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When we work with new clients or client prospects, they’re often surprised when we suggest using national television rather than a select local market or two to test a direct response campaign. The apprehension is certainly understandable, particularly with smaller entrepreneurial clients who are fearful of their campaign costs being taken to levels that they cannot afford.

Rest easy: the cost benefits of national TV are in the economies of scale. Unless the client has some bona-fide reason to test locally–a retail tie-in, sales force considerations, etc. -we tend to suggest national testing, despite the apprehension the client may have.

National cable networks–particularly the ones with smaller household universes that are attractively priced –are an ideal place to test DRTV campaigns. In our experience, we find that the rates that we can obtain for both long form infomercials as well as short form spots are attractive vis-à-vis what it costs to buy a half hour or spot on local TV stations. The cost of a smartly-placed, well-negotiated national cable spot is often no more than the cost of running that same spot on just a handful of local market stations. This makes the logic of "testing nationally" easy to rationalize and justify, even to the most hesitant and frugal of direct response TV advertisers.

While the client may primarily be persuaded by the cost advantages, a direct response media agency sees other tangible benefits to a national test. The key to that added learning is looking at the data gathered by the telemarketing firm who is handling the inbound consumer phone calls, or the website team processing orders placed via the Internet. We can use networks with differing demographic profiles–perhaps age, gender, household income levels–and see how well the program or spot does with those differing audiences. We can even ascertain regional or local market pockets of product selling strength by looking at where the calls originated. Think of that this way: local market tests might well choose the wrong places to conduct the test. If a DRTV product does poorly in a local market test, it’s conceivable it may have been tested in the wrong place. The converse might also be true: false promise on the future success of a product could result if the local market is atypically strong in generating interest or sales. We tell clients that national testing can even out those disparities, and provide much better insights into how a DRTV product will perform when rolled-out after the test phase.

Our business development team frequently tells me that they’ve come across interesting products for DRTV, only to be rebuffed by those companies or entrepreneurs who were talked into running a test that was largely confined to some local market and/or handful of local cable systems that failed miserably. They’ll be told by the client that DRTV doesn’t work, and that some agency burned through their media testing money and had little to show in the way of results. We could have told them so before they misappropriated their money.

While our testing approach is not going to guarantee success, we WILL promise it provides a much more sensible read of potential DRTV ROI.

Zephyr Media Group, headquartered in Evanston, Illinois, is a leader in the direct response marketing and infomercial media business, with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, OR, and Chicago. Zephyr Media Group provides full services, including concept development, media buying, production, fulfillment and telemarketing.