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Are you considering DR? Consider this first:

You have an excellent product. You know it’s going to sell a million units. But now we have to spread the word. Your best bet is direct response television. Read on to find out why.


From the sellers’ perspective, Direct Response allows you to reach the most consumers in the shortest possible time and measure that response immediately.

From the consumer perspective, DRTV has become a highly accepted way to purchase quality products conveniently. Now it’s easy to buy trusted and recognized brands from the comfort of your living room and have them delivered to you within days. All you need is a phone and a credit card.

Who buys on TV? Everyone! According to recent demographic studies, infomercials are watched most by a middle-income audience: primarily the married white woman owner with an income in the 56,000 range. All in all, not a bad market to have at your disposal .


Direct response television has been around since the 1950s in various forms. The media’s true renaissance began in the early 1980s with the launch of Florida’s Home Shopping chain and Pennsylvania-based QVC. There are three basic formats:

* Direct-to-camera presentation where a host or hostess explains the product and then implores you to buy, buy, buy.

* Short advertisements of thirty seconds to two minutes. From cellulite cream to car wax, this format has been used to sell everything. You tend to find them on either late night or early morning television, where broadcast time can be bought cheaply.

* The thirty-minute infomercial. These programs are great if you’re trying to sell a more complex product with multiple features and benefits. Do you remember the Blu Blocker ads? Originally aired in the mid-1980s, it has become the template for infomercials for the past twenty years. Although there have been many variations on the theme, the main goal is to educate and entertain. A well-informed customer is a satisfied customer. Advertorials mostly have (3) segments or modules punctuated by a call to action at the end of each module.

Traditionally, it’s better to go ‘long’ rather than ‘short’, especially if you’re trying to educate the consumer on a more complex product. This gives you plenty of time to overcome objections as you continue to sell.

The evolution of DRTV

Although DR’s primary market remains vanity products (diet plans, exercise machines, and cellulite creams), DRTV has been used to sell everything from kitchen gadgets to timeshares to dating services.

DRTV has evolved into an extremely legit phase. Brand advertising has been mixed with the direct response technique to create a more powerful sales tool. Many Fortune 500 company advertisements today prominently display 1-800# or website addresses throughout the advertisement. From All State to CIBC, financial firms and insurance companies have also embraced DRTV. One of the best examples is the TD Waterhouse campaign with Sam Waterson as spokesperson.

What products and services work well on DRTV?

DRTV traditionally targets the consumer with products that promise well-being (eg health, beauty, exercise and diet). Direct Response is now used to generate leads in the financial and insurance industry, promoting products ranging from credit cards to estate planning.

In Canada, Sympatico ads that appear on TSTV have been extremely successful in generating leads and sales for Bell Canada.

The DRTV production process

This is a representative timeline of the DR process, from idea to release.

* Creative brainstorming. Determine the best format (long or short) for your campaign. What is the salesperson going to accomplish? Is it for lead generation or product sales?

* Call center/fulfilment house contract. There are several in the Toronto area that handle both the appeal and the distribution of the product.

* The client approves the creation, the budget and the schedule are prepared. At this point, your legal department would be involved to assess the content.

* Pre-production begins At this stage, we start writing the script, choosing the talent, arranging the locations or sets

* Production: from two weeks to one month, depending on the nature of the creation.

* Offline editing, two to three weeks from first edit to final approval

* Approval of the program by the broadcaster. In the US, it’s the FCC in Canada. This is a Canadian organization formed by cable companies that makes sure an advertisement is fit to air.

* Media test plan approval

* Media buying

* Final master approval – versioning or completion 1-800 masters for various TV markets

* Your commercial is broadcast, (this is the test phase) you wait for the phones to ring. The executing agency provides you with daily reports on the status of the spot

* Media Testing Review – Accurate statistics that reveal who responds and at what time. At that time (and budget permitting), a creative overhaul to iron out any obvious flaws in the program


With a short-form production, the budget can be around 100,000*. The thirty-minute infomercial can cost upwards of 250,000*. The variance is based on a number of factors, including:

* Media quality – for broadcast quality, your choices are varied. From 35mm film to HD, Betacam, DV

* Talent – ​​Will you seek the endorsement of a recognized personality? Will your production be unionized or non-unionized

* Location – personally I think we should film everything in California

* Animation, graphics, music

*This is your production budget only and does not include purchasing airtime, release management or execution.


DRTV is recognized by retailers and consumers as an extremely effective way to sell your product. From beauty to fitness to financial services, DRTV can be used to inform and educate your target audience and create a solid revenue stream for the vendor.

By James C. McGee

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