One of the joys of the creative process is that it's so wide open; there are as many different methods of channeling creativity as there are creative people. In the business of advertising, however, while the process is important, it's the output that gets all the attention. There are marketing objectives to meet. Mandatory messages to incorporate. Communication tracking goals to deal with. And so on.
When it comes to Performance Television and Direct Response Television (DRTV), the metrics just get more challenging. Clients expect to see tangible results, in the form of phone or web activity, qualified leads, sales, etc., and they expect to see them, like yesterday.
With this kind of accountability, Performance Television creative has to meet different standards. Here are four key considerations for successful results.
1. Identify the audience. Any good advertising embraces a well-defined target audience. Given that the goal of DRTV isn't to entertain, but to inform and educate (not to mention motivate), signaling the audience right out of the gate - essentially letting viewers know who we're talking to - helps insure they'll stick around. In some cases this can be a simple, direct statement, especially if there are qualifying characteristics, like being Medicare age or part of a very specific group. You can also identify viewers who fall into a relevant interest group, like foodies or video game enthusiasts.
2. Communicate with Clarity. This is an exceedingly simple concept that's surprisingly hard to execute: clear communication of specific benefits and features. Writers: resist the temptation to show off your poetic chops and/or your extensive vocabulary. Art Directors: make sure visuals support the strategy. Clients: make sure everything you're mandating for the copy comes from a consumer perspective. Even if you've spent years and a bunch of money to develop some kind of space-age ingredient or cool technology, if it doesn't matter to the consumer, don't put it in your commercial.
3. Create Value. Great brand advertising generates a strong emotional connection with its audience. This alone, however, doesn't lend itself to inciting consumers to take action. Performance Television is charged with motivating the viewer to do something - call, go online, text for more information, watch a demonstration video - and the sooner, the better. At some point, you're going to ask your viewer to take some of her valuable time to respond to your ad. There has to be enough value in what you're offering to make it worth her while. This means a little less character/plot, and a little more (okay, a lot more) substance. Remember: it's one thing to get someone to feel something. It's another thing to get someone to do something.
4. Sell...but never at the expense of the brand. Sometimes it seems like everyone's forgotten the reason advertising was invented: to sell something. Effective Performance Television is not shy about selling. Importantly, this doesn't mean yelling, schilling or wheedling. It means providing substantive information to the prospective consumer, and then clearly asking them to consider closing the deal - all without compromising the valuable equities of the brand. (Anyone who tells you a key pillar of their brand character is that "it doesn't sell," might be trying to sell you something else altogether.)
Four considerations to keep in mind as you think about an investment in Performance Television. The beauty is, these are not prescriptive rules, but rather criteria for success. Work with a team who has done this before. Because as straightforward as it seems, there is an art to it.
I watched Jeff Goldblum's GE Link smartbulb ad many times. Over and over, in fact. All two-minutes of it, basking in every creepy second. (Perhaps "unsettling" is a less pejorative term? Either way, it is awesome.)
I love ads like this. They're immanently watchable, shareable, talk-about-able. But the delight here is they manage to squeeze in a few legit selling points for the GE Link Lightbulb! Actual brand benefits! Tasty product features! Try doing all that in 30 measly seconds.
In any form of advertising, including DRTV, a great piece of work always begins with a great idea. That’s why at Eicoff the beginning phase of a project is so important. It’s at this time that the foundation of our TV commercial and its core message will be built.
This early stage is also really fun to watch. Creative teams fight the fight to find those really big ideas. Sometimes their first thought rules the day. Sometimes they struggle mightily. And other times, the ideas just won’t stop coming.
That’s why it’s not only interesting, but vital in our occupational field to think, “How can we put ourselves in the best place to find ideas?” So in today’s blog, I’ll review 3 different thoughts that can help you, me and anyone else generate good ideas.
1. GIVE YOUR MIND A REST.
Yes, that’s right. It’s common for people to have big ideas pop into their heads while doing brain-dead things, like taking a shower, going for a stroll or laying in bed. And, there’s a scientific reason for this. When your brain relaxes, it can begin to daydream, open up and let all of those wonderful thoughts come together. If your brain is roaming, instead of focusing, it’s actually super active and thus a ripe condition for an “a-ha” moment. If you’re in search of an idea, feel free to take a walk, go for swim, stare at the ceiling, linger in the shower, get a massage or doodle away.
2. PUT YOUR THOUGHTS ON A COLLISION COURSE.
In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson details out in great length how many historically significant innovations were spawned by several ideas coming together. From the first coffee houses of England to modern innovation labs, when people and their ideas mingle, big things can happen. As a creative person, you’re much better off exposing yourself to the world around you, sharing with others and looking for things that may create a spark. That’s why it’s important for us not to work in a vacuum. So go ahead, have lunch with your mad scientist friend, explore a museum, learn a new skill, read a totally different style of writing, flip through a magazine, listen to the Blues or click on today’s funniest Youtube video. It’s okay. You are on a collision course to a good idea.
3. BE AN IDEA HORDER.
Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson has a terrific four-part series called Everything Is A Remix in which he explores how many brilliant creators and artists weren’t as “original” as we all may think. He shows how in Star Wars George Lucas borrowed everything from the opening titles to the severing of a limb from earlier movies. He also demonstrates how legends like Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan clearly copied and adapted the music of others. In advertising you obviously don’t want to look like another brand, but if you can take an existing idea, visual look or writing style and remix it into something totally fresh, go for it. As Kirby points out, just look at Hollywood where 74 of the 100 best selling films in the last decade are sequels, re-makes and adaptations of books, comics or video games. When writing for a funny character in your TV commercial, think about how your favorite comedian, or your hilarious Uncle Pete, might speak. When looking for a cool visual, look at other cool visuals. Hoard as many ideas as you can. The larger the collection of ideas you have, the better you’ll be able to adapt, transform and create something wonderful.
Whether you make television commercials for a living or not, coming up with big ideas is a valuable skill. And while certain brains are simply better at it, the reality is that the proper environment and your method of working can make a huge difference. And of course, if all else is fails, I suggest pouring yourself 2 pints of Guinness. One to drink. And one to stare into until an idea surfaces.
Tim Burke is a Group Creative Director at A. Eicoff & Co., one of North America's largest DRTV agencies.
More brands are seeing the benefit of using more time to tell better stories. During the Golden Globes, Intuit Turbo Tax became the latest advertiser investing in a longer-length commercial to tell their story. The brand spot entitled The Year of You, features John C. Reilly as the voiceover.
In the paper titled "The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas" the reputable academics who conducted the research (I'm definitely uptowning on this one) suggest that the biggest challenge for clients when it comes to embracing creative thinking is the unknown. It's risky. Largely because it's, well, unknown. In a world that's often resolutely risk-averse, this is the paradox: I want creative and novel ideas but novel ideas take me out of my comfort zone and render me uncomfortable.
Which isn't to say DRTV is inherently un-creative, nor devoid of risk. (Ask the people who brought the world The Snuggie if they thought that was a sure thing. Over one hundred million dollars in sales later...)
But let's face it, the risk we're talking about is All About The Money. DRTV embraces the kind of creative thinking that will prove itself - or not - quickly and without a huge investment. A couple weeks on the air and you'll have your answer. A client who jumps on the DRTV bus doesn't have to hold her breath hoping an idea will turn out to be successful in Year 2 or Year 3 while watching her marketing budget dry up, not to mention her prospects for that big promotion.
Even with all the copy testing in the world, there are no guarantees in life. Except with DRTV. If it works, you'll know it faster than the time it takes to sew arms on a blanket. If it doesn't, well you'll know that right away too. So you can move on to your next novel, creative, risky idea.
Take the creative bias out of your creative ideas. Try DRTV.
Mike Powell is the SVP/Executive Creative Director at A. Eicoff & Co., one of North America’s largest DRTV agencies.
In his popular book, Hey Whipple Squeeze This, longtime ad man Luke Sullivan writes extensively about the need for advertisements these days to stand out amidst a crowded media landscape. Sullivan gives this uniquely-modern challenge a name: “cutting through the clutter.” And though it’s all too easy to resort to elaborate stunts to get ads to stand out to viewers, Sullivan posits that “the interesting part of an ad shouldn’t be a device that points to the sales message; it should be the sales message.”
To most, that direction seems crazy, maybe even archaic. We’ve truly been conditioned to digest advertising with the assumption that the sales pitch is the least important part of an ad. We want - sometimes even demand - it served up with plenty of flash! Pizazz! Hilarity! Talking babies! Otherwise it goes in one ear and right out the other.
But the strategy inherent to direct response TV (DRTV) is in lock-step with what Sullivan suggests; a direct response campaign is all about the sales pitch. It’s the jelly of the jelly donut (or the cream filling, if jelly isn’t your thing). If our target audience doesn’t understand anything about the product or why it’s exactly perfect for them, they’re not going to act - no matter how much entertaining fluff the spot offers. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how hard Joe Schmo laughs at your commercial if it doesn’t also give him an understanding of your product and, more importantly, the motivation to buy it.
All this doesn’t mean that DRTV is without a sense of humor or that DRTV doesn’t care about achieving that ideal mix of art and commerce – it does. But DRTV’s primary goal is to deliver the messaging that will make your brand successful. Consumers don’t always need to be thrilled by a new product proposition. Sometimes simplicity is enough to get the attention of potential buyers.
And let’s be honest, talking babies are only funny up to a certain point. Then they just get kind of creepy.
Stephanie Sidak is an Account Executive at A. Eicoff & Co., one of North America’s largest DRTV agencies.
What can we learn from Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy earworm?
If you want someone to call you, they’ll need your number.
So how does a no-brainer like this, get lost in the world of advertising?
Whatever the reason, telling the customer where, or how to buy, has become a missed opportunity for advertisers.
Brands will meet for months discussing lofty front-end strategies, like targeting, positioning, and pricing. This is smart preparation.
Then they’ll obsess over executional tactics like taglines, creative, photography, and media placement. These elements define the look, feel and exposure, but they can only do so much.
Commercials have become all flirtation, with no follow-through.
No matter how sexy a spot looks, cleverly it’s written, accurately it’s targeted, or even how much social media it uses, it won’t make the register ring without doing what Carly does: making it easy to call or click, and close the deal. Your customer needs a phone number, a link, a point of sale. This is where direct response (DRTV) shines.
Direct response leverages brand, strategy, creative and media. But it doesn’t leave them hanging. It takes their hand and invites them to take the next step forward, toward making an actual purchase.
Brands can throw all the money in the world at big multi-media campaigns, PR events and sponsorships. Those channels will create awareness like nothing else. But we need to ask what are they making the customer aware of? Existence? Appearance? Coolness? What about how they can buy it?
Having a great product with smart advertising will definitely get you noticed. But until you’re as well-known as Apple, Pepsi, or Carly Rae Jepsen, the register will never ring until you follow through with those magic words, …here’s my number, so call me, maybe?
Jim Madsen is a Copywriter at A. Eicoff & Co., one of North America's largest DRTV agencies.
Last year I set myself a couple of very achievable New Year’s resolutions.
Among them, was to intern at an advertising agency during the upcoming summer. So you can imagine my delight seeing an internship posting by A. Eicoff & Company on my school’s career site this March.
I recall the moment I read the first line of the company description. It stated, “A. Eicoff & Company is the leading Direct Response Television (DRTV) advertising agency in Chicago.”
My immediate thought was, “That sounds cool and all… But what the heck is direct response television?”
Being the curious cat that I am, I immediately went on a Googling spree, reading article after article about the DRTV industry. From what I initially saw, I wasn’t positive if interning at a DRTV agency was ideal for me. But upon further research, I stumbled upon a YouTube video that completely changed my mind.
That video was of David Ogilvy, a true pioneer of advertising, speaking about the art of direct response advertising. In the video, he attributes much of his success to DR advertising, calling it his secret weapon, and praises the industry for knowing what types of advertising “really” work.
In particular, one line from the video stood out to me. It was, “Nobody should be allowed to create general advertising until he’s served his apprenticeship in direct response…That experience will keep his feet on the ground for the rest of his life.”
At that point I felt like he was directly talking to me, subliminally advising me to apply for the Eicoff internship. Any doubts I had about interning at a DRTV agency were thrown out the window…I was sold!
Now fast forward four months.
Since then, I’ve landed the internship here at Eicoff, experiencing the DRTV industry firsthand. After only a few weeks here, I can already see the relevance of Ogilvy’s video and how prophetic it was. Most notably, I see how gaining Direct Response experience can set the ground for a successful advertising career.
Well, the benefits of learning DR are outlined by the following points Ogilvy makes in his video. He says, Direct Response advertisers:
Know what works, to a dollar
Know long-form ads can be more cost efficient than short-form ads
Know that headlines and copy about a product and it’s benefits, sell more than cute headlines and poetic copy
And that they know things “for sure” because results can be tracked
Ultimately, in an industry where creativity is highly praised, DR specialists put most importance on being cost-effective and creating results for the client. In other words, instead of getting too caught up in generating overly entertaining ads, DR specialists make sure to focus on the fundamental goals of advertising.
Luckily, here at Eicoff, I have the opportunity of learning those fundamentals from leaders in the DRTV industry. Even with the advertising market expecting to change more in the next five years than it did it the last fifty, the fundamental objectives of advertising will remain the same. So whether I continue my career in DRTV or not, I’m confident the knowledge and skills I build at A. Eicoff & Company will prepare me for any advertising endeavor.
So, thank you Mr. Ogilvy for those prophetic words that are just as true today as they were 26 years ago.
JP Mallari is an Intern at A. Eicoff & Co., one of North America’s largest DRTV agencies.
Cruel. That’s probably the best way I would describe the process of selecting talent for a DRTV commercial.
You see, it all begins with the creative team sitting down in front of their computers, clicking a link entitled, “Day 1 Auditions” and then viewing one actor after the next. And when I say viewing, what I mean to say is judging. Yes, we critique anything and everything: noses, eyes, hands, makeup, body shape, facial hair, frontsides, backsides, gestures and voices. We often hit the pause button and jot down memorable notes like,
“Whoa, she has a huge forehead.”
“Sounds just like my Uncle Stu… after the tracheotomy.”
“No! No! Absolutely No!”
Next, we create a list of the actors we feel good about and we call them back for a live audition. At the Call Backs, once again we sit in judgment. Yes, from our comfy chairs with fresh coffee in hand, we put each actor through the ringer. We tell them to: Take off your glasses. Turn around. Jump up and down. Say it this way. No, now say it that way. Smile. Frown. Act confused. Show us your biceps. Pretend you lost your dog. Dance. Put your hair up. Put your hair down. Sing. Yell. Whisper. Do something totally different. Do exactly the same thing. Do nothing at all. Tell a joke. Act like a robot. Be sexy. Be smart. Be yourself. Be all of the above.
As harsh as it sometimes may seem, all of this vetting is vitally important to ensuring the right person or people are cast for our client’s commercial. If we’re advertising a skin care product and we fail to notice the actor’s arm has an unsightly blemish or a tattoo of her zodiac sign, we’ve got big problems. If we want someone to carry the spot with an attention-grabbing voice and performance, a shy pretty face won’t cut it. And if we need you to do a backflip while describing the benefits of a new energy drink, you better be able to do it.
Finding that right person is not an easy process. However, the more you do it, the better you get at seeing who’s got that “It Factor” or who really fits perfectly into the role you’ve envisioned. Matthew Wiener, creator of Mad Men, described his casting selection of Jon Hamm, aka Don Draper, as simply as, “That’s the guy!” Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but sometimes when you know you know. For a Creative, discovering that person who can bring life and spirit to your spot is truly a wonderful part of the process.
At Eicoff, we value good talent in a big way. Because in this world of DRTV, our spots need to work harder. They are typically longer in length so we need to hold the audience’s attention. They need to communicate with the utmost clarity and conviction. And they need to motivate without being pushy. Our talent plays a huge role in helping us achieve our many objectives. We need them to do more than just show up and smile. And that’s why we're so picky. Here are a few DRTV spots where our judgmental process really delivered for us.
Sears HVAC – Great representative of Sears. Trustworthy, friendly and knowledgeable. The epitome of who you would want to welcome into your house.
New York Life – Genuine folks talking from the heart about a tricky subject. They're very convincing without an ounce of preachiness or hard sell.
Tivo – One guy tells us the tale of this year's ultimate Christmas gift. He's engaging and fun, yet sells us all on the benefits of TiVo.