January 2005 - Per Inquiry

Raiders of the Lost Arc

By Rick Petry

Today, what passes for good television consists of everything from ugly homes receiving facelifts to homely faces remodeled to look like models. While many thought that reality television would die quickly, it is turning out to be broadcasting’s version of rap music. There is a fundamental and powerful reason why: everyone loves a good transformation because metamorphosis makes for entertaining drama. Yet, buried beneath the re-plastered walls and rhinoplasty lays the human element that gives these stories such power, because intrinsically they are about someone’s life being altered forever. In that respect, they are just like the testimonials that DRTV relies upon to sell product. Why then do so many marketers, in their desire to rush to market, truncate the testimonial process and not allow the dramatic arc of these stories to reach full maturity; therefore, jeopardizing their probability for success?

Allow me to explain. Beautiful pop singer seems on top of the world-except she has these awful breakouts that are putting pockmarks on her rocket to stardom. But thanks to a couple of Stanford researchers, her life of glamour can carry on unblemished. That’s Proactiv Solution, the most successful acne remedy ever introduced via DRTV. In this case, our character begins with a problem, undergoes a personal odyssey and discovers how to resolve that problem. This character has experienced a dramatic arc-a journey with a beginning, middle and end.

Tales like this one are the basis of good drama, but they take time to develop. Often when we are approached to execute direct advertising, we’ll ask if a group of product devotees exists. The usual response is an emphatic, “Yes!” There are credible professional endorsers, celebrity acquaintances and other passionate product users all at the disposal of the backer. The problem is that as soon as one tries to actually access these true believers, such testimonial candidates evaporate like a mirage.

So wrinkle creams, acne remedies and weight-loss and exercise programs are left to rely not on these cherished true believers, but rather upon recent converts, the latter being well-meaning volunteers who may or may not have the sort of breathtaking, life-altering transformation that will provide the foundation of proof of the product’s effectiveness.

Unfortunately, by the time this realization materializes, the rest of the marketing arsenal- from script to production to media and backend-may already be locked and loaded. The bullets in the form of the budget begin firing and, well, there are only so many bullets in a chamber.

So before you embark on a direct marketing effort that relies on the power of personal stories, make sure you have an appropriate volume of product testers and the time it takes to document the very best of them so that they possess authenticity and dimension. In reality television, when disaster strikes, such failure makes for good drama, but in the reality of direct marketing, only success enables a long broadcast run.

Rick Petry is president of agency services for Euro RSCG 4D DRTV, a full-service direct marketing agency based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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