Hit & Miss

Jordan Pine’s pre-conference workshop shed light on what it takes to succeed in DRTV.


Direct marketing luminary Jordan Pine led a first-of-its-kind workshop ahead of this year’s ERA D2C Convention, “What Every DRTV Pro Should Know.” The session focused on As Seen On TV products and short-form advertising, the specialties of the popular blogger and his consultancy, SciMark. Over the course of four hours, Pine explored a variety of DRTV topics, advising attendees on what makes a successful product, good and bad product categories, creative strategies, and the numbers a marketer needs to assess success (see sidebar, “Counting the Ways”).

Divining Success
Pine reviewed what he calls “The Divine Seven,” a set of criteria he uses to evaluate the likelihood of a product’s DRTV success. They include uniqueness, and how compelling the product’s points of differentiation are. By way of example, he showed a run-of-the-mill cat scratcher versus the Emery Cat Scratcher, which has an emery-board surface and is a DRTV hit.

Next, Pine asked a classic sizing-the-market question: Is the audience for your product big enough? To illustrate the point, he showed a Papal crucifix, noting that Catholics comprise 21 percent of the populace. By contrast, a Prayer Cross that uses light to project the Lord’s Prayer has a larger potential audience, he said, given that 71 percent of U.S. citizens identify as Christian.

His third criterion examined the degree to which a product solves a problem with a unique solution, and just how acute that problem is in terms of perceived consumer pain—is it a major hassle or a minor annoyance? The further along the pain scale the problem is, the greater the chance a prospective buyer will pick up the phone or go online to order a product that promises a solution.

The economics required to make a go of DRTV dictate that the landed cost of goods is no more than one-quarter the suggested retail price, Pine said. With most short-form DRTV products sold between $10 and the pervasive $19.95, that doesn’t allow for much flexibility. Marketers should also seek out products that are easy to explain, he added; products that do it all like a Swiss Army knife are too complicated to describe succinctly.

A product also must appeal to as broad an audience as possible, Pine noted. And finally, the product’s promise must be credible. The hit hair accessory Bumpits, for example, offered a unique design that supported its product promise.

The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly
As a longtime champion of DRTV best practices, Pine has strong opinions about what constitutes a “good” DRTV category versus a “bad” one. In the “good” category are cooking and kitchen products, apparel, garden and yard products, hair removal products, and pet products. Each of these categories has produced hit DRTV products consistently. For example, knives such as the Ginsu and Yoshi Blade have endured for decades, as have gadgets such as the Veg-o-Matic and Slap Chop.

Pine calls a product that peaks and fades only to return to the marketplace years later a “phoenix.” Lint rollers were popular in the late 1980s, for example, and—led by Vince Offer and his Schticky—similar items resurfaced in 2012. This is leveraging “old gold,” Pine said, and then there is “old gold with a new twist”—when an item is given new life by virtue of an added wrinkle. The furniture moving disks popular in 2002 morphed into a similar product in 2011, with the addition of a lever that helped jack up the furniture to slip the discs into place being the differentiator. They, too, were a hit.

Pine relegated smartphone and tablet accessories, plush toys, lights, cleaning products, and hair accessories to his “bad” category. Though there have been successes in each of these segments (such as Pillow Pets in the plush toy category), Pine said that the dominance of these outliers has made it difficult for new entrants to break through.

An item whose marketer becomes fixated on making it a success despite evidence that it is unlikely is a “Siren,” Pine said, alluding to the mythical mermaid-like creatures who lured sailors to their deaths. He admitted that there are always exceptions to his rules, though—in the lighting category, for example, there have been countless failures including the Blow Lantern, Catch-A-Light, Handy Lantern, Sun Genie, Liberty Lantern, and London Railroad Lantern. Yet TeleBrands’ Olde Brooklyn Lantern was a hit—and sold like hotcakes after Hurricane Sandy knocked out power up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Formula One
Pine believes that there are tried-and-true elements to successful DRTV short-form creative. It begins with a problem/solution opening, which acts as a hook to draw in the viewer. Next, the ad should highlight the unique features and benefits of the product, and follow with demonstrations that prove its claims. The more magical the demo, the better, Pine said, citing Billy Mays’ seminal OxiClean demo, in which colored fabric was cleaned before the viewers’ eyes, as an example.

The ad should continue to explain how the product works, comparing and contrasting it to other alternatives to show its superiority. Testimonials and endorsements can be included, especially in two-minute spots, and time spent answering prospects’ questions or objections. “When you’re presenting a product and you are trying to hide an objection, it will certainly come up in the minds of the viewers,” Pine said, quoting DRTV legend Joseph Sugarman. “And if you don’t resolve it, it will kill the sale.” Finally, a good spot provides a compelling offer that includes a value comparison and a satisfaction guarantee.

Pine cautioned that taking shortcuts on the formula could be the difference between success and failure. Cutting the end tag, in which the toll-free number and URL is called out repeatedly, can be disastrous. Pine suggested allocating 12 to 15 seconds to this convention, but acknowledges that producers often attempt to cut down on that time to include other messaging.

After all, the logic goes, the phone number and Web address are right there on the screen! But prospects have to hear and see it in order for a DRTV marketer to take full advantage of their attention, Pine advised.

Pine’s deep dive into DRTV best practices are a reminder that no matter how long one has been engaged in marketing, there are always new lessons to be learned. As legendary salesman Joe Girard once stated, “The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs—one step at a time.” And Pine’s knowledge is an open door to those stairs.

Counting the Ways
There are a number of equations and benchmarks direct marketers can use to determine whether or not a campaign is successful, SciMark’s Jordan Pine says. They include:

  • Cost Per Call (CPC) = Media Spending/Calls (e.g., $135,712/29,394 = $4.62)
  • Cost Per Order (CPO) = TV Media Spending/Orders ($135,712/4,771 = $28.45)
  • Conversion Rate = Orders/Calls (4,771/29,394 = 16.2%)
    Revenue Per Order (RPO) = Revenue/Orders ($212,189.16/4,771 = $44.47)
  • Media Efficiency Ratio (MER) = Revenue/Spending ($212,189.16/$135,712 = 1.56)
  • Break-Even = The media CPO at which your campaign has no profit and no loss
  • Allowable = The media CPO at which your campaign gains or loses an allowed amount

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at and @thepetrydish on Twitter.