Direct Response Television – A mature industry still in the process of growing up

virginia-super-slims-advertisement1Most of my career has been in and around direct marketing. Sometimes B2B and sometimes B2C. I’ve attended countless conferences over the years although with my extensive background in print and mail dominates and I’ve had not nearly as much career experience in DRTV (you know the things you claim never to watch. Infomercials. Short form ones, like 30,60,120 seconds; or longer form, like 5,30 or even 60 minutes). Last week I attended my first Electronic Retailing Association (can we agree it’s time for a name change?) Direct to Consumer (ERA D2C) show/conference/expo (call it what you like), in Las Vegas where the focus is on DRTV. (The Wynn Hotel is awesome by the way).

When direct response pitchman Billy Mays died in 2009 I wrote about that from the standpoint that perhaps the time had finally arrived where DRTV marketers would stop all the yelling. To a degree that has happened but what continues to work are a plethora of low cost products that are as easy to purchase as a few clicks or a quick phone call. Most of the attendees, presenters and organizers appeared to have experienced successes in DRTV. And yes a few failures as well. After all DRTV is a business that necessitates failing fast.  If orders don’t come in when spots air cut and run as soon as it’s clear.

Like so many industries technology is having a big impact on the DRTV business. Viewing habits are very different from even five years ago. There are more cable channels than ever before and now with Internet TV channels countless viewing options so advertising inventory is spread out over an increasingly wider landscape. Audiences continue to fragment making it harder to reach likely DRTV purchasers of products and services.

One of the things that has always interested me regarding direct response is that if it doesn’t work you don’t keep doing it since your direct sales figures are the only indicator of success or failure. Professional marketers readily admit that brand advertising is nearly impossible to correlate to an overall ROI.

I’ve heard ratios like one in thirty DRTV spots actually work. And in pure direct response terms you are always hoping for that grand slam like a Snuggie from a few years back, or the expandable garden hose that is everywhere today. In recent years a direct to retail strategy has become increasingly popular. The real success today is often seen in using DRTV to create some sales to offset media and production costs that will enable a hit DRTV product to then be sold at retail – Wal-Mart, Kmart, etc.

What I became aware of as I took it all in with an industry colleague and good friend, was that most DRTV efforts have still not graduated from being strictly tactical to being strategic first before going to tactics. The machine is still working (although not as effectively) – spots are written and produced, and media is purchased in pretty much the same fashion as it has been, (with more technology to better catalog and report to clients where and when spots aired).

The prevailing notion is that the best DRTV products appeal to the broadest range of people. For that reason fitness and health products rule the roost. Yet when we asked marketers and companies who was their target audience we often heard “everyone can use it” or something like women from 16-55. Instead of determining the most likely segments to purchase, since everyone needs to be fit everyone is a prospect. Since everyone wants to be healthy than health products are for everyone!   Let’s face it folks – DRTV for most of its history has been nothing but a blunt instrument.

There’s so much useful data in the marketplace that can be used to finely target the people that would MOST likely purchase your product. At the same time it’s just as important if not more so to not reach out to people who might be able to use the product but would NEVER BUY it. One of the show personalities, a sometime DRTV spokeswoman, noted that even DRTV now has begun to realize that shouting is not the answer, and that a conversation should be had with the prospective customer. The only way that can happen is if DRTV folks grow up and understand that leveraging behavioral and attitudinal data is the key to unlocking those conversations that your prospects and customers will be interested in having.

Unlike the old brand ad for Virginia Slims cigarettes, DRTV’s version of the line should be ‘You’ve got a long way to go, baby’.   And yes I am going to go back again next year, after all, it’s Vegas baby.

Posted in Direct marketing, Direct Response Television, Marketing stuff, Targeting, Television advertising | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook wants you to wish Happy Birthday to the deceased

automatic-wish-happy-birthday-in-FacebookThis morning I read an interesting post written by Josh Cline as if it were February 2016 ruminating on the death of Facebook.

While I found the post to be amusing, (if not implausible) the same day it was overshadowed by a ‘suggestion’ to wish a now deceased former classmate of mine from high school a Happy Birthday. It’s not that I don’t understand that someone in the person’s family should have (by now since it’s been more one year) contacted Facebook (FB) to have the profile removed. Maybe the family tried and was unable to reach the right people at FB. Or maybe the family in some way wants to have the profile remain for some reason I will never be able to understand.

Shouldn’t more be expected of Facebook? With all the tracking and data it’s impossible for me to believe that some FB algorithm would not indicate that a FB user has passed away, especially after more than a year. My view is that it is in extremely poor taste to suggest FB friends wish someone a happy birthday when they have passed away.

I am not of the opinion that FB should take down the deceased’s profile page and that appears to be FB’s ‘’policy’ as well. I’ve noticed that family has used my classmate’s FB page to post occasional loving remembrances and far be it for anyone to opine on a family’s way to deal with their grief whether it be short or long term.

But surely Facebook knows when people pass away right? If FB can retarget me contextually based on a website I visited it should also be able to search and match files of the deceased (don’t tell me this is not possible I won’t believe it) to make certain that mistakes like suggesting wishing a happy birthday to deceased FB friend do not occur.

The same is true of other social media profiles like LinkedIn. I had a LinkedIn connection that passed away tragically and yet more than a year later I was asked to congratulate him on his years with the company. Ugh.

Social networks need to do a much better job of stopping this kind of thing from occurring. Hiding behind protocols is not the answer. It just should not happen. Leave the page active, stop the suggestions for wishing the deceased a happy birthday, anniversary or anything else for that matter.

Do agree that FB is responsible for a certain amount of insensitivity here?  Shouldn’t we expect and demand better?

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Amazon gets a Twitch and likes it

GamersThe news that Amazon purchased for nearly a billion dollars last week is now in the category of old news.  It was Amazon’s second largest purchase ever (bonus points if you can recall the largest which was only for a couple of hundred million dollars more).

David Carr of the New York Times wrote his usual good piece about it  earlier this week.   I’ve been familiar with Twitch for some time now as my son is an inveterate gamer and has been talking about the incredible popularity of the platform.   What remains to be seen is how Amazon will leverage the platform into something profitable.  Gamers, you’ll note, are notoriously resistant to efforts of commercialization on their platforms.

That thousands of fans attend live events to watch others play video games is a hard concept for most of those over 40 years of age.  I’ve not attended one of these events but I am interested enough to want to have the experience even though I am not gamer.  The marketer has much over which to salivate when it comes to the opportunities to monetize the incredible passion of the ever-growing gaming audience.   And the numbers are mind-blowing as Mr. Carr notes – citing (ironically) the Wall Street Journal -

…’last October, more people – 32 million — watched a championship for League of Legends, on various streaming services including Twitch, than saw the finales of “The Sopranos,” “24” and “Breaking Bad,” combined.’     This was all without commercial interruption.   Apparently gamers were pleased that it was Amazon, and not Google or Yahoo that won the bidding for Twitch although I am not sure exactly why they feel that way.

Gaming has more than come of age and my son and I have talked about an ESPN-style Sportscenter show that would be an obvious outgrowth.  There are many athletes both amateur and professional that love to play games in real time with other people like League of Legends (LOL – really), StarCraft II and Counterstrike (not to mention Dota 2).   The gaming world is more than ready during tournaments for a wrap-up show of the prior match and preview show of an upcoming match to fill what is now dead air.  That’s one of the first places I’d expect to see monetization take hold (i.e. sponsored by…).

You already know that gaming has come of age when Amazon pays nearly a billion dollars for it. How marketers will rise to the challenge of reaching an audience that rejects commercialization will be interesting to watch.  I have a few ideas.  How about you?

The answer to the question is


Posted in Advertising to Millenials, Community, Internet gaming, Sports Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Google buy Uber?

Johnny CabUber is still the lead horse in the car-sharing race (ahead of Lyft and Sidecar for example). I’ve already written about when Google Drives Your Car.  Now I can see that it is only natural that Google can drive you in Uber’s network of driverless cars.

I had a flashback to the original version of the movie 1990 Total Recall.  The movie (which was for my money much better than the 2012 re-make) featured several different interesting thoughts about the future.  One of them (for those that can remember), was the ‘Johnny Cab’.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas Quaid is driven by a robot that takes you wherever you need go whenever you need to go.  While in the movie the Johnny Cabs were hailed the old-fashioned way, they just as easily could have been hailed using a transmitter (read app).  After all, this version of Total Recall was made eight years prior to the founding of Google.

The Uber app is easy to use and tracks an individual’s travel history and habits.   Uber (Lyft and Sidecar as well) right now is primarily used as a taxi app. All the apps have now introduced ride-sharing capabilities within the app.  Users are presented with the opportunity to spend less money (than a single ride) where you pick up or join another passenger as long as the trip does not take you more than five minutes out of your way.

More than half the trips on Uber would apparently qualify as having two people in the same general area going to the same general place at any given time.  It’s all about big data and Google is really good at monetizing big data.

I admit that Google buying Uber is a pretty obvious idea.  So why hasn’t it happened as yet?

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What Cable TV companies can do with triple play subscriptions will freak you out

dataTubeWhile we wait for the Comcast/Time Warner deal to happen (or not) the ongoing discussion as to the future of ‘cable TV’ providers (a misnomer to be sure) presents marketers with some interesting opportunities.

The advent of ‘triple play’ options from cable providers began the fight to control the data capture ‘tube’ connected to your home or business.   First it was cable television service. Then people were offered the option of receiving Internet service from their cable TV provider. Finally cable companies came up with the ‘triple play’ option including VOIP telephone service.   Deals were offered for year one (or other various promotion durations) to incentivize people to go for that ‘triple play’. After year one you then paid the full rate, which for many homes today exceeds $200/month.   $3,000 per year for one-stop shopping is convenient – for cable companies at least. It’s simply expensive for subscribers.

Millennials have shown the way since they (nearly always) don’t have a home phone (and never will), and have found there is life without cable TV subscriptions so all they really need is an Internet connection.   We can debate the future of cable TV until the cows come home but the trend is clear – bundled cable TV subscriptions will eventually be a thing of the past.

One reason I suggest you might be frightened is illustrated by something that happened to me this week. The home phone rang early one morning (I was actually home) and the caller ID noted it was from a charity with which we had never interacted. So like most people (ok almost ALL people) we ignored the call. Here’s where it got strange. Most times the call just ends in a hang-up. But this time we heard on the answering machine (for some reason we still have one of those), a live (at least I thought it was live) voice called out my wife’s name – “XXXX, are you there? “ That was something I had never heard before.

Then I started to think, I had been doing some work using the Internet.   Could it be possible that our triple play cable TV provider could see that there was Internet activity on our account from our house where the home phone was and that we had caller ID and did not care to answer? The obvious thought is that giving it a shot by having a live voice ask for one of us by name would increase conversion (donations) rates.  

If that’s the case and I suspect that it is, that approach is both brilliant AND creepy. With so many worthy causes it’s harder than ever to raise donations.   Finding a more targeted way to achieve success is what we marketers work on every day.

As two-way data flows continue to offer more detailed data on data stream behavior (what programs are on the television, web habits and access to your phone), smart marketers will relish the ability to avail themselves of the cool shiny new tools.   It’s our responsibility as marketing experts to our clients to be as efficient and as effective as possible.

But there are lines to cross aren’t there?   Where should they be drawn?








Posted in Cable Television, Internet television, Personal Privacy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Will users like me be saying good-bye to Foursquare?

foursquare-logomarkI’ve written about Foursquare on ten different occasions on this blog since becoming one of the earlier regular users.  Here are two – an early and a later one. Earlier this month Foursquare unveiled its new logo and new business model that it claims packaged goods companies, ‘love’.   That may or may not be the case but I don’t love it and have this week said good-bye to using Foursquare.

An article in Adweek last week offered the idea that the success of the integration of Swarm (what has now become of the old Foursquare check-in feature) and Foursquare “makes the company “a more attractive buy for brands that are looking to connect with folks they know already have a base level of [interest]. While this is not a new practice, we’re interested to see how deep this type of personalization can go without being creepy or invading on privacy—to truly deliver value on an individual basis.”   Um, sure, ok.

I always liked the idea of check-ins, mayorships and interaction with my (albeit few), Foursquare friends. It was interesting to see where they had been and where they were going. There were times that as a result of a check-in from a friend I was able to meet someone I would have not even known was around. The problem was Foursquare and Dennis Crowley could not create a revenue model from check-ins.  So in 2013 Foursquare began to sell user data to third parties for ad targeting.   Maybe you just missed that.

Now it appears that Foursquare has decided it would rather try to be Yelp. Of course Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman according to Adweek ‘has strongly dismissed Foursquare’s comparisons to his company in the past’ and you can bet he feels no different today.

Foursquare is a puny challenger with stats from the Adweek article – ‘according to comScore, Foursquare’s mobile and desktop traffic in July was 10.3 million viewers, up 13 percent year over year. By comparison, the Reston, Va.-based researcher said Yelp drew 72.5 million viewers in the same month, up 15 percent year over year.’

Would many people care to put reviews up both on Yelp AND Foursquare? While it’s true that Yelp has had some problems regarding authenticity of reviews and what is seen in some circles as retailer strong-arming to pay for advertising, it’s relevance is increasing, not decreasing.   Was Foursquare in such a sorry state that this was seen as the best available move?   I’ll answer that – it appears to be so.

Foursquare was a rather unique application with potential to derive revenue in a number of different ways but even with that the road to success was going to be difficult.   Foursquare’s former uniqueness was primarily limited to cities a(s opposed to small towns where there are fewer available check-in locations). The move to be a recommendation app is a big yawner for me and for some of my foursquare user-friends.

What do you think? Is this the beginning of the end for Foursquare? Or had that die already been cast?   Or am I missing something?







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Five reasons people hate going to stores

Sharks in storesSoon we will reminisce on when people used to actually go into retail stores.  It wasn’t all that long ago.  It even feels like it was only yesterday.   The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday had a story entitled ‘Shoppers are fleeing physical stores’.  My first thought was that Sharknado 3 had a surprise early release.   After all the vision of shoppers ‘fleeing’ stores was different than not bothering to actually go to the stores in the first place.

I admit that I personally avoid going to stores for the most part.  It’s not just that I don’t care for shopping, I don’t.  As a man I am most interested in buying and leaving a store as opposed to ‘shopping ‘which for many women is a gender team-building experience not unlike going to the ladies room while at a restaurant.

Why do I (and so many men AND women) despise actually going to the store?  Here are five reasons as a longer list was significantly pared down.

Traveling to the stores costs time and money.  And we all know time is money right?  If I know what I want to buy there really is no reason to physically go into the store.  Just between Amazon and Fresh Direct I can pretty much buy anything I want and have it delivered to my residence insuring that I always have the potential to be a housebound agoraphobe.

  1. Carrying around your purchases.  People don’t like to have to carry around their purchases.  As anyone that has ever lived in a five-floor walkup will tell you – the least fun part of buying something is carrying it home.
  2. The staff.  The people that work in most retail stores are overworked, underpaid, and just so unhappy to be there.  You can feel it when you walk into the store.  And it’s not a good feeling.
  3. Returning something at the store always seems to result in standing on a long line of dissatisfied people who are primed and ready to jump ugly at the first sign of resistance to their return.   A little risk management advice – if you ever have to return something to a hunting store don’t do it in person.
  4. Stores run out of the thing I want to buy.   Sure you can check online if the store has your item in stock but it could run out of the item by the time you get there and it should not be any surprise that not all point of sales systems are real-time updated with the local website.  And since you are online already why even bother going there in the first place?  Have it delivered.  Duh.
  5. There are occasions when I don’t mind going into a store.  At the airport it’s ok since my flight is delayed and I’d be happy for the option of as many stores as there can be since sometimes the flight delays are interminable (could not resist).   If we’ve gone out to dinner and want to take a walk around afterward, having some stores to walk into is a mindless and not unpleasant pastime although I sometimes prefer to stand outside and look in while I enjoy an occasional cigar.

The trend is becoming clear.  There will be fewer and fewer retail stores as time goes on.  Do you have any of your own reasons why you despise physically visiting a retail store?

Posted in Consumer Behavior, Internet Shopping, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments