is the value: $20 for a set of adhesive strips is pretty steep. This offer has a perceived value of $10 tops. Another issue is credibility: Will it stay stuck? is the big question that will generate doubt in women’s minds and kill the sale.

2. INVISIBLE SHIELD ($29.95) is a clear protective cover that goes over iPods, PDAs and other electronic devices. The slogan: “Scratch proof your digital life!” The offer includes a lifetime guarantee. The bonuses are a microfiber carrying case and a dashboard stick pad.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7 (What’s “D7”?)
Comments: This product has a lot going for it: It’s unique, appeals to a large market and solves a problem. The stakes are high when you spend $300 on a device, and a little extra insurance isn’t a bad idea. However, this product is not right for DRTV for one major reason: The target demographic. DRTV buyers are typically 50+. Heavy iPod, PDA and electronic device users, well, aren’t. In addition, the price is $10 too high for the value-conscious DRTV buyer.

3. INSTA BAG ($14.99) is a luggage-style folding bag with wheels. The main claim: “It goes from tiny (pocketbook size) t0 huge (24x12) in seconds” and can “hold over 30 lbs.” The bonus is the ThermoBag, which is a soft cooler for drinks.
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7 (What’s “D7”?)
Comments: This product only has one weakness. Otherwise, it meets all the criteria for a successful DRTV item. Unfortunately, that weakness is a significant one: It doesn’t solve a common/frequent enough problem. This is one of those products that seems great until you try to imagine when and why someone would use it. The usage occasions just aren’t strong enough.

4. SMART MONEY CLIP ($19.95) is a metal money clip with a credit card holder on the back. The bonus is the Smart Pocket, a pocket that clips onto your belt.
Product (D7) Score: 3 out of 7 (What’s “D7”?)
Comments: This product is easy to understand, appeals to older people and is credible. It is not, however, a DRTV product. Two big problems are its uniqueness (money clips are everywhere) and its perceived value (they cost about half the price).

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 8/24/07,” IMS

August 24, 2007

New Items: Epil-X, Fix It!, Open Smart and more

Only one review this week, but (drum roll, please) … We have a winner!

For the first time since I started my new system of evaluation, I’ve come across a product and commercial that meets nearly every one of my criteria (see #1 below). It’s quite an impressive feat, and I predict the item is going to be one of this year’s big DRTV hits!

1. EPIL-X ($29.95) is a hair inhibitor cream. Women rub it on and it keeps their legs, lips, arms, underarms and bikini lines smooth and hair-free for up to four weeks. It’s also enriched with Vitamins E and C. The main claim: It “penetrates deep down to the hair follicle and inhibits the roots ability to re-grow.” The bonus is an instant hair remover cream. This is a Monte-Brooks production.
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7 (What’s “D7”?)
Strengths: There are a lot of them! This is a unique product that’s easy to understand and solves a major problem for women of all ages. I’m also going to write that it’s credible, even though I was on the fence about that. In my opinion, the commercial works hard enough to overcome this potential barrier.
Weaknesses: The only problem I can see: It’s $10 above impulse pricing. If this hurts the campaign, they’d be foolish not to drop the price to $19.99.
Commercial (T&T) Score: 9 out of 10 (What’s “T&T”?)
Comments: Almost a perfect score! This commercial has a solid problem opening; loads of credibility with its references to clinical trials and testimonials, including one from an aesthetician; great demos, including an ugly-but-powerful magic demo of the bonus being used on a man’s leg; a great side-by-side comparison scene; a nice animation that clearly explains how the product works; and so on. The offer is a little weak, but only because of the price point: The bonus makes sense and meets all the criteria. In fact, the only reason I couldn’t give this spot a 10 out of 10 is because there’s no value comparison.

2. SIMONIZ FIX IT! ($19.95) is a scratch removal kit for cars. The main claim: “Restore(s) the paint to its original shine ... any car, any color.” The offer includes a bottle of the formula, a battery-powered buffer with multiple heads and a microfiber towel. The bonuses are a bottle of Fix It! Home Formula and the Simoniz Turbo Vac for cars (just pay S&H). This is a Billy Mays commercial.
Quick Comment: I didn’t give this one a full review since I just did a scratch remover last week (see my review of Quixx). But I will mention that the offer for this product is much bigger than the offer for Quixx, and some of the demos are better as well. That said, I think this is a tough sell for the same reasons I mentioned in the Quixx posting.

3. OPEN SMART ($19.95) is a set of tools for opening packages and cans. There are four tools: One for opening clamshell packages, one for sealed bags (e.g. bags of chips), one for CDs and DVDs, and one for soda cans. The bonus is a fifth tool for opening ring-pull cans (e.g. cat food cans). It’s curved so you can pop the tab and peel off the lid in one motion.
Quick Comment: This commercial impressed me because the producer managed to explain five products clearly in a two-minute spot. As for the products, I just don’t think the value is there. Yes, these tools solve a problem, but the pain doesn’t seem great enough to create a strong impulse to buy.

4. LICE XTRACTOR ($29.95) is a vacuum-combing device for removing head lice. The offer includes six filters and six combs.
Quick Comment: Head lice is a problem that very few people have (thankfully). They try to say you should buy it to be prepared, but we know prevention doesn't sell. And the price of this product is too high for DRTV. Sorry, guys, but this one doesn’t have a prayer!

5. CELL STATION ($19.95) is a way to stick your cell phone to your dashboard for hands-free use. It’s essentially a strong magnet that grabs and holds a magnetic strip you stick on the back of your cell phone. The offer is buy one, get one free. The bonus is free shipping.
Quick Comment: This isn’t a bad idea for an impulse item. What hurts it is the perceived value. I can see people picking this up at checkout for $5, but I can’t see them calling to order it for $20 (even with a BOGO offer). Also, many people are reluctant to stick something to the back of their phone, an important barrier to purchase.

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 8/17/07,” IMS

August 22, 2007

Banner Blindness: See For Yourself!

Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen just posted a fascinating new article about the latest empirical evidence for “banner blindness.” What’s that, you ask? It’s the tendency of people surfing the Web to unconsciously ignore anything that looks like an advertisement.

Nielsen’s proof is a fascinating new eye-tracking study he just completed. Such studies have people wear a device called an “eye tracker” and perform a common series of tasks, such as surfing the Web. The tracker then registers where a person’s eye focuses, and for how long.

One neat result of these studies is something called a “heatmap,” which uses temperature colors to depict where a person focused on a particular page. On Nielsen’s heatmaps, for instance:

  • Red represents “where users looked the most”
  • Yellow (getting cooler) “indicate[s] fewer views”
  • Blue (cold) represents “the least-viewed … areas”
  • Gray is “areas [that] didn't attract any fixations”

Guess what color banner ads were? That’s right: gray. To see the actual heatmaps, click through to the article and scroll down.

What does this mean for direct-response marketers? It should mean very little. That’s because anyone who tracks his or her marketing ROI should already know that banner ads – except at very cheap CPMs with plenty of make-goods – don't pay. The DR marketer's cost-per-order (CPO) metric alone can tell you many things that other marketers need fancy eye-tracking studies to accept.

Still, such studies are a helpful way to combat the persistent tendency of companies to drift away from scientifc marketing techniques toward unmeasurable schemes fiercely supported with logical-sounding arguments. Argument such as, “Well, even if our direct sales are terrible, we’re still generating awareness and that has to be paying off at retail.”

Kudos to Nielsen for helping to show that this is just what direct marketers have always suspected it was: wishful thinking.

August 20, 2007

90 Days Later: Ab Rocket, The One Touch Jar Opener and more

I wrote about four new items for the week ending May 25, one of which I predicted was going to be a hit. The items were:

  1. ROLL-A-QUE (, an aluminum cylinder for cooking hamburgers on the grill "rotisserie" style. I gave four reasons why I didn’t think it would succeed, among them it’s higher price ($29.95) and lack of visual proof that it works. Today, it does not appear on either list.
  2. ODOR XIT MAGIC (, an odor-eliminating spray that works on the toughest odors imaginable. I thought the item faced a crowded category, but I loved the creative demos that also doubled as testimonials. Today, it does not appear on either list.
  3. AB ROCKET (, a spring-assisted ab rocker that provides resistance on the way down and assistance on the way up. I thought it was wrong for short-form, but could be the next ab item in long form. Today, it does not appear on either list.
  4. ONE TOUCH JAR OPENER, an automatic jar opener that looks and works like the One Touch Can Opener. I predicted it would be a hit! I wrote: “This product gets high marks in every category. The only weakness I can see, which was shared by the item's predecessor (and didn't seem to matter), is credibility. People may find it hard to believe something small and battery-powered can open tough jars.” Today, it just surfaced at #60 on the Jordan Whitney, but does not appear on the IMS list.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the One Touch Jar Opener to see what happens. If it climbs the JW list and appears on the IMS list, I’ll have correctly predicted my second winner (Huggable Hangers was the first).

August 17, 2007

New Items: Quixx, Multi-Stripper and that’s all!

There were a lot of repeats this week as several companies went back on the air with a new approach. Among them: Telebrands’ Stick-Up Bulb and Above All’s Forearm Forklifts.

As a result, I saw very few new commercials this week, so it’s going to be a short report!

1. QUIXX ($19.99) is a scratch remover for cars. The main claim: It’s “German engineered” for high performance, so it can “restore your finish to showroom condition.” The offer includes one tube of Quixx Repair, one tube of Quixx Finish, two polishing cloths and four strips of special sandpaper for deep scratches. The bonus is a high-performance wax that seals and protects. This is an Anthony Sullivan commercial.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7 (What’s “D7”?)
Strengths: This is a mass market product that solves a very painful problem, is priced right for DRTV and is fairly easy to explain. It also holds appeal for older people, especially since many are on fixed incomes and could use a cheap alternative to expensive body work.
Weaknesses: The two problems with this product are: 1) It’s been done before and, as a result, 2) It faces a major credibility hurdle. The following
customer review of GS27, a similar TV product from a few years back, is typical of consumer opinions of products like these: “It wasn't that expensive but totally useless. We put it on a scratch or two on our car … It did nothing except leave a white stain on the area.”
Commercial (T&T) Score: 5 out of 10 (What’s “T&T”?)
Comments: What I like most about this commercial, in addition to the solid problem opening, is that it builds credibility from the first scenes. We learn this is a product of “German engineering” that’s been “licensed by European automakers,” an excellent way of tapping into the German reputation for auto excellence. The spot also has great demos of scratches disappearing before your eyes, but sadly there’s no magic demo. With a product like this, I expected to see something amazing. For instance, what if they had borrowed a page from the “Pimp My Ride” playbook and used Quixx to transform someone’s horribly abused car? Speaking of which, there were no before-and-afters – another oversight. Additional strengths: A big offer and a great value comparison. Additional weaknesses: Nothing unique in the features and benefits section, no explanation of how the product works, no attempt to address the objection that these products don’t really work, and no satisfaction guarantee.

2. MULTI-STRIPPER ($19.95) is a electric drill attachment for stripping paint, varnish and rust. The main claim: It’s “tough enough to remove the paint but gentle enough to leave the surface clean and clear with no scratching, no scraping.” The offer includes a “fine tine” attachment for delicate work. The bonus is a pocket saw similar to the MXZ Pocket Saw.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7 (What’s “D7”?)
Strengths: This is a unique problem solver that’s priced right for DRTV, can be explained easily through demos and appeals to people of all ages.
Weaknesses: The market for people who want to strip wood on a regular basis is limited, and the product’s main claim is hard to believe (see question/objection comment below).

Commercial (T&T) Score: 7 out of 10
Comments: This commercial uses a lot of the T&T techniques. It has a great problem opening, magical demos and compelling comparisons to other, lesser methods. In fact, only a few techniques were overlooked or inadequately represented. For instance, this commercial does have a scene that begins, “The secret is …” But what follows is a weak explanation of how the product works. It’s also missing a value comparison, and an answer to an important question/objection: How is it possible for an amateur to use this without gouging the wood?

3. ZEMELEX (Free Trial) is a male enhancement formula featuring a down-to-earth spokesman with a New York Italian accent (good idea). The main claim: “Feel bigger and perform better than ever.” The offer is a 30-day free trial. The bonus is a stimulating female lubricant for her pleasure.

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 8/10/07,” IMS (1, 3); "Vol. XVI, No. 42-B, 08/10/07," Jordan Whitney (2)

August 13, 2007

90 Days Later: Two Items Correctly Predicted, But Still Some Crow to Eat!

The week ending May 18 was a light week for DRTV product launches. My email report contained just two new items. They were:

  1. REDI LITE (, a stick-up LED light that's motion sensitive. As with the TAP 'N GLOW TRI-LITE, I liked the item but predicted it wouldn’t make it because the “stick-up lighting market" was “too saturated … for this item to have a fair shot.” Today, it does not appear on either list.
  2. QUICK CONNECT, a clip-on Web cam. I thought it was a great value, but a “tough sell to the DRTV buyer, who is older and less tech savvy.” It also had a $29.95 price point, which is high for DRTV. Today, it does not appear on either list.

I’m tempted to write that my record remains intact. But a side bet with a friend and co-worker, which I recently lost, compels me to come clean!

The item is called FOREARM FORKLIFTS ( They’re straps for lifting furniture that are supposed to make things 50% lighter because they use the principle of leverage. When I wrote about the item in January, I did not share my comments or make a prediction. Privately, however, I bet that the item wouldn’t work.

My prediction was based on the fact that it had failed two of my seven product criteria. Two straps for $19.95 is not a good value in my opinion (weakness #1), and the idea that mere leverage alone can make things half as light is just not credible (weakness #2).

Ninety days later, the product was nowhere to be found on the IMS or Jordan Whitney lists. I thought the bet was won. But then a few weeks ago, the item resurfaced on one of the lists. I blew it off as an anomaly, and predicted it wouldn’t show up on both lists. Wrong again.

The next week it was on both lists. So I made excuses and predicted it wouldn’t stick around. But here it is two weeks later, and the darn thing is moving up the charts! This week, it’s #13 on the IMS list and #34 on the Jordan Whitney list.

Oh well, my streak couldn’t last forever!

August 10, 2007

New Items: Pop-Up Hanger, State Quarters Map, Push-Up Pro and more

As I explained yesterday, this week’s report is my first to feature both commercial scores based on my “Tried-and-True” (T&T) DRTV techniques and product scores based on my seven criteria for identifying hit DRTV products (aka the “Divine Seven”).

Here’s the latest …

1. POP-UP HANGER ($19.99) is a folding, portable clothes hanger for ironing and air-drying delicates. The main claim: “Holds 30 items of clothing in less than two feet.” The bonus is the Steam Quick, a handheld steamer that looks like an iron (just pay S&H). This is a Telebrands product and an Anthony Sullivan commercial.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7

Strengths: This is a product for the mass market that’s priced right for DRTV, easy to explain, holds appeal for older people and faces no credibility issues.
Weaknesses: It doesn’t solve a painful enough problem, since most people probably have a good-enough solution in their laundry room, and it doesn’t seem new/unique.
Commercial (T&T) Score: 3 out of 10
Comments: Sully does a great job of highlighting features and benefits, and of setting up solid product demos. I only watched the 60-second version of this commercial (I couldn’t find the 120 on the IMS tape or online), but even in that short time the commercial was chock full of demos. However, perhaps because of the shorter format, the commercial was missing quite a few key elements, including a problem-solution opening and a satisfaction guarantee. I also thought the offer was a little weak, and the value of the offer wasn’t proven with any kind of price comparison. To be fair, some of the other T&T techniques (e.g. testimonials and explaining how the product works) wouldn’t have made much sense for this product.

2. BRETHE (2 pay, $29.99) is an air purifier from Homedics. It uses water and natural botanicals to clean the air without harmful chemicals. The main claim: “Studies show it kills up to 99% of odor causing bacteria and safely revitalizes the air you breathe.” They also claim it “uses less electricity per day than a standard light bulb.” The offer includes three botanicals (citrus, vanilla and lime) and a guide to improving indoor air quality. The bonus is a fourth botanical (lavender).
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7
Strengths: Air purifiers are mass-market items (proven by Sharper Image) that solve a common problem and appeal to people of all ages. The all-natural botanicals angle makes the product unique.
Weaknesses: I don’t think “botanicals” are a credible method of air purification, especially after all the bad press about ions doing nothing (which eventually killed the ionic air purifier business). This product also isn’t easy to explain, which further compounds the credibility problem. And even though this is a longer-form short-form commercial (a five-minute spot), the price point is too high.
Commercial (T&T) Score: 5 out of 10
Comments: This commercial has loads of credibility with its real people testimonials as well as a lengthy testimonial from a scientist who tested the product. I guess that’s one of the luxuries of a five-minute commercial: There’s plenty of time for infomercial-style “social proof.” Where it’s weak is in the area of demos: The product just sits there and sloshes around. I’d like to see the classic “smoke chamber” demo at a minimum -- maybe even in a side-by-side with an ionic air purifier, since this commercial is also lacking in product and value comparisons. Lastly, the offer is also weak: A guide to cleaner air has little value, and adding a fourth botanical doesn’t do much to make the relatively high price point seem like a bargain.

3. RIDDEX PLUS ($29.95) is an electronic pest control device “powered by Motorola technology.” It plugs into an outlet and sends digital pulses through the wiring in the walls that are supposed to drive insects and rodents away. The main claim: “Just plug it in and your entire house can be bug free.” The offer is buy one, get one free.
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7
Strengths: This is a mass market problem solver that appeals to people of all ages and is fairly easy to explain. The price seems high at first, but the two-for-one deal brings it down to the right price for DRTV.
Weaknesses: It’s not unique (similar items have been on the market for years) and it’s lacking in credibility. It’s just hard to believe that digital pulses in your walls will effectively rid your home of pests.
Commercial (T&T) Score: 6 out of 10
Comments: This commercial opens with some truly repulsive scenes of bugs crawling on household items. In other words, it has a great problem opening. It also has fairly good testimonials, several strong value comparisons (positioning against the cost of an exterminator) and a decent offer. Its major weaknesses are no demos (nature of the product) and no proof. The obvious question/objection this commercial raises is, “How can digital pulses possibly be effective against rodents and bugs?” The commercial does not adequately tackle that issue. “Motorola technology” is mentioned several times, but it’s unclear what credibility a brand known for communications devices can lends to a pest controller.

4. LUMILIFE SYSTEM (3 pay, $29.98) is a light bulb that destroys airborne microbes. The offer includes two of these “super-nano” light bulbs, which are also supposed to use “75 percent less energy than regular bulbs.” The bonus is a “super-nano spray protectant.”

5. STATE QUARTERS MAP ($14.99) is a reintroduction of the hit DRTV product from 1999. The offer includes a guidebook and certificate of authenticity (no coins). The bonus is the American Presidents Display, a board for collecting the new presidential dollars, which also includes a guidebook and certificate of authenticity. This is an IdeaVillage product.

6. CLEAN REST (Soft Offer) is a mattress cover and pillow case that protects against toxins, allergens and dust mites. The main claim: It’s “guaranteed to keep dust mites and any other nasty creatures away from you and the ones you love.” This is a soft offer with a key-outlet marketing tag for Bed Bath & Beyond.

7. CELLUSCIENCE (Soft Offer) is a pill for fighting cellulite. The main claim: It’s “clinically proven to help reduce cellulite inside for sexier skin outside.” It’s supposedly backed by five clinical studies.

8. ZENCORE (Soft Offer) is a male enhancement tab. The main claim: It’s the “most powerful all-natural male enhancement on the market today.” No URL

9. NUTRAMIST CRAVE CONTROL ($14.99) is a liquid supplement you spray in your mouth to help you resists food cravings. It contains chromium, green tea extract and a proprietary ingredient called “Appetrol,” and comes in a strong mint flavor. The offer is buy one, get one free. The bonus is an energy spray called NutraMist Energy Shots. This is an IdeaVillage product.

10. PUSH-UP PRO ($19.99) is a competitor to the hit DRTV product Perfect Pushup. Like the original, it has handles that twist as you do pushups, maximizing the exercise. The commercial features Jack Zatorski, the guy who set the world record for pushups in 2003, and comes with his training guide as a bonus. This is an Ontel product.

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 8/3/07,” IMS (1-9); "Vol. XVI, No. 41-B, 08/3/07," Jordan Whitney (10)

August 09, 2007

New Format, New Challenge

This week’s New Items report will be my first report to feature reviews of select commercials based on my 10 “Tried-and-True” (T&T) DRTV techniques. This will be in addition to my usual product reviews, which are based on my seven criteria for identifying hit DRTV products, or what I call "the Divine Seven” (D7).

These scores represent an ongoing experiment of mine – an attempt to prove there’s a formula for DRTV success. We all have our pet theories. My goal is to validate mine, or be forced to revise them, based on real-world examples. So going forward, you will see both a Product (D7) Score and a Commercial (T&T) Score on select items. For the rest of the items (including my own projects), I’ll simply report the facts so that these archives remain complete and can be used as a resource in the future.

I’ll also continue checking the IMS and Jordan Whitney lists weekly to see what items are on the charts 90 days after launch (enough time to ensure they’re genuine hits) and reporting on what I wrote about them when they first aired. In other words, this will be a very public way of finding out whether I know what I’m talking about!

August 06, 2007

90 Days Later: Huggable Hangers, Freshini, One Touch Marinator and More

Once again, I am revisiting my DRTV predictions from 90 days ago. Counting backward, that puts us in the week ending May 11. Here’s a quick recap of what I wrote, what I predicted and how that prediction stacks up against the latest IMS and Jordan Whitney reports …

  1. TRAX SCOOTER (, a personal transport vehicle that positions itself as a competitor to the Segway. I predicted it wouldn’t make it because it was $300 and because “the Segway, a much cooler vehicle with tons of positive PR, failed.” Today, it does not appear on either list.
  2. HUGGABLE HANGERS (, velvet clothes hangers that increase closet space and prevent "shoulder bumps," pitched by HSN’s Joy Mangano.
    I wrote, “This is a proven winner on HSN. But will it translate into a short-form DRTV winner? I don't know the answer, but this is an excellent case study. If anyone can succeed, Joy can.” I added: “[T]he item gets high marks from me. The only potential weakness I see is the uniqueness of the product. It's somewhat different (thin velvet as opposed to thick wood or plastic), but nothing earth-shattering.” Today, the item is #30 on the Jordan Whitney list but does not appear on the IMS list.
  3. DR. FOOT (, a foot-repair kit consisting of a cream, a spray and a pedicure lotion. I wrote that it was unlikely to succeed because “Ontel's Miracle Foot Repair, the hit that this product is trying to copy, was a retail hit not a DRTV hit.” Today, it does not appear on either list.
  4. FRESHINI, a food-storage container with a locking lid that claims to keep things fresh up to four-times longer than a regular container. I predicted it would fail simply because several other variations of the idea had failed, and it isn’t on either list.
  5. SABRR MARK & CUT (, a measuring tape, utility knife, straight edge, compass and marker all in one. I wrote that it was too difficult to understand and that the offer was weak. Today, it isn’t on either list.
  6. BATTLE MAX (, a safer paintball product for kids. I wrote that it is a “great idea” being marketed in the “wrong channel.” Today, it isn’t on either list.
  7. ONE TOUCH MARINATOR, a manual device that uses vacuum pressure to marinate meat instantly. I thought it could work if it weren’t for “one weakness” that “could be a killer: The product is very difficult to explain.” Today, it isn’t on either list.
So far, my batting average is excellent! The one product I thought could work – Joy Mangano’s “Huggable Hangers” – appears on the JW list 90 days later. (Of course, I only consider something a verified hit if it appears on both lists and stays there, since neither the JW nor the IMS list is completely accurate.) To be fair, however, there wasn't much risk in the prediction, seeing as how Joy's hangers have been a big hit on HSN.

August 05, 2007

Tried & True DRTV Techniques

Did you know there are scientifically proven techniques for direct-response marketing? Techniques that were perfected by the wise DR marketers that came before us? Techniques that have been repeatedly shown to work through trial and error and millions of dollars spent on measured marketing?

I didn’t until about five years ago. That’s when I started buying and reading every book I could find on the topic of direct marketing (and collected quite an impressive library in the process). I went as far back as the 1920s, starting with what I call the ‘Old Masters' and eventually covering more than 100 years of direct-marketing history (read more). One result of that project: I compiled a list of 30 tried-and-true (T&T) techniques for DRTV advertising.

Of the 30 techniques, several are so critical that I believe they should be used in every DRTV commercial, without exception. I don’t believe in magic formulas, but I do believe that using these techniques can greatly increase a campaign’s odds of success.

I’ve condensed the critical ones into the following list of 10 T&T techniques:

  1. Start with a problem-solution opening. All good DRTV products solve a problem. Making that problem seem as painful as possible helps create the impulse to purchase and positions your product as the hero of the commercial. The classic line for this part of the commercial: “Oh no! Not again!”
  2. Showcase unique features and benefits. The idea that you need to explain a product's "features and benefits" is as old as advertising itself. Making those features and benefits seem as unique as possible -- i.e. differentiating the product from other potential solutions -- is what really makes the difference.
  3. Demonstrate the product repeatedly & feature a ‘magic demo’ if possible. Explaining isn't enough: DRTV buyers need to see it for themselves. That's why the most successful DRTV products are the ones that have great demos. As for the “magic demo,” my favorite example is Billy Mays putting a scoop of OxiClean in a giant tub of red iodine, giving it a swirl and turning the water clear. Now that’s magic!
  4. Explain how the product works. If people don’t understand the product, they are much less likely to buy it. Confusion is a sales killer, and DRTV buyers must be able to justify their purchase with logic. One of the more common ways to explain a product these days is an animation. The classic lead-in to this part of the commercial: “Here’s how it works …” or "The secret is ..."
  5. Prove that the product works by comparing & contrasting. A typical method of comparing is the side-by-side demo, which pits the hero product against a competitor or older method. A typical method of contrasting is before-and-after photography (often shown in a split screen).
  6. Establish credibility with testimonials and/or other third-party endorsements. The master infomercial marketers at Guthy-Renker call testimonials “social proof.” They are the experts at creating a “word of mouth” feel in a commercial format. (Watch a Proactiv commercial to see what I mean.) Scientific studies, seals of approval (e.g. Good Housekeeping) and other third-party endorsements are also highly effective at generating credibility.
  7. Raise and answer obvious questions and objections. Marketing is all about getting inside people's heads and trying to predict what they'll be thinking about when watching your commercial. Master direct marketer Joseph Sugarman said that part of this process is imagining what their objections and/or questions will be, and then addressing them the moment they pop into their heads. But he added a word of caution: Never raise an objection or question you can’t answer satisfactorily!
  8. Present a powerful offer at an incredible price. DRTV producer Fred Vanore calls this the “mooch factor.” DRTV buyers are price sensitive (read “cheap”), and they live for a great bargain. The classic way to build up the value of an offer is to include one or more bonuses. Master DRTV marketer AJ Khubani once shared four criteria with me for selecting a bonus: 1) It must be relevant to the product; 2) It must be instantly understandable; 3) It must have a high perceived value; and 4) It must be low cost (since you're giving it away). The classic lead-in to this part of the commercial: “But wait! There’s more!”
  9. Increase perceived value with a value comparison. This technique is another DRTV cliché. But going back to #8, it’s critical to show DRTV buyers how much money you’re going to save them. A great way to do that is to call their attention to the priciest alternative possible. The classic lead-in to this part of the commercial: “You could pay $100 dollars …”
  10. Minimize risk with a satisfaction guarantee. At a minimum, there should be a money-back guarantee. However, money-back guarantees are so commonplace these days that people tend to ignore them. That’s why Sugarman advocated an “over-the-top guarantee.” He believed the guarantee should be so good, your customers would wonder how you stayed in business.

Each week, I post a “New Items” report that covers the latest DRTV products to air. In the past, I’ve only rated the products themselves. But going forward, I will select and review a few commercials as well, using the 10 criteria above.

The result – my “T&T Score” – will be a good validation of these techniques on an ongoing basis. Together, we can learn just how many commercials that follow the "teachings of the masters" succeed in today's environment.

August 03, 2007

New Items: Magic Bullet, Power Shower Spa, Caulk Doctor and more

The DRTV product launches seem to be slowing down at last! After weeks of seeing more new commercials than I could write about, last week was slim pickings by comparison. In any event, here’s my report on the latest DRTV spots to air.

1. MAGIC BULLET (3 pay, $19.99) is the hit infomercial product in short-form with a new bonus offer. The base offer is still the original 17-piece set that includes four party mugs. The new bonuses are the Bullet Blender, a full- size blender container with “the same power and capacity as [a] $100 blender,” and an extractor kit that makes the Bullet Blender into the Bullet Juicer, which “works just as easily as [a] $200 juicer.”
D7 Score: 4 out of 7 (What's "D7"?)
Strengths: The Magic Bullet is a mass market problem solver that is fairly easy to explain and appeals to adults of all ages. It has proven itself in the marketplace and has enjoyed a long and successful run on DRTV. It truly is one of the biggest hits in industry history.
Weaknesses: The price of that success is that it’s no longer unique. So to help fix that, they’ve added some new bonuses to the original offer. The problem is that in doing so, they’ve created a credibility problem. After doing such a good job over the years of convincing people that “smaller is better” when it comes to blenders, it’s a contradiction to turn the product into something the size of a typical, bulky blender. Additionally this is also a long-form item, which means it's expensive for short-form DRTV.

2. SCUNCI SCARF BAND ($19.99) is a combination headband and scarf. You feed the scarf through the headband to get different designs. The main claim: “With the Scunci Scarf Band, anyone can get the hottest celebrity looks.” The offer includes two headbands and three scarves you can mix and match. The bonuses are a studded headband and another scarf.
D7 SCORE: 3 out of 7
Strengths: This product is unique, mass market and easily explained.
Weaknesses: It doesn't solve a problem per se, it’s not priced favorably compared with other headbands, and it isn’t likely to appeal to older people -- the core demographic for DRTV. Also, the idea that scarf headbands are a celebrity trend (the theme of the commercial) lacks credibility in my opinion. However, this product makes a lot of sense as an addition to Scunci’s retail line. So if the DRTV advertising is being used in support of retail, I applaud the decision. Scunci has puts its brand on several unrelated products (e.g. clothes steamers), so it’s good to see them returning to their roots.

3. MESUNIQUE (Free Trial) is a cellulite cream. The main claim: It’s “specifically formulated to target problem areas” so “you can achieve your desired results outside the doctor’s office.”
This DRTV product would be a big hit – if it could be rolled out. I recently reviewed the FTC’s red flags for weight loss claims, and this commercial pops at least two of them. I predict that, on the advice of counsel, the company will withdraw this commercial before it gets very far. (For more information on FTC red flags and for a good laugh, check out the Fat Foe Web site. Then, send the link to your industry friends and pretend it’s a real product you want to market. See how many fall for the trick!)

4. POWER SHOWER SPA (2 pay, $19.95) is a handheld shower head with spinning brush attachments. The main claim: “Replaces your shower head for a luxurious spa experience.” The shower head has three settings: Intense Power Spray, Sensuous Gentle Spray and AccuPressure Pulsating Spray. The base offer includes three attachments: the Silky Head (loofah), the Massaging Sponge Head and the Body Buffer (scrubbing head). The first bonus is two additional attachments: the Deep Tissue Cleansing Brush and the Dermabrasion Head, just pay S&H. The second bonus is a soap dispenser, just pay S&H.
D7 SCORE: 4 out of 7
Strengths: This item is a credible problem solver that's fairly easy to explain for something with so many features. It also holds a lot of appeal for an aging population. We know this because this item is a knockoff of IdeaVillage’s hit DRTV product Spin Spa (which is shown and disparaged in this commercial).
Weaknesses: It’s late to the party, so its first major weakness is that it isn’t unique. Spin Spa has been on TV for years and is everywhere at retail. This is the wrong time to try to steal customers with a similar offering. It's also twice the price of Spin Spa, which is also twice the price DRTV buyers are usually willing to pay. Most important, it isn’t a mass market item. It’s a handheld shower product in a U.S. market dominated by fixed-head showers. Handheld showers are popular in Europe, but not here. (Full disclosure: As my bio says, I head up marketing for IdeaVillage and was heavily involved in the Spin Spa success story.)

5. CAULK DOCTOR ($14.99) is a kit for replacing old caulk. The main claim: “Makes it easy for anyone to remove old, worn-out caulk … and replace it perfectly in just minutes.” The offer includes a tool for removing the old caulk, a tool for applying the new caulk and a tube of special caulk that fights mold and mildew (under the DAP brand). The bonus is a (white) grout marker pen for fixing discolored grout. This is a Blue Moon commercial.
D7 SCORE: 5 out of 7
Strengths: This product is a unique problem solver that could appeal to older consumers, can be easily explained and feels very credible. It will no doubt attract a certain segment of the DIY market.
Weaknesses: That segment of the DIY market isn't the mass market. I also think the plastic tools in the kit have a low perceived value, so despite the $14.99 price point it doesn’t seem to be priced right. To me, the reverse of this offer makes more sense. At retail, DAP should give away these tools in a premium package of its special caulk.

Sources: “New Spots for Week Ending 7/27/07,” IMS (1-3); "Vol. XVI, No. 40-B, 07/27/07," Jordan Whitney (4-5)