April 2008 - Ask the Expert


By Timothy R. Hawthorne

Q: Where have all the major advertisers gone?

A:In the early 1990s, recognized brands and Fortune 500s like Apple and Barun Nissan embraced long-form DRTV. While enjoying the big budgets and credibility boost that these advertisers brought, DRTV insiders worried that shrinking inventory and higher media rates would force out entrepreneurs. That tide has receded. A February Jordan Whitney “Top 60 Infomercials” report listed only one major brand-Humana-whose Gold Choice show registered at number 60.

What changed? It’s not like long form stopped working. The extended format still provides the best opportunity to fully describe and demonstrate product benefits, broaden reach and appeal to both heart and mind. But major brand advertisers appear to share four questionable assumptions that cast doubt upon long form’s value. We can refute every one of them.

1″TV doesn’t work anymore.” According to Forrester, 62 percent of marketers believe that traditional TV advertising has become less effective. Many now champion online campaigns’ “unprecedented” accountability-a DRTV staple for years. Yet, many marketers believe that “TV is TV,” and lump together each format as equally subject to diminishing returns. Tell that to Proactiv Solution.

2″We can plug DR tactics into general advertising.” Our own informal research suggests that nearly two-thirds of primetime commercials incorporate URLs, phone numbers, calls to action or compelling purchase offers. Accordingly, some advertisers consider traditional direct response formats unnecessary now. While hybrids can work, shoehorning DR elements into brand spots won’t deliver full-response value.

3″You can’t innovate in old media.” Appear stuck in the past and you’ll lose the attention of the young and well-heeled. Still, too many marketers run away from the strategies that strengthened their brands as they chase down the new media bandwagon. Besides, if familiar formats don’t allow innovation, how can product placement and sponsorship initiatives still exist after 60 years? Infomercials aren’t antiquated formula-bound relics-they’re branded entertainment.

4″We can place long form on the Internet.” The logic here is that websites eliminate the need to buy media for lengthy message distribution. Immersive sites are critical to sophisticated cross-channel efforts, but it’s puzzling that people who believe that infomercials vanish within 200-channel TV tiers think that people can find websites among 20 million alternatives.

With few major brands providing long-form competition, traditional health, beauty, self-help and gadget categories dominate the Jordan Whitney Top 60. What big brands should consider is this: programs don’t make this list without significant media buys. If products that the Fortune 500s perceive as inferior can make that kind of money, just imagine the success that theirs would enjoy.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct.


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