Atomic Direct Skips Usual DRTV Drill

LOS ANGELES When independent Atomic Direct crafted its first 30-minute commercial for the Drill Doctor drill-bit sharpening tool four years ago, the agency launched what it called “a new approach to direct-response TV.”

For its most recent, holiday-angled Drill Doctor spot, Atomic Direct took a similar approach, the agency said this week. Rather than relying on traditional DRTV measures, such as “dramatic re-creations and carnival-barker tricks,” the commercial captures “unscripted, real people in their real environments.”

“The DRTV business is going through a change,” said Doug Garnett, executive producer and founder of the Portland, Ore.-based shop. Instead of trusting celebrity influence to sell products, infomercials need to genuinely inform. “They need to help people really understand the product and make choices,” Garnett explained. “Why does this product affect my life?”

Hosted by professional contractor Bob Gilman, the Drill Doctor holiday special uses language such as “we,” “our” and “anyone” to promote feelings of inclusiveness among both its viewers and on-the-spot pundits, a mix of weekend workmen, motor-boat builders and car enthusiasts. Many had not used the product before and clearly doubted a need for it.

When Gilman says that “most people don’t realize how complex a drill bit really is,” he doesn’t go straight to the “Want to find out? Operators are standing by!” line some viewers have come to expect. Instead, he offers an in-depth explanation of the tool’s features, and how they can benefit each individual user. Much like an effective airplane safety video, the spot incorporates detailed descriptions, close-up examples and reassuring messages.

This sort of DRTV technique can also be affordable, Garnett said. In 2003, Drill Doctor spent $2.2 million on advertising, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, including infomercials, television and radio spots, and in-store promotions. Between January and October 2004, the company’s ad spend was just $200,000, most of which went straight to longer-form TV spots on national cable. Direct-response sales figures are easily trackable, the agency said, and display that the Drill Doctor’s 30-minute campaign alone has delivered 1.5 million drill bit sharpeners.

In terms of overall viewership, “we’re never going to compete with reruns of Happy Days,” Garnett joked. But using real people to promote products will successfully encourage potential customers to pay attention to the spots, instead of flipping past them, he said. “It makes the product more interesting, and the commercial more effective.”