January 28, 2016

The True Top Spenders of 2015

It's that time again! The data is in and all the fact checking is done. Here are the True Top Spenders of 2015:

(Click to see the complete list)

And the winners are ...

True Top Marketer: Telebrands

True Top Producer: Hutton-Miller

Telebrands earns the top spot for the fourth year in a row. AJ and his killer team had an astounding 12 campaigns on the list. That's two more than last year, and the most they have ever had in True Top Spender history. They just keep getting better and better!

Meanwhile, Hutton-Miller takes the top spot for production for the second year in a row. Last year, they had seven commercials on the list, and this year they also have seven commercials. Only one was a repeat. If I counted 60s, that number would be even higher since they do almost all of the winning kid DRTV campaigns in a given year. Worth mentioning in this regard were the Wubble Bubble line extensions from last year (Wubble X, Glow Wubble). The H-M team also had a few 120s roll out that fell short of my cutoff for the year (at least $2 million) but still made an impact on the marketplace. It was an awesome year any way you slice it, so congratulations once again to John, Peter and all the folks down in Boca Raton.


Before I move on to the other noteworthy accomplishments last year, I'm going to debut a new award recognizing outstanding achievement in marketing and production. The industry champions I'm about to introduce deserve high praise even though they fell short of the top slot. (You'll see why.) I'm calling them my "SciMark Stars." Without further ado, here are the winners for 2015 ...

SciMark Star Marketer: Ontel

SciMark Star Producer: Paddock

Ontel has accomplished something truly impressive. In just one year, this marketer has gone from a single campaign on the True Top Spenders to no less than eight campaigns on the chart and undisputed second place. Special kudos to Amar and the Ontel team for an astounding turnaround and an amazing year!

As for Paddock Productions, it's long past time this veteran production company was recognized. Paddock has been the behind-the-scenes secret of many marketers and producers over the years. (Full disclosure: This includes me.) Because they are a true production company, often leaving the writing and creative directing to others, they aren't always named in association with their hits. It's time to fix that and shine the spotlight on this amazing team. If I added up and gave them credit for everything they produced last year, they would have taken the top spot with eight qualifying commercials. Congratulations to them!

Speaking of Paddock affiliates, I have another inspiring story to share. The runner-up for True Top Producer this year is Kerrmercials with six campaigns on the list. That's double the number they had on this chart last year when I highlighted Tim Kerr's "rise to the top." Well, he's reached the top now and only needs a few more hits to claim its peak!


For those keeping score, here are the top five marketers and producers for 2015 in rank order. The number of campaigns on the list follows the name (in parentheses).


  1. Telebrands (12)
  3. Ontel (8)
  5. Allstar (7)
  7. Emson (5)
  9. IdeaVillage (5)


  1. Hutton-Miller (7)
  3. Kerrmercials (6)
  5. Opfer (4)
  7. Concepts/Schwartz/Sullivan (3)
  9. Paddock (2/8*)

* Paddock has two campaigns under its own name but was also behind six others.


Last year, I introduced the idea of recognizing smaller players that bring tested winners to larger players (aka "feeders"). If you click through to the full list for 2015, you'll notice I am once again crediting all the feeders in the marketer column when they are known.

If there were an award for True Top Feeder of the year, Infomercials Inc. would win it this year with three campaigns on the list. Technically, they should also tie for fourth on the top producers list, since they shot all three commercials as well. Speaking of multi-way ties, runner-up for top feeder would be a three-way tie between Lenfest, Permission Interactive and Paragon Products. Each had two campaigns on the list. (Full disclosure: I am a partner in Paragon.)


I no longer make predictions, but I do still make my opinions known. Here are the cases where I was the most wrong:

1. Colorama. I already ate crow for this terrible call, but the mea culpa deserves repeating. The worst part is my snark turned around and bit me! I pitied the production team, and they laughed all the way to the bank. [Read my original comments here.]

2. 5 Second Fix/Lazer Bond. Ouch. I was dead wrong about this one. Credibility is still one of the trickiest criteria I use to assess DRTV products. It's so hard to guess what America will find believable. Here I learned that people apparently believe an LED light works like a welding torch and can turn Super Glue into something magical. [Read my original comments here.]

3. Big Vision. I saw this one as being closer to eyeglasses (bad track record) than magnifying devices (good track record). Apparently, I was wrong. The smaller-than-optimal market size didn't seem to matter, either. This year's True Top Producer and SciMark Star Marketer teamed up to make it work. [Read my original comments here.]

4. Clever Grip. There's only room for one ... except when there's room for two. This one also showed me that a sub-category (car mounts) of one of the worst DRTV categories (phone/tablet accessories) is actually a source of hits. [Read my original comments here.]

5. DashCam Pro. Although I was aware of the popularity of dash-cams overseas, I didn't think this sort of product was right for the US market. I was wrong. [Read my original comments here.]

Those were the notable ones. Let me know if you think I missed any.

SciMark Report from January Response

Cooking/kitchen is still the No. 1 DRTV category

My first SciMark Report in print of 2016 is now available on the Response Website.

Continuing a practice I began last year, I start this year with my list of good categories and bad categories for DRTV. You'll find some of the results quite interesting.

Coming Soon

In the upcoming February issue, I'll be writing about the first triple duel of the year:

PedEgg PowerBall

Description: A power pedicure tool
Main Pitch: "Easily buffs away calluses, dead skin, or dry and rough skin in seconds"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one
Bonus: 3 replacement rollers (free)
Brand: PedEgg
Marketer: Telebrands (2015 True Top Marketer)
Producer: Sullivan Productions
Watch the spot

PedEgg Power was a 2015 True Top Spender. This brand and line extension is unlikely to bring back its predecessor's full glory, but it's a smart play for retail in a classic Ouroboros strategy. The new features (rechargeable, pivoting head) will also help against the competition (Personal Pedi, Pedi Perfect).

Copper Chef 360

Description: A non-stick pan
Main Pitch: "Everything slides right out of the pan"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one
Bonus: 3-piece knife set (just pay P&H)
Marketer: Tristar
Watch the spot

Non-stick pans are suddenly hot again (no pun intended), and it's only two years since OrGreenic took the industry by storm. That's surprising to me given the normal repeat rate and the fate of Telebrands' 2014 attempt to launch a new non-stick pan (see Slip Stone Pan). But there can be no doubt something is happening in the marketplace. Emson's Gotham Steel pan just hit No. 1 on the Jordan Whitney and has the clear lead. Tristar may have difficulty catching up.

Interestingly, it wouldn't exactly be a duel if they did. Emson's pan chose "ceramic titanium" as its twist. Tristar is trying to leverage consumers' fascination with copper. I'm not sure that makes sense, though. Joint and muscle pain have little in common with cooking -- unless you're seriously doing it wrong!

Step FX

Description: A fitness tracker
Main Pitch: "The easy-to-use, simple way to track steps, distance and calories burned"
Main Offer: $24.99 for one
Bonus: Free shipping
Brand: Copper Fit
Starring: Brett Favre
Marketer: IdeaVillage
Producer: Blue Reef
Watch the spot

This project seeks to capitalize on a trend and utilize a "drafting" strategy. The trend is wearable tech, and the drafting is off a market leader in that category, Fitbit. If this played like what it is -- a poor man's Fitbit with limited features -- it would likely die a quick death. But the borrowed credibility of Brett Favre, the high quality of the commercial and the high-end product design could cleverly avoid that problem. This is still a crowded category that IdeaVillage is trying to enter, but at a fraction of the price of similar products it may grab the coveted 'value-priced version' position that DRTV marketers excel at creating.

My only issue is with the branding strategy. IdeaVillage likes to slap its popular brands on products that don't fit (no pun intended). For example, before Finishing Touch Yes! (a 2014 and 2015 True Top Spender), the brand took a left turn and tried to be a tooth whitener (see Finishing Touch Smile). Similarly, there is close to zero relationship between compression garments and fitness trackers.

This is actually an interesting philosophical debate, and IdeaVillage isn't alone in its thinking on the subject. Many marketers want to believe their brand can stand for broad generalizations. For example, Xerox is now trying to convince us that it stands for "business services" instead of just photocopies. But as a career-long Ries & Trout devotee, I believe brands can only succeed if they keep a clear focus.

If the pinnacle of branding is to have your word be synonymous with a category in the consumer's mind (like Xerox once was for photocopies), then trying to make it stand for something overly broad undermines that goal. For instance, Copper Fit might have a shot at standing for "copper compression," but it doesn't have a shot at standing for "fitness gear" or whatever phrase would make this project fit into the line.

Interested in reading more on this topic? I highly recommend you check out fellow blogger Laura Ries.

January 14, 2016

I'm Dead. Now What?

Description: An end-of-life planner
Main Pitch: "The peace of mind planner created to protect your family's future"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one with will kit
Bonus: Internet address & password log book, free shipping
Starring: Anson Williams
Marketer: Top Dog
Producer: Hutton-Miller
Watch the spot

Give Top Dog credit for experimenting with more categories than any other marketer. They've done everything from classic problem solvers (BeActive) to bizarre novelties (Tiny Tyrants), from sex toys (One Massager) to Catholic memorabilia (Visitation Cross). This project is no exception. As far as I know, it's the first of its kind on DRTV. So if it works, expect imitators! On a related note, I also respect the risk they took on the name. It could be polarizing, but it will definitely get attention.

S7 Analysis: The two big questions I have: Is this product targeted toward a big enough buying group, and do people think it's needed? The answer to the first question depends on the accuracy of my insight that 'preparedness is the opposite of impulsiveness.' Unless the viewer feels he or she is near death (a niche market, I hope), there is no impulsive need here. Perhaps people have been feeling guilty about not being prepared for so long, this will seem like an easy solution at the right time? The DRTV buyer does tend to skew older.

The answer to the second question is anyone's guess. I know there are companies out there marketing these services for affordable prices, but there's certainly nothing as cheap as $19.99 -- and Mr. Williams lends the product credibility.

Angry Mama

Description: A microwave cleaner
Main Pitch: "The fast, easy and natural way to steam away microwave crud in just minutes"
Main Offer: $10 for one
Bonus: 2nd one (just pay a separate fee)
Marketer: Telebrands
Producer: The Schwartz Group
Watch the spot

There's a lot to like about this product. Above all, it's an effortless way to accomplish a chore everyone wants done but no one wants to do. Come to think of it, that's pretty much the definition of an ideal DRTV product!

The only possible negative here is that this concept was tried once before, in 2011, without success (see Micro Maid). But I never read too much into a single failure, especially when I don't know the marketer and the fail was years ago. There are many reasons projects fail besides lack of response, including timing.

S7 Analysis: This one aces the S7 as far as I'm concerned. It's even different in a quirky way, which I view as a positive. The Micro Maid was an awkward-looking contraption, and that may have contributed to its downfall.

Ever Brite

Description: A motion-activated, solar-powered light
Main Pitch: "Shines an attractive low-level light from dusk to dawn"
Main Offer: $12.99 for one
Bonus: 2nd one (just pay P&H)
Marketer: Ontel
Producer: Kerrmercials
Watch the spot

Lights are No. 2 on my updated list of bad categories (see the January issue of Response), but there have been a few noteworthy attempts. Both motion-activated lights (2013's Light Angel) and solar-powered outdoor lights (2006's Bell + Howell Solar Powered Flood Lights) have rolled out. Another motion-activated light bearing a resemblance to this one -- Mighty Light, pitched by Marc Gill -- also had a limited run at retail in 2012. So although nothing has blown up the charts, there does seem to be something to this particular sub-segment of a typically terrible category.

S7 Analysis: It's the needed criterion that always give me pause when it comes to these products. There are so many quality outdoor lighting solutions at the big-box hardware stores, this problem should have been solved long ago.

Finally Dry

Description: Incontinence underwear
Main Pitch: "Fast, discreet and modern way to deal with an old-fashioned problem"
Main Offer: $19.95 for three pairs
Bonus: Three additional pairs (just pay P&H)
Marketer: Tristar
Watch the spot

In my consumer research, I'm surprised at how often market size is the clear reason for a product's under-performance. The rule of thumb for DRTV is at least one per household. Products that don't hit that bar, like this one, face long odds. The question always becomes whether or not the niche is large enough to sustain a campaign, and guessing that can be tricky. Even a market of millions may not include enough DR-responsive people to get things rolling.

S7 Analysis: The above is about the targeted criterion, but another S7 fail here is with regard to the category. I wouldn't say it's crowded, but the second part of the criterion states categories should not be "dominated by big brands with big ad budgets and a few decades of consumer loyalty behind them." In this case, Depend is the dominant brand, and they are currently promoting briefs.

Hot Hands

Description: Silicone gloves
Main Pitch: "Tough enough to handle all the hot stuff"
Main Offer: $10 for one pair
Bonus: 2nd pair (just pay P&H), Lovin' Oven thermometer (free)
Starring: Marc Gill
Marketer: Ontel
Watch the spot

The reason to believe this could be a hit is the Old Gold (and evergreen) product Ove Glove from Joseph Enterprises, which continues to sell at retail. Here's the problem, though: No attempt to replicate its success has worked. This marketer tried with Tuff Glove in the fall of 2014, and Anthony Sullivan tried with Grill Glove (a product that resembles this one) in 2010.

S7 Analysis: I suspect the issue here is that a heat-resistant glove is no longer different enough to get people off the couch. Ove Glove has brand equity and, of course, no longer produces a CPO.

Weekly Round-Up

  1. Freedom Coins. Marketer: Tristar. Pitch: "Four artistically crafted coins pay tribute to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines." Comments: Hey! What about the Coast Guard? Actually, that's the bonus coin along with the National Guard. In any case, this has all the right elements for this type of DR project. It's patriotic and collectible, and painted coins have been successful for this marketer in the past (see Obama Coins). Beyond that, I have no experience or criteria that would allow me to guess if this will work on DRTV. [ss]
  3. Blaze Bricks. Marketer: Telebrands. Pitch: "The first construction blocks that light up." Comments: Actually, Laser Pegs was the first, and it's everywhere. Another "drafting" strategy? [ss]
  5. Genie Breeze. Marketer: Tristar. Pitch: "Helps keep you dry at the gym, lifted and supported all day and comfortable and confident at night." Comments: This is an alternate version of Cool Bra, which this marketer tested in the fall of last year. [ss]
  7. Scoop TV. Marketer: Telebrands. Pitch: "Lets you watch all your favorite broadcast network shows for free." Comments: This is one of two free TV gadgets from Telebrands this week, and it joins several other products trying to mimic the success of Tristar's Clear TV, a 2014 True Top Spender. The others recently tested were Free TV Key (also by Tristar) and InvenTel's HD Free TV. [ss]
  9. Slim Trexx. Marketer: Telebrands. Pitch: "Transforms walking into a full-body workout." Comments: This is a second attempt to sell a concept Edison Nation originally tried in the spring of 2013 (see Cardio Poles). I still like the concept, Eric. I like it even better at $10 cheaper. But this one may need a long form to break through. [ss]
  11. TV Freeway. Marketer: Telebrands. Pitch: "Get free access to news, sports, and all of your favorite shows in crystal-clear high definition." Comments: This is the other free TV gadget Telebrands is testing. The amount of activity in this category exceeds "duel" status. It's more like a cluster! [ss]

January 07, 2016

Clever Scope

Description: A flexible light
Main Pitch: "Bends into any shape with two super-bright lights at each end and two super-strong magnets"
Main Offer: $14.95 for one
Bonus: 2nd one (just pay P&H)
Brand: Bell + Howell
Marketer: Emson
Producer: Kerrmercials
Watch the spot

This is a cross between Emson's iScope, a 2012 True Top Spender, and a concept that failed at least twice (see Hug Light, Flex Light Pro). I can state with confidence that combining two flops never produces one hit, and also that combining two hits doesn't necessarily product another hit. But combining a hit and a flop? Hard to predict how that will turn out.

S7 Analysis: The above-mentioned history suggests a bendable task light isn't needed. Watch this spot (or any of the previous ones) and that becomes clear. The demos quickly feel contrived. To be frank, I always thought the iScope demos felt contrived as well. If this one succeeds, it will be a triumph of uniqueness over true problem solving.

Sweat Belt

Description: An adjustable waist belt
Main Pitch: "The quick, easy way to trim inches off your waist and lose weight fast"
Main Offer: $14.99 for one
Bonus: 2nd one (just pay P&H)
Marketer: Ontel
Watch the spot

This is a third attempt to find success with this concept. Tristar took the first two cracks with Hot Belt in the spring of last year and Hot Shaper in the summer. I'm still not convinced that the "gross factor" is a surmountable obstacle, and the way this is supposed to work is not very credible.

S7 Analysis: Purely from an S7 perspective, this product idea has promise. Quick and easy weight-loss solutions are always needed, and this approach is certainly different. I see no real shortcomings as far as the basics are concerned. What skews the odds for this one is that in DR the third time is seldom the charm.

Doggy Bonanza Express

Description: A monthly delivery box for dogs
Main Pitch: "Up to 5 hand-picked surprises each month"
Main Offer: $19.99 per month
Bonus: Free shipping
Marketer: Tristar
Watch the spot

Tristar continues to try innovative new things (see Was on TV). 'Box' subscriptions are a growing trend, and it makes a lot of sense to apply DR marketing techniques to the business model. With no clear retail play, though, this one is definitely outside of the box. (Get it?)

S7 Analysis: This is a hard one to assess using the standard criteria. For instance, while the products included in the box aren't different, the idea of getting them as a monthly surprise is very different.

Weekly Round-Up

  1. Rust-Oleum ReColor by Wipe New. Starring: Beau Rials. Pitch: "A factory finish in minutes without ever repainting." Comments: I've always been a fan of Beau's work, and he delivers here again with a solid commercial chock-full of compelling demos. My problems with the project are product and brand related. Specifically, the product seems like nothing we haven't already seen from this marketer, and it has one too many brand names. I'm not a big fan of umbrella brands to begin with, but two umbrella brands is a recipe for confusion ... and brand confusion is a word-of-mouth killer. [ss]
  3. Miracle Plate. Pitch: "Keeps meals hot and fresh up to 30 minutes longer." Comments: This product addresses an occasional problem (at best) that is easily solved by reheating in the microwave. [ss]
  5. Raptor Wrap. Pitch: "Insanely strong fiber glass repair wrap." Comments: This is a second attempt to make the Fiber Fix concept work in short form. If Lori Greiner, the "shark" who originally sold it out on QVC, Beau Rials and the Allstar-Bluewater team couldn't make it work ... [ss]
  7. Wall Dazzle. Marketer: SAS Group. Pitch: "The incredible peel and stick chalkboard." Comments: This pitch starts with a contrived problem and then takes a quick turn into arts-and-crafts territory. That's the trouble in working with products that don't meet the DRTV criteria. [ss]
  9. ZeroMed. Marketer: Telebrands. Pitch: "Change your life through your ears ... magnetic pressure on your outer ear [helps] curb cigarette cravings." Comments: A total flyer with low credibility and high risk. Also an apparent 'fast fail.' [ss]

January 01, 2016

Breaking the Price Barrier: Is $40 the new $20?

In case you missed it, my last Field Report of 2015 can be read here.

In the report, I explore a question that may come to define 2016: Has the $20 price barrier been broken?