February 2008 - Ask the Expert

Homeruns or Headaches? DRTV Prepares for High Def

By Timothy R. Hawthorne

A: On February 17, 2009, federal law will end transmission of analog TV signals in favor of digital. We’ve heard this before, but the deadline was extended. For that reason, some agencies will take a wait-and-see approach before switching to high def production. But DRTV shops should act now.

On most high definition networks and programs, standard def commercials predominate. This is a missed opportunity. Direct response marketers follow the data, and the numbers suggest we get moving. A Discovery Networks study found that high def creatives drove a 55 percent higher intent to purchase than standard def spots. Jack Myers reports that G4 and MTV2’s HD viewers register 30 percent higher overall emotional connections. Nielsen discovered that HD viewers report 31 percent higher ad recall rates than do their analog counterparts.

The conversion will cause headaches. New HD cameras and edit suites require investment. Clients may balk at production costs estimated to be 15 to 20 percent higher. You’ll need to provide extra dubs for stations that don’t yet transmit digitally. You may need extra media buying resources to contend with networks that broadcast different content on their HD feeds. For maximum impact, you may find multiple creatives best suit the different formats’ resolutions and aspect ratios.

But even something as vexing as differently formatted creatives offers unique opportunities for A/B tests. And high definition offers DRTV advertisers even more possibilities and benefits.

1) Most high def viewers are affluent and can afford high-end products.

2) The 16:9 aspect ratio provides additional real estate to expand presentations. As ESPN does with HD “SportsCenter,” you can fill in the extra width with additional information, reinforcing product features typographically within the side margins. Or after launching your call-to-action, you can leave key details on continuous display on the side.

3) HD images enhance credibility. Since seeing is believing, high definition can persuade doubting viewers that your product is what you claim. A cleaning product’s impact should display better than ever, and before-and-after comparisons will appear even more dramatic and vivid. HD productions will expose poor products, perhaps forcing them from the air, enhancing DRTV’s image.

4) When you embrace high def, you won’t disappoint your audience. Though high def penetration remains below 20 percent, it grows every month as next February approaches. HD viewers become quickly intolerant when standard def messages intrude. HD’s clarity makes good products look great. By contrast, the same product in standard def just doesn’t measure up.

Even though the government’s looming deadline will spur most DRTV marketers and agencies to prepare for high definition, the message is as clear as a high def image. Converting is worth doing, and it’s worth doing now.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct, a full-service DRTV, print, mail and digital ad agency founded in 1986. A 34-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate.


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