Not Your Father's DRTV

There is a quiet revolution happening in agencies across the U.S.—quiet perhaps because it involves direct-response television advertising, which is still considered unsexy in some quarters.

I’m not talking about direct-response TV as simply one media tactic, but as an integrated part of the bigger solution that all clients are now demanding: how to lower the cost of strategic customer acquisition and measure/optimize the return-on-marketing investment on a daily basis.

Have you noticed how many major marketers who would not consider themselves to be “direct-response” advertisers are incorporating aspects of direct response into their TV commercials? Who would have expected the premier “brand builder” Procter & Gamble to offer product coupons through DRTV? When you think of direct response, certainly General Motors isn’t top of mind. But even this major auto giant has embraced the ability to target offers and messages using DR online, as well as in other media. Add Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmith- Kline’s use of direct-to-consumer drug marketing with Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T’s use of DR as a battle weapon and you have eight of the top 11 advertisers in the U.S.

Have you tried to hire media staffers recently who are experienced not only in direct-response television, but who truly understand how to integrate the full range of online and offline direct-response disciplines—along with being adept with the sophisticated software systems they require—into the big media picture? These people are a rare breed, and there is a shortage of them countrywide. Lastly, have you noticed how many marketing executives on the client side are rising from the ranks of people who earned their stripes in no small way in the trenches of Internet marketing and accountability, where they are used to metrics that produce quantifiable results? Prime examples are Leslie Kilgore, Netflix’s CMO, who was an staffer; John Flemming, Wal-Mart’s CMO, who was most recently CEO of; and Ken Wirt, svp of worldwide marketing at Palm Inc., who was previously the founder and CEO of

Over time, our agency has invested considerable time and effort to recruit and implement the talent and systems that are needed to integrate state-of-the-art direct-response solutions into today’s general agency setting. Here is some of what we learned during that process.

Many people think they know DRTV when they see it. Reality is more like the blind man describing the elephant. Is any commercial with an 800-number considered direct-response? A Web URL? How about both? A message with a response mechanism today has many different names, such as “brandtailing,” “brand action,” “brand response” and “direct to brand.” All are very viable and stem from the same goal, which is to generate action. However, unless the response is measured and used to optimize the message, offer, media, supply and demand or whatever you choose as a metric, then it isn’t actually DR in the traditional sense.

There is an educational process involved in having everyone in an agency understand the difference between a general message accompanied by a response mechanism (like an 800 number) and a commercial that contains a specific call to action—it could be a sense of urgency, such as “for a limited time only”—along with a unique 800 number and a URL. A large retailer currently advertises a brand of tools, and often these messages have a response mechanism, either a toll-free number and/or a URL. This advertiser also has specific ads that test creative, offer, price and media while still selling the same brand and products. The difference? The level of granularity in the response and how it is measured and reacted to.

The first example I call “direct to brand,” which allows message recipients to respond to using accepted direct-to-consumer practices. The second example is direct response. The retailer uses this information to change its price points, manage its lead flow, impact its ability to meet demand and test the creative hook to ensure the message is engaging the intended recipient. These examples are becoming more and more prevalent. A prime-time ad can have a vanity phone and URL, but the same ad with a slight “twist” (think testing) may be seen on the weekend or early fringe with a unique toll-free number and a URL that will be quite different.

The variations abound. From a creative standpoint, some of today’s coolest TV ads also are the most efficient in terms of lead generation because they contain a DR mechanism. So it’s possible to satisfy the desires of creative and media people and get the best possible results for your clients. However, everyone in the agency—from marketplace planners, to media, account services, creative and production—needs to be on board.

If you have old-school ideas about what constitutes DRTV, or you haven’t experienced the latest analytics and talent, there is a place in the tar pits for you. In short, this isn’t your father’s DRTV. With clients demanding more aggressive media and ROI modeling, why would it be?