From the February 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Even before Ron Popeil's Pocket Fisherman and the Thighmaster captured the imaginations (and wallets) of American TV viewers and earned their makers small fortunes in the process, television was king when it came to direct response product advertising. In fact, more than half of all consumers say they're most likely to learn about products or brands they'd like to buy from TV commercials, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB).

If you're considering marketing your product on television, now may be a great time. "Because of the economic environment, a lot of the stations have some downtime in their production facilities, and they may be willing to cut deals to get new advertisers on the air," says Gary Belis at TVB. That message is underscored by Diane Downey, vice president of sales for WUSA, a Gannett-owned CBS affiliate in Washington, DC, who says her station may go so far as to help write scripts and bring in a production company to produce spots clients couldn't normally afford.

While industry watchers say the average production cost for a 60-second direct response TV spot is $30,000, that average includes big-budget national ads. Entrepreneurs can typically create spots for a fraction of that amount. For example, South Florida Productions Inc. in North Miami, Florida, recently created a 60-second spot for a local business for just $8,000-an appropriate budget for a local cable ad.

The Winning Formula
Direct response TV works well for inventors and other entrepreneurs who can't get retail shelf space or whose unknown products would languish on the shelves. But direct response TV isn't right for everyone. Before you jump in, make sure you can answer yes to these three vital questions about your product:

1. Can its benefits be demonstrated? "Without demonstration, you can't use TV effectively to make a sale," says direct response TV veteran Joseph Gray, CEO of Murietta, California-based RevShare Corp. Think about the kinds of products you see in direct response spots-such as a hair-braiding tool, a unique children's paint kit, or a "revolutionary" car finish. They lend themselves to effective visual presentation.


Direct response TV works well for inventors and other entrepreneurs who can't get retail shelf space or whose unknown products would languish on the shelves.

2. Does it have mass appeal? "When you select your target, there should be a high probability that the majority of those people can use your product," explains Downey. Whether you're buying time on cable systems or individual stations, you can save money by purchasing "broad rotators," which means your spots may run anytime during entire dayparts, not just within specific, higher-rated shows.

3. Is it unique or novel? It's best if your product is novel enough that there's little competition for it on the retail level. In fact, once a product is widely available in retail stores, direct response TV spots stop working. Most entrepreneurs advertise on TV to create impressions in the marketplace that pave the way for future retail sales.

Top Sellers
For successful direct response spots, follow these important guidelines:

  • Create 60-second spots. While 30-second spots are the norm for most TV advertising, their primary function is lead generation. The 60-second spot is the preferred length for selling products.
  • Have a visible call to action. It's advisable to have your toll-free number, and possibly your Web address, onscreen for a minimum of 40 seconds. Some advertisers display this information throughout their spots.
  • Use the magic number, $19.95. This is the most successful price point for direct response TV ads. "Your chance of making a sale above what they call impulse-$19.95 to $29.95-is exceedingly difficult, because you're limited in what you can do to create value in the customer's mind in 60 seconds," says Gray. For higher-priced products, 30-minute infomercials or placement on TV shopping networks works best.

For more details on direct response TV advertising, log on to TVB's Web site or obtain a copy of Response TV magazine by calling (800) 854-3112.