January 2007 - Ask the Expert…DRTV

Choosing Short Form or Long Form

By Timothy R. Hawthorne

Q: Should I use short-form or long-form DRTV?

A: We spend a lot of time with clients in our “creative think tank” going over that exact question. The analysis we go through to determine whether to go with short form or long form takes a close examination of product complexity and price point, marketing goals (for example, if the product is already available at retail, I often would recommend using short form) and production budget dollars available (short-form spots average about $125,000, while long-form production budgets average $350,000 to $400,000).

To help us determine a client’s DRTV strategy, short form vs. long form (and sometimes we recommend launching both simultaneously), we review the product against a set of parameters:

Short form: Simpler, more impulse items; benefits and features need to be easily understood in 100 seconds.
Long form: Good for more complex products that require more “consideration.”

Short form: Only time enough to focus on five or six major product benefits.
Long form: Plenty of time to go deep into multiple product features and benefits.

Short form:
Not much time for “real people” testimonials (good actors are more concise); if strong real-people testimonials are available, use very brief sound bites.
Long form: Enough time for testimonials from real people who can tell their product story in depth; more potential for evoking emotion and poignancy.

Short form: Traditionally about 20 seconds (an 800 number could be inserted for virtually the entire spot).
Long form: Traditionally between 2.5 and 3.5 minutes; inserted two to three times in the long-form program for a total call-to-action (CTA) time of almost 10 minutes (long-form CTAs are often cut down and repurposed for one- and two-minute spots).

Short form: Lower-priced product ($9.95-$49.95), trial offers or lead generators.
Long form: Higher-priced product ($49.95-$2,995), blind offers and lead generators.

Both short form and long form can drive retail, but since short form can play at any time of the day or night, it has significantly more reach than long form and works perfectly as a follow-up strategy to a successful long-form commercial for driving retail.

Within the short-form arena, there are two distinctly different show types: the one-step offer and the two-step lead generation approach. Rising media costs over the past 15 years have made it difficult-if not impossible-to get a one-step offer to work on short-form DRTV.

Long the dominion of entrepreneur marketers, one-step-offer short forms may be tanking, but their two-step/lead-generation cousins have taken off, and are typically the domain of corporate marketers like Ditech.com, Geico, Ameritrade, Liberty Medical and The Scooter Store. Consider these key differences between lead-generation short form (which tends to be mostly brand/corporate) and one-step short form:

  • One-step is a hard sell that puts benefits and features in the consumer’s face. It’s hard driving, and uses over-the-top voice over, traditional structure (open with problem/solution, big promise, features and benefits details, testimonials, scientific principles and then call to action). It is fact and reality based with little regard for branding values.
  • Lead-generation short form is a softer sell that’s slower paced and most often will have some “entertainment value.” (Geico’s gecko is a good example of this.)

Even in light of rising media costs and increased competition, too many entrepreneurs think their product will buck the trend and actually work in a one-step offer, and too few corporate marketers are smart enough to realize they can generate thousands of low cost, qualified leads via short-form DRTV. Don’t fall into this trap. Instead, do your homework and come up with a plan that truly fits with your product and marketing strategy.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is chairman and executive creative director of hawthorne direct inc., a full-service DRTV ad agency founded in 1986. A 33-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate. He can be reached at [email protected].


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