June 30, 2010

Review: Tidy Table

Description: No-mess pet feeding bowls
Main Pitch: "Virtually eliminates the costly and damaging messes those old pet bowls leave behind"
Main Offer: $19.95 for a small/large set in cranberry or bronze
Bonus: Non-skid leg extensions
Marketer: Allstar
Website: www.BuyTidyTable.com
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

I'm immediately favorable toward most pet products because the category is so hot on DRTV. Even in the worst months of the recession, pet products continued to sell well. Of course, that doesn't mean any pet product is a guaranteed hit.

Of the SciMark Seven (S7) criteria, I think different is one of the most critical for pet products. If pet owners think they can just hop over to Petco or PetSmart and get a similar item, they are unlikely to "order now." When I did some quick Web research on this item, I found several solutions that purport to solve the same problems this commercial highlights. None are as good or have all of the features of this product, but they seemed to be "good enough."

Put another way, this is a product that relies on the 'sum of its parts' to convince people to buy. I see this often. In this case, the creator's logic probably went something like this: There are no-mess bowls. There are no-skid bowls. And there are raised bowls. But no one has ever sold a no-mess, no-skid set of raised bowls! I suppose this way of thinking makes sense, but it relies on people recognizing they have all three problems and wanting to do something about each of them.

There is another twist here, and it is the innovative way the product contains wet and dry messes. It may be that this aspect of the product is so cool, it will motivate pet owners off the couch. But the commercial didn't do a good job communicating how it works. It made the item seem complex, which will cause a leading sales killer: confusion.

Finally, I have to mention something I often find difficult to articulate. Most people call it "demonstrability." I've also heard it called "visual excitement." It's the idea that a product must move or do something interesting to sell on TV. I don't include that criteria in any of my lists because I've seen too many static items do well. Besides, whole categories in DR run on invisible effects (e.g. ingestibles). That said, it's true that some products are just too ordinary to generate the excitement necessary for a DRTV purchase, no matter how hard we work to make them seem sexy. Pet bowls may be one of them.

June 29, 2010

Review: Flirty Wrap

Description: A "convertible" garment
Main Pitch: "It changes from a top, to a dress, to a skirt, to a wrap and more"
Main Offer: $19.95 for one
Bonus: Triple the offer (black, brown, pink) plus Styling DVD and Styling Guide
Marketer: Allstar
Website: www.FlirtyWrap.com
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

My knowledge of fashion is the exact inverse of my knowledge of DRTV. In other words, I have no clue what the criteria are for predicting whether a fashion item will be hot (if such criteria even exist). If this is a fashion item, as the commercial suggests, we can flip a coin.

However, if this item follows the rules of DRTV, I say it's a long shot. That's because garment "convertibility" is a solution to a weak problem. The creative stretch that was necessary to open this commercial is a good indication of this. Women are asked to imagine a day where the agenda is "work then dinner then dancing."  But how often do women find themselves preparing for that sort of day? And what age group are we talking about here? It certainly isn't the 50+ crowd that represents the majority of DRTV buyers.

The convertibility of this garment is a "wow" to be sure, and I can see women liking this product for vacations and trips to the beach. But I don't think that's enough to sustain a DRTV campaign. In daily life, most women I know carefully plan their outfits and want a specific look for each and every occasion. It is highly unlikely that one garment could satisfy all of their needs.

Clothing is also an interesting category for DRTV. My hypothesis is that it only works well when it solves a reliable DR problem. For example, there have been several successful clothing items that make women look slimmer (Kymaro is one). That makes sense because weight is a persistent problem that fuels the success of two other huge categories: fitness and diet.

Beyond that, I can't think of many clothing items that have done well on DRTV, especially where fashion or the "look" was a key part of the pitch. Can you? If so, click here to leave a comment.

June 28, 2010

Review: TableGoRound

Description: A fitted tablecloth for round tables
Main Pitch: "Just like a fitted sheet, the elastic edge easily slips onto any table"
Main Offer: $10 for one in "buttercup"
Bonus: 2nd one in "ivy green" (just pay separate S&H)
Starring: AJ Khubani
Website: www.TableGoRound.com
Prediction: Likely to succeed

I've seen Telebrands President AJ Khubani do short promotional bits before, but this is the first time I've seen him do all the key spokesman scenes, including a magic demo that takes place during some sort of windstorm. I'll reserve comment on the idea except to say: With the void the late, great Billy Mays left in the industry, anything is worth a shot! Plus, AJ has certainly had the recent exposure to be recognizable.

As for this campaign, there's a lot to like. A quick check online shows me this product is popular in catalogs but doesn't seem to be a staple at retail yet. I'm surprised because I expected something this basic and useful to be everywhere by now. Of course, maybe there's a good reason for that. To stretch the analogy, maybe people prefer regular sheets to fitted sheets, although it's hard to imagine why.

Two obvious limitations on the campaign will be the limited colors/designs being offered -- personal taste can easily kill a sale when people are used to a wide variety of choices -- and the ability of one size truly to fit all. But if people care more about utility than aesthetics in this case, and round tables are fairly standard, this could be another nice hit for Telebrands.

Besides, if AJ is pitching it personally, he must believe in it!

AJ on 'The View'

AJ made his 85th (86th?) appearance on The View recently to pitch the latest DRTV products (video above and here). This time he was flanked by comedian Jay Mohr and game show host Tom Bergeron, which made for an interesting time. (The video also features a special guest appearance by Concepts' Dana Conklin. Congrats, Dana!)

Items presented (in order) were:

As you might guess, the show went downhill rapidly somewhere between the Neckline Slimmer and Bare Lifts!

June 17, 2010

Vince Update

People are always asking me what Vince Offer is up to. Well, MTV has the answer ...

On Tuesday (June 15), Eminem unveiled a brand-new viral clip [above and here] for his upcoming Recovery album that features Vince Offer, the razor-faced pitchman otherwise known as the ShamWow! Guy ...

It seems that the entire hip-hop world is just discovering Offer .. just a few weeks back, Snoop Dogg paid tribute to Offer by working his Slap Chop spiel — 'Fettuccini, linguini, martini, bikini' — into his verse on Katy Perry's massive 'California Gurls.' And all of this is making us wonder: Is Offer poised to be hip-hop's next big star (or at least its next go-to posse member)? He's already got Em and Snoop in his corner, and there are several compelling reasons why he could make the leap from pitchman to hype man with ease.

The article goes on to list all the reasons why Vince fits right in with the rapper crowd (he "already has his own remix," he "loves his nuts," etc.)

Full story here.

Review: Days Ago

Description: A digital day counter for refrigerator items
Main Pitch: "You'll always know what's fresh and what's not"
Main Offer: $10 for four in various colors
Bonus: Double the offer (just pay separate S&H)
Marketer: Telebrands
Website: www.GetDaysAgo.com
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

My instinct here is that people who care about the exact freshness of their food use various labeling systems, such as stickers you can write dates on. For want of a better term, this is the "obsessive-compulsive" crowd. People who are all about organization. And like Greens or Germaphobes, they are in the minority.

When it comes to determining food freshness, I'd wager most people use their memory and the old "sniff test" dramatized in the opening of this commercial. Or some version of the “if it looks like a science project, toss it" approach. For them, this is an easy solution to what is more of a nuisance than a painful problem.

In other words, this is another solution in search of a problem, or what I also like to call a "contrived problem." DRTV spots featuring such problems are not uncommon. I think we see a lot of it because those tasked with selecting products for DRTV sometimes take the "must solve a problem" criterion too lightly.

I made that criterion No. 3 on The Divine Seven (D7) and then No. 1 on The SciMark Seven (S7) for this reason, and I used some key words to try to help myself and others avoid the tendency to call things "problems" that aren't really problems:

  • On the D7: Items must "solve a perceived problem that doesn't already have a good-enough solution."

  • On the S7: Items must be "needed enough to generate the impulse to buy."

Still, deciding if a product meets these criteria is ultimately a judgment call that is colored by what you, and people you know, are willing to view as a "real" problem. That's the challenge with perception, and a good case for being careful whom you ask about a product ... or how many you ask, and in what way.

For example, people in the same meeting or office tend to experience what James Surowiecki called "an information cascade," which Wikipedia describes as follows:

Where choices are visible and made in sequence ... only the first few decision makers gain anything by contemplating the choices available: once past decisions have become sufficiently informative, it pays for later decision makers to simply copy those around them. This can lead to fragile social outcomes.

Or fragile DRTV outcomes. I will write more about Surowiecki's research and its application to DRTV in another post some day. It's fascinating stuff. In the meantime, I highly recommend his book, The Wisdom of Crowds.

June 15, 2010

Review: Touch-Up Topper

Description: A roll-up ironing surface
Main Pitch: "Turn your dryer into an ironing board"
Main Offer: $9.95 for one plus a magnetic drying rack
Bonus: Double the offer (just pay separate P&H)
Marketer: Allstar
Producer: Blue Moon Studios
Website: www.TouchUpTopper.com
Prediction: Unlikely to succeed

In the February issue of Response magazine, I reviewed an item called the Handy Dryer, a magnetic drying rack for laundry and the bonus for this item. Three months later, that brand name is not on the April True Top 50 or even anywhere on the extended list, so I assume the commercial did not perform well. Now the offer has been reversed and the campaign is testing again. I find this commendable for several reasons.

First, there have been several occasions in my career when I've wondered if a unique bonus item might do better as its own item. But wondering and taking a financial risk are two different things.

Second, at Response Expo this May both Fred Vanore (the producer of this commercial) and I told a room full of seminar participants that offer changes are the best way to turn "losers into winners." But while everyone talks about the importance of offer changes, few have truly explored all of the options.

It takes enough temerity just to test a different bonus or price point after you've experienced failure. Now go one step further and imagine committing resources to testing the exact same offer, just in reverse. On paper, the idea is as valid as testing a $5 reduction in price or doubling an offer (giving two when consumers didn't want one). But in practice it seems crazy. Kudos to Allstar for their commitment to principle -- or for being a little crazy.

I will also be paying close attention to what happens here because this will test a hypothesis Fred shared during our seminar. He said that while a bonus cannot make a person buy a product he or she doesn't really want, it can push a person "off the fence." If the assumption underlying this campaign is correct (people want these products), it will be very interesting to see if one product succeeds as a "tipper" where the other one failed.

I doubt it, but I would love to be wrong.

June 09, 2010

Weekly Round-Up

It's time for a little house cleaning! Here's a quick review of every item still left in my "to review" folder:

  1. zQuiet (30-day Trial). An anti-storing mouthpiece. Pitch: "Comfortable enough to wear every night." www.zQuiet.com
    Prediction: N/A
    Snoring products must work on a different model than regular DRTV products. That's my only explanation for why a product like Pure Sleep, which costs $60, made the 2009 IMS Top 50. This one is also $60, and I see it's already on the True Top 50 at No. 40, so I won't make a prediction.
  2. Knockout Abs ($9.95 Trial). A punching bag and crunch device in one. Pitch: "Combines abs, cardio and strength training into one complete, muscle-defining system." www.KnockoutAbs.com
    Prediction: Likely to succeed
    This commercial hits all the right notes for short-form men's fitness. Like the Tower 200 (No. 9 on the April True Top 50), it goes right for the MMA-loving crowd that buys these items, even featuring an MMA fighter testimonial.
  3. BareLifts ($10). Clear adhesive that lifts and holds the breasts (from TELEBrands, produced by Hutton-Miller). Pitch: "The world’s first instant, invisible solution for perfect shape and support." www.BareLifts.com
    Prediction: Likely to succeed
    I have no clue whether this problem/solution will appeal to women, but it seems like it would, and the commercial hits all the right notes.
  4. Cutter Mouse ($14.99). A paper cutter that looks like a computer mouse (from Harvest Direct, produced by Hutton-Miller). Pitch: "Lifts, slides and guides to make perfect cuts every time. www.BuyTheCutterMouse.com
    Prediction: Likely to succeed
    I learned my lesson with the Craft-Lite Cutter. It seems this category can support a DRTV campaign if the uses are broad enough, and that is certainly the case here. Plus, this spot has an awesome magic demo.
  5. Switch N Light ($19.95). A cross between Ontel's Stick 'n Click and IdeaVillage's Handy Switch. Pitch: "Light where you need it, and the switch where you can reach it." www.BuySwitchNLight.com
    Prediction: Unlikely to succeed
    Neither of the two items this is based on were big hits on TV. I also feel the lighting category is played out on DRTV. Too many failures of late.
  6. Pet Cozy ($14.99). A pet throw that absorbs odors (from IdeaVillage, produced by Blue Moon Studios). Pitch: "Designed to protect your furniture and keep your pet as cozy as can be." www.GetPetCozy.com
    Prediction: Unlikely to succeed
    I don't think this item is different enough from the other pet throws that are readily available at PETCO and Pet Smart.
  7. Handy Caddy ($9.99). A sliding base for appliances (from Milen). Pitch: "Allows you to quickly and easily slide your appliances out for use and back for storage." www.BuyHandyCaddy.com
    Prediction: Unlikely to succeed
    This looks like a good product, and the price is right. The issue for DRTV is that the problem this solves isn't frequent or painful enough to motivate people off the couch.
  8. Pocket Burger ($19.99). A kitchen gadget for making stuffed hamburgers (from TELEBrands, produced by The Schwartz Group). Pitch: "The fast, easy way to put a delicious hidden treasure inside every burger." www.GetPocketBurger.com
    Prediction: Unlikely to succeed
    This doesn't solve a problem, and I don't know how many people like stuffed burgers. Every now and then, something like this catches on, though. You never know.
  9. Pooch Powder ($19.99). A powder shampoo for dogs. Pitch: "Helps to eliminate dirt, dander and odor from your pet" and contains "botanical extracts that repel fleas and ticks." www.PoochPowder.com
    Prediction: Unlikely to succeed
    DRTV is not a good tool for changing consumer behavior, which is exactly what this attempts to do.
  10. Gourmet Genie ($14.95 Trial). An indoor "pressure smoker" (from National Express). Pitch: "Combines the speed of an expensive pressure cooker with the flavor of a world-class, outdoor smoker." www.BuyGourmetGenie.com
    Prediction: Bomb
    This commercial opens with a question: "Don't you wish you could smoke and barbecue indoors all year round?" Except for some people in Texas (where I hear smoking is all the rage), I think the answer will be "not really." A bigger problem is the eight installments of $19.95 that follow the trial. Oh, and shipping and handling is $12.95. This one is DOA.
  11. Sit 4 Ever ($19.95). A device that straps the knees to the waist to promote proper sitting. Pitch: "Sit anywhere for hours without slumping or fidgeting." www.BuySit4Evr.com
    Prediction: Bomb
    Amateur hour.
  12. Ultimate Squeegee ($19.99). A squeegee that won't streak (starring someone named Mike Wadham). Pitch: "The quickest, easiest way to clean all the windows, mirrors and glass in your home."  www.UltimateSqueegee.com
    Prediction: Bomb
    I liked the main demo, but it takes up 50% of the spot. The bigger problem is the product: It's a squeegee. It's hard to make something so common seem exciting.
  13. Epilique Threader ($14.99). An at-home threading device. Pitch: "The flawless way to take facial hair away." www.Epilique.com
    Prediction: Bomb
    Outside the South Asian community, threading is a lesser-known hair removal technique, and from what I understand it's super-painful even when a professional is doing it. Not something most would try at home.

June 07, 2010

Stephen King's 'Favorite' DRTV Commercial

IdeaVillage received some interesting press recently (HT: Mark R.). Along the lines of when VH1 named Slim Clip the "best infomercial of all time", Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) has named ShoeDini, "The Most Obnoxious Commercial. Ever." But he means it in a (sort of) flattering way.

In his most recent column for Entertainment Weekly (not posted online yet), King writes:

"The good ones [commercials] are fine ... but what I really like are the obnoxious ones, and the more obnoxiouser, the better. I collect them the way that some people collect stamps. Drives my wife bughouse, but any adman worth his bonus will tell you the spots that really sell are the ones that drive you crazy, and (being more than half crazy to begin with) those are the ones that I admire."

After nods to Aspray ("the lady who sprays it up her skirt is priceless"), Snuggie and HeadOn (you'll "hang yourself in the shower JUST TO MAKE IT STOP"), King comes to his point:

"The perfect obnoxious commercial must sell a product no one needs, and ShoeDini fills the bill superbly in this regard. I mean, it's a shoehorn, for the love of God. One with a long handle ... You say shoe stores give shoehorns away for free? Yeah, but ... this is a shoehorn on a stick!!!!"

But King's biggest 'praise' is reserved for this DRTV spot's voice talent:

"The best thing about ShoeDini is the galaxy-destroying voice of Gilbert Gottfried, who is already wanted in 15 countries for giving us the Aflac duck ... During the commercial, you can actually feel tortured brain cells screeching their last as that vocal buzz-saw rips ever deeper into your cerebral cortex, destroying resistance the way Liquid-Plumr destroys clogs in your bathroom drain ... If we had Gilbert Gottfried in World War II, Hitler would have given up in 1942."

Funny stuff. When the now infamous decision to use Gilbert for ShoeDini was made, I was one who argued against it. I didn't think it would help sales and worried it could actually hurt sales. The counter-argument, which won the day, was that it would generate buzz (check) and "cut through the clutter." Well, it appears Stephen King agrees. What better way to cut through the clutter than with a "vocal buzz-saw"?

June 06, 2010

Introducing 'The True Top 50'

(Editor's Note: This posting has been corrected.)

UPDATE: The campaigns ranked 9, 14, 25 and 49 have been revised to reflect the specific product name instead of the marketer (special thanks to Abraham F. for his assistance).

Welcome to the inaugural posting of The True Top 50, a new monthly feature of The SciMark Report provided by Eddie Wilders, research director for Lockard & Wechsler Direct.

This feature will be a familiar chart of top DRTV hits -- with a few key differences we believe make it more "true" than other rankings.

First, we will only focus on traditional, two-minute commercials for DRTV products in an attempt to screen out companies who do not measure orders or leads the same way "pure" DR players do. Second, our ranking will be based solely on TV household GRP delivery as reported by TNS Media Intelligence, the gold standard for ad tracking.

Without further delay, here's the chart for April 2010:

Note: The chart is for April because it takes about 30 days for TNS to process and assign ratings.

Of course no ranking, no matter how "true," can ever be 100% objective. We admit that we are making certain judgment calls and invite you to participate in a "peer review" of our work. Click here to see the entire list (links to PDF). Then, feel free to use the Comments section to share your thoughts, praise or criticism.

June 01, 2010

June Media Outlook: Not Pretty

It looks like June is going to be a tough month for DRTV advertisers.

Today Lockard & Wechsler Direct issued a press release warning that "lower than expected Primetime viewership on many major cable networks" will likely reduce media availability this month.

Long story short, general advertisers paid upfront for X amount of viewer eyeballs this quarter. But as the quarter nears its close, LW's analysis shows many stations aren't going to deliver what was promised. The solution: Stations will use the remnant airtime DRTV advertisers normally buy at discounted rates to "make good."

Or as Dick Wechsler puts it:

“The networks want to enter Third Quarter with their guaranteed contracts fully satisfied ... As a result, the networks with down viewership will likely use available inventory to fulfill their contractual GRP commitments before the close of Second Quarter on June 27.”

The full release is here.