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Published in Sports Business Journal, June 19, 2006 : Page 17

Remember the "Pocket Fisherman?"

While that TV campaign usually elicits a smile from longtime TV viewers, it still reigns as one of the most successful marketing efforts ever done via what's called DRTV (direct response television). DRTV, be it one- or two-minute commercials or half-hour infomercials, usually includes an 800 telephone number, which enables the viewer to call in and immediately order the product being advertised. Foreman found success outside the ring.

DRTV is a natural for many products in the sports business. It should be among your company's marketing and advertising tools. Here's why.

DRTV works.

Think for a moment about products you are familiar with that are sold on TV. I bet you can instantly rattle off a list that includes such successes as Sharper Image's Ionic Breeze, Tae Bo, Total Gym and Evinrude.

Add to those the sports-oriented successes like Banjo Lures, the Hit-a-Way baseball trainer and George Foreman and his line of grills and accessories. DRTV sells sports and sports-related items.

It is ideal for sports products and sporting goods.

A good sports or recreational item is a magnet for DRTV shoppers and buyers. Lots of great sports items (fishing gear, golf clubs, camping equipment, memorabilia, training gear and more) are easily sold on TV.

Sports enthusiasts are devoted TV viewers who seek out products they like and want for their use or as part of their collections. The market is wide open for you to exploit.

It is becoming mainstream.

Long dismissed by major marketers as inferior television advertising, DRTV appeals to some of the biggest brands. P&G, Clorox, Microsoft, Pfizer and others have jumped on the DRTV bandwagon in recent years to launch new products, generate leads or build awareness for items they want to create excitement for at the retail level. Bowflex showed that infomercials can sell high-priced sports fitness products.

If the big guys are starting to discover the power of direct response TV, given all the other choices their ad budgets allow them, doesn't this tell you that DRTV works?

DRTV can sell products at virtually all price levels.

DRTV successes have come in all price ranges. Gadgets and items for $19.99 are commonly marketed in one- and two-minute spots; items costing $500 and more are effectively sold in longer half-hour infomercials. Look at Bowflex.

Offering payment option plans works extremely well with high-ticket items. One payment via credit card works for less expensive items.

It supports your retail effort and does not compete with it.

Don't believe anyone who says you can't sell directly on TV because it will hurt your retail sales or your relationship with retailers. That's a myth.

Most retailers encourage marketers to sell directly on TV, knowing that those messages – even direct selling ones – build brand identity and drive traffic to stores. The reason you see "As seen on TV" on products in-store is because the DRTV campaign is designed to create that residual effect at retail. It's a combination that works.

Experts can handle the whole process for you.

If you're thinking of exploring DRTV, don't turn to your usual marketing agencies and suppliers. It's a specialty marketing business, and you need talent that works in this space. It's no different from most other supplier situations: You find someone who knows the market and can get you what you need, and get it done the right way.

Ads are formula-driven, but they work.

We sometimes are teased about the way DRTV spots and infomercials look, but a veteran direct response company and producer know how to craft a message that creates the desire to pick up the phone or go to the Web and make that purchase.

How many times have you done so yourself, or felt confident about the product and the offering in a DRTV spot? Well-executed direct response ads understand how to create an appetite for your product, outline the benefits and drive traffic. There's a reason they are successful.

Telemarketing and fulfillment are simple processes.

The DRTV industry has many experienced sources to handle those incoming calls, make the sale, maybe tack on an "upsell" item and get the product shipped efficiently to the TV buyer. These companies know the business and the consumers. They get the job done without tying up your resources, and they're not expensive.

Take a good look at direct response TV and infomercials as you plan your next marketing program. Who knows, you may have the next "Pocket Fisherman," and you ought to be looking at DRTV to catch some of that buying market.

Familiar faces, products

Some of the more memorable and successful direct response television campaigns from the field of sports and fitness:

  • Bowflex: Strength training machines using graphite rods for resistance and tension
  • George Foreman grills: Former heavyweight boxing champ turns grill master with indoor tabletop grills
  • Banjo Minnow lures: Lifelike artificial fishing lures earn rave reviews from skeptics

Dan Zifkin is president of Zephyr Media Group.