DRTV is experiencing rapid growth. But it is up to advertisers to decide whether to use direct response or branded response commercials

SBHD: DRTV is experiencing rapid growth. But it is up to advertisers to decide whether to use direct response or branded response commercials

It is difficult to try to pin down an element of the communications process that is evolving as much as direct response television (DRTV). Every year, DRTV accounts for a greater proportion of TV airtime in the UK. The sales house Laser estimates that DRTV commercials represented 22.6 per cent of all TV ads in 1994 – up from only 12 per cent in 1990.

Any form of advertising which grows by 84 per cent in four years deserves further investigation. But this study is not without its pitfalls. The main stumbling-block is definition. In this case, it is easier to split the market in two and look at the two categories of branded response and direct response.

Direct response ads are in the genre of the man in the shiny grey suit who taps the screen to close the sale. Direct marketing experts suggest the best results come from ten-plus seconds of the number to call and clear communication of the product offering. There is an unwritten code on time lengths, the type of programming and the best day-parts – all geared to optimising response. This is professional selling off-the-screen, and is only used by a small number of advertisers – namely in cosmetics, DIY, collectibles and film processing.

The more consistent users are in the music, video and the catalogue business. Perceived wisdom suggests this type of DRTV is only thought of as “cheap” because the products don’t need much mulling over before the decision is made. Expenditure is low, but there is some growth. But can many more products be sold in this way?

A recently-hatched joint venture between Carlton TV and VideoPlus could mean that brand advertisers do not need to consider selling their products through grassroots DRTV. A peak-time brand commercial can now feature a VideoPlus reference number that interested viewers can key in. This number instructs the VCR to tape an infomercial appearing in a low- cost, night-time break. Many advertisers already apply a similar principle by running peak airtime in conjunction with a screen of product information on Teletext.

Branded response commercials are a by-product of the accountability revolution, and already represent a larger market. These are brand commercials that end with an “added value” telephone number to give the advertiser some chance of an instant return on their investment. The primary emphasis is awareness, although viewers can find out more information if they wish.

As call-handling services become more universal, more advertisers will use brand commercials as a way of offering information, product literature, quotes and samples over the phone; and to build their databases. What advertisers must decide is which process fits their own particular needs.

Richard Sunderland is media planner at Zenith Media

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