March 16, 2009

Review: What Odor?

Description: All-natural spray that eliminates odors
Main Pitch: "Unlike other products that only mask the smell, [it] completely eliminates it forever"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one 16-oz bottle and one 6-oz travel bottle
Bonus: Second set of bottles FREE, company will also plant a tree
Starring: Billy Mays
Marketer: For The Earth Corp.
Producer: Unknown

Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7
Commercial Rating: OK

Odor eliminators are a tough category for DRTV. I can't think of a single one that's done well. My favorite was Odor Xit. It tested in August 2007 and then went nowhere. The reason can be summarized in one word: "Febreeze." Online at, a 9.7 oz can of Febreeze is $3.29. But what's more important is the millions of dollars in marketing muscle Procter & Gamble has put behind the name on that can. Can an unknown brand hope to compete?

This is a good example of a classic dilemma I often encounter in the conference rooms of DRTV companies. The conversation usually goes something like this ...

Me: "Cool product, but is it unique enough? This is a very crowded category."

Client: "Exactly. It's crowded because of high consumer demand! This type of item is a proven winner!"

Me: "Yes, but you're fifth to market with a me-too product. And the other guys have pretty big ad budgets. What makes you think you'll be able to make a dent?"

Client: "No other product has [xyz feature]. Check out what this can do!"

Me: "That's cool, but is it unique enough?"

If this conversation sounds circular, that's because it is. And there isn't necessarily a right answer. Sometimes a DRTV product can enter a crowded category and become the No. 1 product. It's not common, but it happens (see Oxi Clean). Still, I don't like the odds in these scenarios. I've seen far too many "crowded-category items" fail.

This particular one also faces other challenges. One is the difficulty of proving odor elimination on TV. The reason I liked Odor Xit was because the commercial featured live demonstrations with real people. They'd wear a blindfold and have to sniff a plate of fish that had been sprayed with the product. They'd smell nothing, of course, and then the camera would capture their natural surprise when they removed the blindfold and saw what they had sniffed. That's the only way to go about it. This commercial uses that "green fog" animation I see far too often, and it kills the credibility.

Then there's the "magic demo." It's a stunt worthy of the MTV show Jackass. Billy Mays stand at the business end of a live skunk, clutching his bottle of spray. Will he actually let the skunk spray him in the face? There are only two possibilities, and both of them present a big problem. One, the skunk won't really spray Billy and the demo will be an obvious fraud, completing killing the credibility of the scene. Two, Billy will take a face full of skunk juice and forever damage his reputation as a serious professional. (To find out what happens, click the "Watch the Spot" icon above.) 

Neither scenario makes any sense to me. I applaud the creativity of the person who thought up the demo, but having Billy perform it was a bad idea. Better to hire Steve-O and the wildboyz and have Billy come in afterward for the smell elimination demo. Or maybe not. Maybe this is a good idea for a viral YouTube video, but not for a DRTV commercial.

Last but not least, there's the odd "we'll plant a tree" close to the commercial. I've written extensively about the shortcomings of "green" products for DRTV, so I won't rehash those comments here. I'll just add the following: If you're going to do it, do it right. This seemed like an afterthought, which is unexpected coming from a company called "For the Earth Corp."

March 13, 2009

Review: Dishworx

Description: Water-powered scrub brush for dishes
Main Pitch: "Soap, scrub and rinse with one powerful tool"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one
Bonus: Free heavy-duty scrubbing head, extension wand (just pay P&H)
Marketer: Ontel
Producer: Adcomm
Product (D7) Score: 7 out of 7!
Commercial Rating: Good/Excellent

This is a great product backed by a well-executed commercial. In my opinion, it has all the right stuff to be a big DRTV success. It's unique, mass market, solves an everyday problem, is priced right for DRTV, will appeal to older consumers as well as younger ones, is easy to understand and looks like it would work as advertised. It's also more convenient to use than the battery-powered dish wands that have been tried because it integrates with your sink (replaces the current sprayer) and runs on water power. All in all, it's a brilliant idea that has great odds of succeeding.

That said, there are a few minor drawbacks that might affect the decision to buy. One is that this requires installation, and that scares some people. Another is that not everyone has a sprayer of that variety on their sink, which limits the market somewhat. And then there's the perception that "elbow grease" is the only credible way to scrub a pot. While sprayers put out good pressure, some people might not believe it's enough pressure to get the job done right.

These concerns are minor, however, and unlikely to hurt the campaign very much. I expect great things.

Review: EZ Cracker

Description: A device for cracking eggs (raw or hardboiled) and separating egg whites
Main Pitch: "Let's you crack eggs easily without the mess"
Main Offer: $19.95 for one
Bonus: Free Bacon Wave (microwave bacon cooker)
Marketer: Emson
Producer: Unknown
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good

I've seen few weaker problems on DRTV than the one found in the opening of this commercial: "No matter how you crack them [eggs], you always end up picking out eggshells."

One of the first things I learned about cooking as a child was how to avoid this problem. For the 2% of people who lack the coordination to acquire this basic skill, this product will be a must-have. For the rest of us, it's just silly.

Review: The Toothbrush Solution

Description: A container of solution that disinfects toothbrushes
Main Pitch: "Effectively eliminates 99.99% of the germs that contaminate your toothbrush"
Main Offer: $19.95 for one container
Bonus: Second container free (just pay S&P)
Marketer: Unknown
Producer: Unknown

Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good

Sometimes I feel compelled to write about an item for research purposes only. What I mean is: I know the item isn't going to appear on the charts, so I could just let it go "down the memory hole." However, posting about these items creates a valuable database of who's tested what, which can come in handy when trying to dissuade someone from testing that same product down the road.

Coming to the point, there's been enough interest in toothbrush sanitizers (mostly UV ones) that I thought it worthwhile to "log" this one.

Why will this fail? There are many reasons, but the big one is that only serious germaphobes think about or care about the microscopic organisms living on their toothbrushes. The other 90% of consumers could care less, and they won't change their behavior on the off chance it might lessen the severity of a future cold.

As with the Green Market, the Germaphobe Market can be hard to quantify because some anti-germ products have successfully crossed over to the mainstream (e.g. Purell). But like Green products that succeed in the mass market, there has to be some other factor driving sales. With Green products, it's increased efficacy and/or saving money. With Germaphobe products, it tends to be convenience. Take Purell. It's popular because it's more convenient than washing your hands all the time, and washing your hands is already an established behavior.

Bottom line: Products for hard-core germaphobes, like this one, have about as much chance at success as products for hard-core Greens.

March 11, 2009

Review: Buxton Micro Purse

Description: A leather wallet that can be used/worn like a purse
Main Pitch: "The biggest little purse ever that holds it all and keeps it organized"
Main Offer: $19.95 for one, second one free (just pay P&H)
Bonus: Gift box and flashlight keychain (comes with both)
Marketer: Allstar
Producer: Monte-Brooks

Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good

This line extension of the Buxton shoulder bag, a bona-fide DRTV hit from 2008, stands a better chance than most line extensions of duplicating the success of its predecessor. Like the earlier product, it only has one weakness: It's competing in a category where tastes are diverse, style matters and brand names dominate. This didn't seem to matter with the Buxton Bag because it targeted an older consumer who is less conscious of these factors and more likely to value functionality over fashion. But a micro-purse seems like a younger-skewing idea, and that could make all the difference.

Another concern is the big task this commercial has undertaken: Convincing women they can replace their regular bag with a micro-purse. Based on the category and current trends, that doesn't seem likely to resonate. Women tend to buy different size bags for different occasions -- a big bag for everyday use, a clutch for going out at night, etc. It may be that this product is better positioned as a Buxton clutch, or simply a Buxton wallet.

Otherwise, this commercial does a good job of hitting the same strong notes that sold the Buxton Bag, namely "genuine leather" and the accordion-like ability to hold more than anyone thought possible.

Review: 360 Spin Mop

Description: A round floor mop that spins
Main Pitch: "Unique street sweeper action cuts your cleaning time in half"
Main Offer: Two payments of $29.95 for the mop and "Spin Dry Bucket," includes five-year warranty
Bonus: Instant upgrade to "super-articulated" mop
Marketer: Fitness Quest
Producer: Unknown
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good

This product has a lot of potential, but it faces two challenges. One is its price. My recent experience has shown that the mop category is quite price sensitive these days, thanks in part to a proliferation of low-cost commodity mop products at retail and the relatively low price of even innovative products such as P&G's Swiffer. Some 15 years ago, $30 mops worked well on DRTV. But recent evidence suggests this price point no longer works. A case in point is Telebrands' Gorilla Mop, a great concept that even a two-for-one offer couldn't sell. This mop is two payments of $29.95 at the end of the day, making its perceived price four times as high.

The other challenge will come from the resurrection of Smart Invention's Smart Mop. While the two products are different in key ways, they also feature many of the same benefits and demos. Super-absorbency is a big one, and here the Smart Mop has the edge because it taps into the favorable "orange chamois" perception created by ShamWow and Zorbeez. More important, the Smart Mop  campaign is presenting a much better value to consumers -- two mops for $19.99 with chamois cloths included -- at a time when value is more important than ever.

Aside from these shortcomings, this campaign has a lot to like. The "street sweeper" analogy and product design represent a meaningful point of difference in the marketplace. The cleverly designed "Spin Dry Bucket" (which works via a foot pedal) makes the product fun, visually interesting and solves a real problem (having to touch a dirty mop head with your hands). At $19.99 with no competition, this item would be a surefire winner.