Media Production

Direct Response Advertising

So many faith based television and radio programs depend on “direct response” advertising, it might be good to discuss exactly what that means. Direct Response Advertising, could be translated to mean: the technique of getting people to act now.
In the advertising world, there are four types of commercials:

1) Image / Awareness Advertising. They are “positioning” the product in your mind. That’s because in the image advertising world we operate from what we call “impressions”. Research differs, but it generally takes 17-23 impressions before someone is likely to walk into a store and say, “I’m going to buy those Nike tennis shoes.” Impressions could be a print ad, a billboard, a TV spot, or a radio commercial, and when they add up, buyers act.

2) Evangelism: The Mormons probably do this better than anyone. They put more money and effort into it on a national basis, largely because they’ve learned how to get individual churches to work together and pool their financial resources to make spots that are compelling, high budget, and effective.

3) Public Service Advertising: This is an area of advertising that churches and ministries could use to address social service issues. Competition is really tough.

4) Direct Response Advertising: If image advertising plants a seed in the mind of the viewer or listener, then direct response gets them to act now. This form of advertising used to be the ugly step child of image advertising, but today, companies across America have discovered that DR works, and can generate phenomenal results.

To make that happen effectively, here are the critical keys to successful direct response advertising:

1. Direct response works in multiple formats. Most of us immediately think of TV infomercials, but direct response is simply presenting a product or service, and then putting up a phone number and web site to encourage people to contact you immediately. So you can do it in print and radio, and do it far cheaper in those media, so don’t forget those alternatives when thinking of direct response.

2. Testimonies are the focal point of an effective direct response campaign. I’ve discovered that the audience can hear a program host talk until he or she is blue in the face, but when they see the testimony of someone who’s life was changed because of the product, that’s when they decide, “Wow! If it works for that guy, maybe it can work for me.” We know that phone calls generally spike up during testimonies, because that’s when it hits home to people, and they respond.

3. Demonstration is Vital. People want to see how a product or service works, and that’s why all the secular infomercials on TV demonstrate the product. Does the gospel work? Does salvation work? Can people’s lives really be transformed? Let’s demonstrate it.

4. Length is important. Unless your product or service is already known by everyone watching the program, I don’t recommend you ever do a 30 second DR spot. Frankly, you have to get the viewer off the sofa and over to the phone, then get him or her to write down the number and call. You simply can’t do that in 30 seconds. In image advertising, McDonald’s, Nike, FedEx, or others make it work in 30 seconds because they’re just trying to present a good image or feeling. But in DR, you want them to act. So don’t be afraid to stretch it out.

5) Long Form Direct Response: Basically, we decide to make a 30 minute program when the product, service, or message is something that really needs extensive explanation, or, if it’s a complex concept. But in those cases, you can’t forget that people are tuning in and out of your program every 7-9 minutes (which is true for any program). Therefore, most half hour infomercials you see on TV are not really 30-minute shows, but they are three, 7-9 minute shows. Because we know that people are tuning in and out throughout that 30-minutes, we want to make sure we demonstrate the product, show a testimony, and give people an opportunity to order during that time.
Keep in mind that the audience of your program is not a lake, it’s a stream – constantly changing and constantly moving.

Direct response needs to be hip and contemporary. Make it cool, and make it look good. You don’t have to be cheesy and cornball to be successful at direct response. But now they’re creating a new generation of infomercials that looks more like an episodic drama. There’s no hard-sell. It’s more dramatic, and the audience gets caught up because of the story, but the ultimate goal is still to sell those knives. So infomercials are moving from cheesy-land to being very cool, very contemporary, and very hip.

So remember that direct response advertising can be very effective, when you use the right principles and techniques to get people’s attention, and get them to act.

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3 Comments

  1. I view the situation just a little differently.  I believe in the advertising world there are only two types of commercials:

     

    Direct Response – do something now…

     

    Delayed Response – do something sometime…

     

    Delayed Response ads have to do with positioning a product or service in people’s minds so that when they have a need your product will come to mind. These ads could possibly be considered image or awareness advertising.  However, going, going and almost gone are the days when advertisers will settle for only achieving awareness or good PR. They want sales. ROI is the driving force.  The sale may not come today – but the sale ultimately needs to come.

     

    Evangelism spots are simply delayed response ads with a spiritual focus.  At some point in the future you want the viewers to make a spiritual decision. Of course, if the spot is offering a free book or resource – then is it Direct Response because you are calling for action now.

     

    Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are indeed rare real estate.  This is because broadcasters are no longer required by law to provide public service time.  So your ability to place a PSA on a station has to do with company policy, available inventory and your relationship with the station management.  However, most PSAs are delayed response advertising and are more about positioning than action.

     

    “Delayed Response Positioning” is accomplished when the product is anchored in the mind and filed in the appropriate long-term memory category.  There are a number of devices which can be used to accomplish this Delayed Response Positioning.  The most common device is humor.  Just count the number of commercials on prime-time network television that use humor and you’ll see what I mean. Other devices include imagery (beautiful scenery or people); contrast (two or more subjects that normally to not go together); emotion (we all remember those Hallmark ads); shock & awe (a favorite of action movie ads); or information (facts that you are not likely to know).

     

    Direct Response (DR) is all about generating action now.  There needs to be something in the spot that is motivating and compelling.  There needs to be a sense of urgency that if you don’t act now, you will really be missing out.  If a Direct Response spot doesn’t generate response, it fails…

     

    It is true that is takes more than 30 seconds to motivate a viewer to action.  Most DR spots are 60 seconds or 120 seconds.

     

    Advertisers are recognizing the value of taking the extra time to motivate action.  The trend a few years ago was toward shorter spots the share of 15 second spots was growing steadily.  However that has all changed in the past two years. Network television has been running more longer format spots each year. The percentage of 30-second spots declined to 57% in 2006 from 59% in 2004, while the share of 15-second spots declined to 33% in 2006 from 37% in 2004, according to the Nielsen data. During the same period, the number of 60-second spots jumped from only 3% in 2004 to 8% in 2006.

     

    Most ministry programs are Direct Response in nature. We want people to respond now.  They respond by making a phone call, ordering product, making a prayer request, or accepting Christ or some other tangible and measurable form of response.  Yet, many ministries do not make their offers compelling, they do not create a sense of urgency … and moreover if they actually have a successful Direct Response program, they are often unprepared to appropriately handle that response.  But I digress…

     

    I believe ministries need to consider both Direct Response and Delayed Response strategies in their marketing campaign. Both approaches have purpose – both have value – but their focus is different. Direct Response can have a short life and fast response – Delayed Response must have long and consistent exposure to have maximum impact.

     

    When I was the General Manager of a television station in Illinois, we had an advertising client who was a chiropractor.  He advertised with us consistently over a period of several years.  He ads were low key and informative.  His goals was not to get people to respond now – but to position himself as the authority so that when they had a problem with their back or neck – they would immediately think of him.  He told me that advertising on our station was the single most effective thing he did to build his rather successful practice.  But it took time – consistency – and patience.

     

    So when you are looking at your marketing strategy ask yourself:

     

    Am I looking for immediate action?  Is this a short term promotion?  Is there a reason for people to respond now?  If so, think in terms of Direct Response.

     

    OR

     

    Am I looking to position my ministry, service or product? Is there no sense of urgency? Do I want to achieve mindshare more than immediate action? If so, then think in terms of Delayed Response Positioning?

  2. I love Direct Response because it provides a scorecard.  When a project is complete I know exactly how it did.  I can test and improve.  I know where it fits in the best and the worse.  It is not subjective—the people/donors/customers along determine if it was a success or a failure.

    I love the challenge of beating the last high watermark, raising more money, gaining more donors to feed children, beat cancer, evangelize the world.

    I love responding to results and developing the plan for the next breakthrough.

    Yes, I am a sick person.  I love DR.

    Mary Hutchison

    CreativeOne Direct

    mary@creativeone.com

  3. My firm is in the middle of this world right now… we're working with a client who has brought us in for both creative and production for a new infomercial yet wants their current ad agency (who feels threatened by us) to handle the media buy.  So we're trying to find that happy medium of "traditional" infomercial that was popular 10 years ago and the "new" way of doing the infomercial (more episodic, a la a half-hour HGTV show).  Thanks for the comments, this was really helpful.

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