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By Dan Zifkin

One of the least understood aspects of a direct response television campaign is the media test phase. Most clients seem to more easily understand what's involved with the creative development process. They can readily assume and grasp how inbound telemarketing services process viewer calls. They also see the merit of the Internet as an increasingly important "inbound" order-generating medium. And product fulfillment/getting purchased items into the buyer's hands is a pretty straightforward part of the process.

THE MEDIA TEST

But it's that test process that often befuddles first-time DRTV users. Many clients assume that the finished short-form spot or long-form infomercial just rolls out on a local market or national cable basis and either succeeds or fails. You either make money, or "fold up the tent and go home." When you mention "media test," you often encounter a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what that process really means.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about DRTV media tests:

How much money? There's not a magic formula for this, no different than answering what it costs to create a DRTV message. We tend to suggest enough money be spent so as to generate sufficient frequency or airing of the spot/infomercial. Frequency is the key to learning if the product or service can be marketed successfully in DRTV. Without some repeated exposure and viewing by the prospective customers, we really don't know if the product can be prosper on TV. While a great problem-solving product with a winning creative message can "hit" on the first exposure, it almost always takes a few views to convince even the most-intrigued prospect to make a purchase.

Where should it run? Unless the client knows something really insightful about some select markets, testing locally is a questionable strategy. Does a test in Kansas City or Portland give us any idea of the national potential of the product? We often hear of clients seduced by media organizations, suggesting that the way to mix frequency and cost-savings is to run a media test "blitz" in a local market, mixing a few broadcast airings and a lot of inexpensive spots on local cable stations. We've yet to hear of a client who was satisfied with the results of such a limited test. It's almost always easier to get that frequency at a modest cost by using national cable networks of some reasonable audience size at a sensible price, especially in these softer economic times when media rates are low.

What then after the test? We look at the sales results, ask the telemarketer for any unique insights (confusion about the offer, price resistance from balky callers, etc.). We can then work on rollout refinements in the creative or price point and go from there.

There's a sensible middle ground between an expensive rush to a full-scale rollout and a test that's too small to provide meaningful results. Set aside a meaningful amount of test money and dissect the results carefully before moving forward.

Dan Zifkin is president of Zephyr Media Group in Evanston, Ill. He can be reached at (847) 328-1519