By Thomas Haire, Special for USDR
Have you ever wondered how the Snuggie became not only the butt of many late-night TV comedians’ jokes but also a ubiquitous product that has sold more than 25 million units? Did you ever think to yourself, “Why do I keep seeing this product on my TV when it looks so cheesy?” — and then seen the same product flying off of shelves at your local Target or Walmart? Or have you even thought, “I have an idea for a product, and it would be perfect for one of these TV commercials?”
If so, you’re not alone. The “As Seen On TV” industry has grown during the past 30 years into a $300 billion business — and the techniques its advertisers use have now become accepted and widely used by major brand marketers like State Farm, Procter & Gamble and Pfizer.
But the essence of the business remains the product inventor who believes he’s found a solution to a common problem that is likely to sell millions of units. Are you that inventor — or just interested in how it all happens? Here’s how the “As Seen On TV” business — commonly known to insiders as direct response marketing — works.
Most products that turn into “As Seen on TV” hits solve a simple but common problem for consumers. Think of the Space Bag (now owned by Ziploc): storage space can be a bear, especially if you’re living in an apartment. But with the Space Bag, you can vacuum seal and shrink — yet still easily access — many of your rarely used clothes, linens and more to save on space. Space Bag provided a reasonably priced storage solution and did so well on TV that its now owned by a huge brand and is a retail juggernaut.
But just because a product solves a problem doesn’t mean it’ll be an automatic “As Seen On TV” hit. After all, only one out of every 20 products tested by “As Seen On TV” marketers becomes a success. And, given the changing technological world we live in — where consumers are more in control of what marketing messages they receive and their attention is divided amongst TV, their smartphones and their tablets — that number’s not likely to improve.
Too often, inventors and marketers believe too powerfully that a niche product will be an “As Seen on TV” hit. But the vast majority of “As Seen on TV” winners are products and services that serve the biggest possible market.
Test, Test, Test — and Get to Retail
The power of this type of campaign rests in presenting the problem, offering the solution, showing powerful demonstrations and testimonials and then asking for the order — we call it the “call to action” — right there during the ad. That’s why it’s known as direct response marketing — marketers are asking you, the consumer, for an immediate, direct response to the advertising: call now or go online now to buy!
This makes one of direct response marketing’s biggest advantages its immediate measurability. The metrics available from media testing — running a short-term TV campaign to test the waters and see what the response is — are invaluable. But the “As Seen On TV” experts don’t just rely on numbers after the first media test. Most DR producers and agencies today provide market research, run products through focus groups, and more. And yet, even with all of the metrics and return-on-investment (ROI) measurements available to them, some of the greatest “As Seen On TV” products of all time weren’t immediate hits.
Was Guthy-Renker’s Proactiv Solution was always a winner? Not by a long shot. It took Guthy-Renker years to get the mix just right to turn Proactiv into an “overnight” success. What about the Snuggie? Ask two of the industry’s leading product marketers who passed on the product before a third picked it up and made it a success.
Speaking of the Snuggie — it capitalized on “kitsch” with a series of amusing ads, a brilliant social media and PR campaign, and wise partnerships for licensing and line extensions. But, don’t be fooled. The Snuggie’s true success was based on powerful metrics and a capable retail plan.
As consumers continue to gain more control over when and where they want to be advertised to, it’s become nearly impossible for an “As Seen on TV” hit to produce the desired sales results simply from a “call or visit our website now” campaign. That’s why “As Seen On TV” sections have become huge at a vast array of retailers. The top “As Seen On TV” products generally sell 10 units at retail for every single unit they sell directly via phone or Web. You can’t afford to even think about starting a direct response campaign today without having a retail plan in place.
Science and Art
Media plans, digital plans, retail plans — it’s a lot to think about. Yet, the science (and art) behind “As Seen On TV” campaigns is something many people overlook. The industry is filled with experienced experts in each and every facet — from product sourcing to production to media to teleservices to fulfillment to the Web to retail and more.
Often, we’re told, “Yes that product looks cool on TV, but I bet it’s cheaply made.” While perhaps that was true in the industry’s early days, today — with “As Seen On TV” products now incredibly well researched and often competing with established brands on retail shelves, product quality is often equal to — if not better than — those competitors.
Yes, the “As Seen On TV” business is an intriguing one to many consumers — both those who love its products and those who remain wary of them. But, like any marketing business, thoughtful planning, in-depth research and — most importantly — quality products and services make it a success.
During the past 13 years, Thomas Haire has been an industry opinion leader at the editorial helm of Response Magazine (responsemagazine.com), the only independent source of news and information in the direct, digital and data-driven world. He is also the content director for Response Expo (responseexpo.com), an annual three-day trade event in San Diego, scheduled this year for April 29-May 1. He can be reached via E-mail at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THrants.