Marketing podcast, PreneurCast, is for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. Author and marketer Pete Williams and digital media producer Dom Goucher discuss entrepreneurship, business, internet marketing and productivity.
This week, Pete talks to Jordan Pine, a specialist in short-form Direct Response Ads for TV. Jordan shares lots of tips with Pete about this fast-moving medium, and Direct Response marketing is applicable almost everywhere, so be ready to take notes.
Jordan talks to Pete about short-form direct-response advertising
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Conversation with Jordan Pine
Dom Goucher: Hi, Dom here, and this week I’ve got another recording for you of a conversation that Pete had with Jordan Pine. Now, Jordan is an expert in short-form, direct-response advertising for TV. These are the two-minute advertising spots that you’ll see for all manner of products, and it’s a fascinating industry.
It’s a great insight into very, very targeted marketing, very kind of cutthroat, and there are a lot of tips and tricks to pick up. Regardless of the market or the business that you’re in, this isn’t just about direct-response TV ads or even TV ads at all—it’s any kind of direct-response marketing where you want somebody to react to your message; so this is pretty much applicable to anybody.
So, just listen out for those tips that are going to work for you in your business rather than think, “Hey, this is just for TV.” This is true of any kind of marketing. There’s always something that you can learn, there’s always something that you can pick up, and this is something that you’ll hear Pete and I talk about quite a lot in all of our podcasts, is where we get inspiration from one thing in one industry or from marketing one kind of product and we can apply it to anything.
And that’s a great general lesson. This conversation is an absolute gold mine for those kinds of tips. Just to know about this conversation, there were a few technical difficulties with the recording, so we join Pete further into the conversation, just as he’s asking Jordan about the more generic aspects of direct-response marketing.
[Pete’s interview with Jordan starts]
Pete Williams: But I think at the end of the day, direct-response principles are direct-response principles. The same stuff that works anyway still works—you might have to change some of the words and the language you use to sell based on local areas and the way they kind of talk; but the principles, the structure of a direct-response piece is fundamentally the same.
Jordan Pine: Oh, yeah, I agree, and I don’t think it has changed much in 100 years. When I started in the business, I started going back and—I’ve always been an avid reader; it comes with being a writer. Most writers like to read a lot as well, so I went back and I looked for pretty much every book that I could find on the topic.
Some of these techniques and some of the fundamentals, they go back to Claude Hopkins and guys that wrote at the turn of the last century—1920s, even before that, with regard to print and outdoor advertising, and the techniques they were using. So I read all of those books and it was remarkable to me how much the fundamentals have stayed the same.
Just obviously, the involving media has changed, but the fundamentals of how to structure a pitch, how to do what this guy Kennedy called ‘salesmanship.’ At the time, salesmanship in print; but today, salesmanship online or salesmanship in a television commercial, how those fundamentals haven’t really changed.
Pete: I think you’re absolutely right. So many people, when internet came along, started thinking, “It’s a whole new world out there,” and kind of threw out a lot of common-sense business and marketing practices, where it’s just a different medium, just as you alluded to. How did you fall into direct-response? How did that come about?
Jordan: I thought about four different careers. I started out, straight out of high school, I went into the military. I was a soldier, I served four years in the U.S. Army and then four years in the reserves, what we call the National Guard. I used the GI Bill and a program through the National Guard to go to college, Rutgers University in New Jersey.
I think a lot of guys coming out of the military probably fancy themselves, that they’re going to be hostage rescue or work for the FBI or something. So while I was initially in college, I started working for a private investigation firm that was run by three former FBI agents. After I learned what that’s all about, I realized that that totally wasn’t the career path for me.
Because most of what we did was sit on people’s houses and do surveillance—which is boring. My favorite was called the ‘trash audit’ where you can take someone’s trash because trash put to the curb is ‘in the public,’ so you’re allowed to take it. We take bags of trash back to the office and sort through it looking for incriminating documents. It wasn’t glamorous work at all.
Pete: So it’s actually a lot like it is in the movies?
Jordan: Yeah, exactly. I was a criminal justice major for like half a semester, and then I realized that that probably wasn’t going to be the career path for me. I said, “I’m a writer, I’ve always liked to write,” so I tried journalism. That really stuck. I basically became the head of the college newspaper and started pursuing journalism as a degree, eventually graduated with a journalism degree.
This’ll be a bit of a long story, I’ll try to make it short. While I was still in college, I went to work for a dot-com start-up that was self-funded because they wrote for business publications, special sections in business publications. I got hired, young kid, there’s probably 10 employees, and really grew with the company. Eventually transitioned from writing into marketing.
At the time, we had one of the first subscription-based models. We were actually making money on the Web (which was unheard of at that time.) Of course, after everything blew up, it was still definitely unheard of at that time. So, I made the switch from writing into marketing there in a measurable way—it was very measurable.
We’d run banner ads and we’d run promotions. We could tell what stories were read and what content was resonating with our audiences. It was sort of an early introduction to DR, though I didn’t know it at the time. Long story short, when I was in marketing, one of my best friends today who I met in the military, had gone straight out of college into one of the big ‘As seen on TV’ companies.
He said, “I know a guy who’s looking for a marketing person.” He’d always told me over the years about this crazy industry, and how interesting and full of characters it was. At the time, I was ready for a change. So I met the guy and the guy and I really clicked and I became his director of marketing. That’s how my career in direct-response started.
Pete: Very, very cool. I want to pick your brain in a moment about what makes the TV work and some elements that way; but you mentioned the crazy characters and stuff. What are some of the silliest products you’ve actually seen try to be sold in direct-response, short of short-form or long-form infomercials?
Jordan: Ah, you know—there are far too many to mention. But for a while, when social media first came out, a lot of people believed that buzz on YouTube would translate into sales. So, a lot of people pursued, not so much even the products themselves, but the creative approach around getting buzz.
And then quickly realized that, yes, you can get picked up, you can get millions of hits on YouTube, you can even get mentioned in Late Night and MSNBC stories, stuff like that, but it’s not going to translate into sales. One of the examples of that was there’s an odor spray, an odor-eliminator spray that the guy who marketed it chose to call ‘Doc Bottoms Aspray,’ (and I’ll let you figure out what the A stood for).
The whole commercial was highly offensive. It was green fog emanating from plumber’s cracks and stuff like that, and this guy spraying this spray. For a while, he was a sensation in the social media and Late Night. I suggested on my blog at the time that this is not going to work out. “People don’t buy from clowns,” is an old Claude Hopkins line that I use, so he was very upset.
Tall guy, by the way, he’s a pitchman, 6’5″, big guy, lifts weights, gets in front of me at the annual trade show, a couple of sheets to the wind and got right in my face and started telling me how wrong I was. I said, “Well, you’ve got a lot of hits, you say, but have you gotten any sales yet?” He’s like, “We’re having trouble converting the traffic into sales.”
That was one example of a really silly product that, I guess the product itself, maybe not so bad, but the marketing approach. And wow, I’ve been getting submission from inventors (which we got a lot of when I was working for that company that originally hired me).
An avid fisherman submitted a cup holder that attaches to your fishing rod (he said it could hold your soda, but we know he meant beer) that as you cast, it had a hinge so that it would swing with the rod and it wouldn’t spill your ‘soda’ while you were fishing. You know he just thought that up with his buddies on a fishing trip one time. Inventor stuff would run the gamut.
Telebrands, which is a top company in our business, actually tested a very successful catalog item from the senior skewing catalogs, which was a device that helps you wipe your bottom. It’ s a long plastic device that you could reach around, I guess because the elderly or the overweight have difficulty with this. To their credit, it was a successful item in some of the catalogs that skewed towards seniors. They put it on TV and it was everything you might expect that infomercial to be.
Pete: How do you pick a good product? Because if you’re getting pitched at times and there’s certain people who—they’re out researching things like catalogs, what makes a good product that actually is sellable on TV or in video?
Jordan: So I have, just focusing on the product itself, I have a list of seven that I talk about called The Divine Seven. But originally, one of the things I also did when I first came into the business was to start to compile, in addition to notes from all the books I read, talking to industry icons, I would compile all these notes into pilot’s checklist (if you will) of things to look for.
I originally started of with—I want to say it was 14 or maybe even 18 items on the checklist for products. Over the years, I’ve kind of whittled that down. The Divine Seven is sort of the summary of that. Basically,  you want something that solves a problem. What defines a problem? There’s a lot of subjectivity and people get on the wrong path there.
But really, it has to be a fairly painful problem, something that people are wishing they had a solution to, not an inconvenience, not a nuisance; but the stronger the problem, the more likely the item is to resonate that impulse to buy that we look for.  Uniqueness, obviously. If it’s already everywhere, people perceive that it’s everywhere. They’ve seen it before, they’re not going to call and order now.
So uniqueness is number two. I’m giving them to you in order of what I think is most important to least, but The Divine Seven is in a slightly different order. But problem solving, uniqueness,  mass market—a lot of people have tried what are ultimately niche products. If you’re a big soccer fan and you put out an item that solves all your soccer kicking problems, that’s probably not going to work.
Most people in the U.S. aren’t looking for a solution to soccer kicking. The same thing with a lot of golf items. You’ll see a lot of golf items, maybe there’s one a year that works, and it really only works on the golf channel for obvious reasons. But golf in general, though, the people that play it are passionate about it. It’s not a mass-market sport, so I think those people struggle for that reason.
You’re talking to a narrow and deep audience. So mass-market is important. We say that one per person would be the holy grail. One per household is the bar for mass-market, at least one per household. Some of other things like  priced right. We found, for some strange reason with limited exceptions, once you get above $20, the impulse dies and people don’t call to order now.
They start to think about it too much. In recent years, with the great recession, really, a lot of things were only working at $10 price points, but $20 is sort of the price threshold that we look for. So if you have a more expensive item, you’re talking about going into longer formats like half-hour infomercials or just not for DRTV or direct-response at all.
And then a couple of other minor ones like  easy to explain. I talk about Swiss Army knife products all the time. They do four or five or six, seven different things, and you just cram that all even into a two-minute commercial in a way that makes sense. Then  age-appropriateness, which to me means, these days, if you look at the sweet spot for who buys off of TV, it tends to be people 50 and older, the boomers and the seniors.
So if you have an item that’s really young-skewing, your odds go to like 1 in 50 from the industry average of, let’s say, 1 in 20 or 1 in 10. Then  credibility. Credibility, over the years, I’ve really softened my thinking on that because I’ve seen so many things that I just would not believe would be credible but people will buy it. So that’s a pretty low-bar these days.
But still, there are items that you’ll look at; a lot of time with these, you’ve seen these bracelets and you just put it on and magically it makes you feel better. I think those things, unless you have strong celebrity endorsements and a lot of buzz around them, they’re going to struggle on that front, the credibility front.
Pete: Well, those power-band things were huge not that long ago. I think they were power bands?
Jordan: The ionic [bands]? Yeah, what was it called? That was really tapping into a trend, because a lot of sports figures were wearing them and swearing by them, so that helped. But ultimately, that one, they’re always outliers. Maybe we could talk about this later. One of the big problems we have in this business is that we always take the one example and it’s irresistible.
Even for the smartest people that I know in the business, you have that one example, that Snuggie or whatever it is, and suddenly everyone’s doing “blankets you can wear” or “bracelets that make your golf swing better.” Then you realize you’re just chasing a dream. It’s that 1 in 50, that hit that everybody now thinks is a category, and it’s not.
Pete: So from a consumer perspective kind of thinking about it, the infomercials and the direct-response TV stuff that comes to mind are very much in what I would think of are the three categories (and I’m sure I’m off this a little bit). But it’s obviously weight loss, you’ve got kitchen utensils.
And then you’ve also got—what was the third one I had? I was thinking of four. But what would you say are the top? Weight loss is big, kitchen utensils is another one. What other things are big in that kind of category area?
Jordan: In a general sense, we really should differentiate between long-form and short-form in talking about the business. My main area of expertise is short-form, which is two-minute commercials that air. Because the media’s more efficient, they do tend to air late night and places like that. But they also air quite frequently during the day.
As opposed to infomercial, the true definition of an infomercial is a 30-minute show. and they really only air overnight and Saturday mornings in the blocks that are set aside for that kind of time. Weight loss has actually crossed both categories; many of them have started in long form or they’re short-form plays that mainly have a retail component.
So that and the complementary fitness category, particularly abs; every year or two, there’s a new ab item. The fitness items that have to do with weight loss or abs in particular have been a huge category. In short form, pet products. There’s been a lot of success, generally, in the pet product category, from de-shedding brushes to even certain toys for pets that solve a problem.
I worked on one that was basically a cat-scratcher, but it also trimmed the cats’ claws while they were scratching. It was called Emery Cat. That was a very successful item. Cats, dog items, obviously; the little filing device, the power filing device for the dog’s nails was also very successful.
So pets has been a pretty strong category, and even strong during the worst period of the great recession. It’s one of those things where pets are like children to the owners. They will spend in any environment if the solution is right. Pets, hair removal. Hair removal of all kinds, whether it’s for women, their legs.
When I started in the industry, we launched a product called Finishing Touch, which was a little, tiny, pen-sized hair remover for women. Then we did a men’s version. Both of them hugely successful, upwards of 20 million units sold, combined. They still sell, more than 10 years later, on the shelves, doing about a million units a year.
So hair removal has been very successful. Then, of course, we’ve had items that followed a more traditional path of an 18-month to two-year lifecycle, like Smooth Away, which was a buffing pad that women rub on their legs, takes the hair off. Anytime you hit a new hair-removal solution, that’s definitely a hot category. And there are many more.
Pete: You mentioned before about price point, which really intrigues me. Because you’re saying that $20-or-under price point is really important, particularly for short-form. If you’ve got that half-hour infomercial, you have the time and ability to build up the argument and the case for $100 investment or whatever the price point might be.
How does the economics work from a very high-level perspective? Is it all about that $20 is fundamentally the cost of acquisition and then the actual up-sell is what funds the profit of the venture? Do you get involved in that side of the discussion with the client as well?
Jordan: So you’re asking about the model, how the model works in terms of whether the advertising is self-funding?
Pete: Yeah, just from a high-level perspective. I think a lot of people are either naive and think that $20 covers the profit in the venture or never actually responded to any type of direct-response television offer and haven’t experienced the post-promotion process. What happens when you pick up the phone? How does the economics work in a general sort of sense?
Jordan: A lot of people, when they’re new to direct-response, will look at exactly what you’re talking about: how do I get from $19.99 to an average sale that would even be remotely profitable, particularly with the cost of media these days? The first thing you have to understand is that we specialize in what we call the back-end process of up-selling, cross-selling.
All those things, which on a typical $10 buy-one-get-one-free offer, which is very common these days, you’ll end up with a $50 or $60 average sale. Once you get the person on the phone, you deluxe them, you sell them additionals. There’s all kinds of cross-sales-related items. So you’re talking about initially, on a per-order basis, you’re talking about a $60 average sale, somewhere in that range.
Obviously more, if you’re starting from a higher price point like $19.99. It used to be, years ago, let’s say 10 years ago, you could run a profitable ‘as seen on TV’ campaign, so that was a business. That $60 per order would more than pay for your media cost per order—obviously on a strong item. The more people are buying, the better the metrics are.
But that would pay for the cost of media, that would pay for all your fulfillment and cost of good stuff. At the end, you’d have a profit per-order and multiply that by all the thousands of orders that came in. These days, media has more than tripled in the last decade. The cost of media, and other factors are at play that are affecting the economics.
Most of the major players, when they roll out a campaign, two common things: they’ll either make money in the beginning, and then end up giving it all back in advertising subsidies later to support their retail campaign; or they’ll just start off from a position of breakeven maybe even a little worse than breakeven, and just calculate that based on how many products are going to sell at retail.
It makes sense to lose X. It’s still a very efficient model in that you’re getting some kind of ROI on your advertising spend; but a lot of these people start off from, like I said, a breakeven or a loss position and they just know they’re going to make it up at retail. Something like 90% of all sales and revenue comes from retail these days, so it’s mainly a retail play.
Pete: And that’s something that’s very, very interesting that I’m sure a lot of people had no understanding or even thought-process around: the conscious product lifecycle that things go through. So you’ve got the people coming to you with this idea for a no-spill coffee cup holder for your fishing rod, but they’re obviously thinking about just making money off the front-end with that product and that product only.
I’m guessing, when people come to you with a good front-end idea, there’s probably a lot of massaging and sculpting and work to figure out what the back-end of the metrics is going to be. Is that a fair assumption?
Jordan: There’s a couple things that I want to address that I said. One of them is the idea that an inventor comes with an idea to a company—that’s a romantic vision of what happens. But in reality, inventor items—someone did an analysis recently that I was a part of and we found that was a small percentage, let’s say 15% of where items come from.
Most items come from other channels where they’ve shown success at selling and the experienced people in this business know that that item’s going to be compatible with our audience, that it’s going to appeal to our audience. They just bring it over.
Pete: What sort of places? The catalog example you’re talking about before, is that one?
Jordan: Catalogs are number one. It used to be much more of the live-shopping channels— QVC, HSN, much less these days because they’ve sort of changed their model towards more branded products and away from brand new items that they built the business on. It used to be QVC and HSN that were number one. Now it’s catalogs, there are many catalogs. Like everything else, 80% comes from 20 catalogs or whatever.
Catalogs are the number one source of new products. You have some international that is in that mix, some items that did well in the UK or Australia even. There was recently a product that was a mesh screen with magnets in the middle. It’s sort of like an automatically opening and closing screen door, mesh-screen door. I actually wrote the commercial for that product, but that came from Australia.
Pete: Ah, very cool.
Jordan: But the catalog is the big one, definitely, by far these days.
Pete: That’s obviously the start of the lifecycle. Again, you were kind of saying before that the biggest bang and the real profit in the business is in the retail side of things. That’s something people probably don’t really realize. That the lifecycle is to try and get that product off the TV and onto the shelves of like a Walmart or a Walgreens or a Target and things like that. Is that the long-term goal for the majority of these types of product?
Jordan: Absolutely. This is particular to short-form. Long-form, you can charge higher prices because you have more time to convince people to buy a $60, $100 ( even more, sometimes) type item like a vacuum. An Oreck vacuum for example. You can convince someone to buy an Oreck vacuum which is a high-ticket item in a long-form and therefore long-form can be a profitable business model on its own with only direct sales.
But in short form, if there’s not a retail play, the item is not pursued because it’s all about retail. It used to be, like I said, you could be profitable on TV with short-form and then wait six months, and then go to retail and have a whole second wave of even larger profitability. These days, that’s collapsed.
People are showing items to retailers before they even test it on TV just so they’re in the door and they’re prepared in the event that it is a successful item. But immediately on the shelves at retail and really, if you think about it, it’s really about capitalizing on the impressions.
When I started in the business, I think the rule of thumb was only 10% of people buy off TV, the other 90% will only buy it if it’s in a retail store near them. These days, as I’ve measured it periodically in sort of fuzzy ways, that number has gone down to 7% the last time I looked at it. So the pool of people that will buy direct—and I don’t really include internet; internet’s kind of a whole, interesting separate piece in that.
But as far as the phone goes, calling that 1-800 number and buying off TV, that number is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. So, really, it’s all about retail these days and an efficient way to buy impressions on TV. We get special rates in DRTV and we also get those sales that help subsidize the campaign.
Pete: Ah, very cool. I think that is, again, something that a lot of people don’t really realize. That it is very much a conscious decision to drive foot traffic somewhat into the stores and have the products in the stores from Day One, which is very cool.
So in terms of the format, because you’re talking about getting people to call the 1-800 number and that is the call to action, which in my opinion is what direct-response is all about—getting people to respond directly to the actual call to action. This is what’s different to a lot of TV commercials out there where it’s just like brand-building and like, “Hey, buy a Coke!”
It’s not, “Hey, go and do this right now,” besides, actually having to have the call to action, which is what defines it as DRTV. What are some of the tried and true techniques or structures to actually put into an overarching short-form DRTV commercial?
Jordan: Some of the techniques for the call to action?
Pete: Oh no, just the structure of the whole piece.
Jordan: Ah, the structure of the commercial? I also have a list around that, and I’m a big list guy when it comes to these things. I once condensed it into 10; the Tried & True 10, I called it because I once again got it from experts, icons and books that go back 100 years. But when I write a commercial, almost all of the time, with rare exceptions, we start with the problem-solution opening.
So, earlier in the product criteria, it has to solve a problem. The job of the commercial is to articulate that problem right away. And if you ever watch the commercial, I’m sure you’ve seen how ridiculous we get with the whole black and white, the whole, “Oh no!” and some of the over-the-top ‘DR cheese’ (we call it) in expressing the problem.
But that’s how you open up the commercial. I’ll just give a couple of highlights and guidelines—because 30-second advertising is the dominant format, my theory that I hold to and we tend to follow is, you want to communicate to the viewer what the product is, what it does and why it’s different in those first 30 seconds.
If you don’t achieve that, you’re probably going to lose their attention span because their attention span is trained to be about 30 seconds. So we introduce a problem, introduce the product as a solution and try to explain what it is, what it does and why it’s different in those first 30 seconds.
The rest of the commercial, the body of the commercial, the last 30 seconds is going to be all the build-up to the call to action and the sense of urgency, and all the stuff—I’ll talk about that in a minute. But in the middle, really, what we’re trying to do is build credibility by demonstrating the product repeatedly.
If the product lends itself to (and many times it does) some sort of what we call a ‘magic demonstration,’ like the most famous example was OxiClean when they were starting out. Billy Mays used to have this giant tank of red iodine, and he would dump OxiClean into it, and it would swirl around, and the water would turn clear.
That’s a magical demo. If there is a magical demo, we definitely make that sort of the center of the commercial. But a lot of product demonstrations, a lot of times, if it’s something technical or something interesting inside the product, we’ll do an animation, like a Pixar-esque animation that shows you inside the product or the science of it.
Pete: The acne getting pulled out, that’s the one that comes to mind for me. You see every acne ad has that cartoon of how it actually cleans out the pores and things like that.
Jordan: Exactly. Yeah, right. So we’ll have that on there, the “here’s how it works,” the “what’s happening beneath the surface” sort of thing—that’ll be in there. A lot of times, particularly, you mentioned acne; and acne, you’re talking about liquid in a bottle. So, a large part of acne commercials are testimonials, before and after.
You see the person’s acne before and how much better it’s gotten after. They’ll have a lot of those split-screen things but also people talking to you in a very credible way about how it changed their life, and they were a horrible troll and now they’re gorgeous and they get dates left and right. Stuff like that.
That’s the middle of the commercial, the demonstrations, the testimonials, endorsements (if there’s a person associated, oftentimes the doctor or some professional that endorses it, but we’ve also had celebrity endorsements) And then the end of it is really presenting the offer. We use techniques like, we call it a ‘value comparison’ or a ‘value compare.’
You could pay $100 for this ceramic pan; but today, you’ll only pay $20—things like that. That pretty much starts the offer process. You introduce the price, you introduce, of course, a bonus of some kind. These days, the most common bonus is a second one free; but usually there’s some sort of processing and handling attached to that, but “free.”
It’s less common, but definitely in times past there’d be some other little item, that premium item that you would include. We’ll present the item, the value comparison, the price of the product, then we’ll present a bonus or we’ll double it, something like that. Then we’ll present, oftentimes, a guarantee of some sort. If it ever breaks for any reason, we’ll replace it free of charge, or satisfaction guarantee.
Pete: Some sort of risk reversal, yeah.
Jordan: We use essentially those kind of techniques to close. The language is very sense-of-urgency: call now, call right now. We used to be able to say, “call in the next 10 minutes.” But because they don’t actually cut it off after 10 minutes, the FTC said you can’t do that anymore, so you’ll see that less and less.
But techniques, “this offer is not available in stores,” and most times it isn’t available because you can’t go to the store and buy two, you can only buy one. “Supplies are limited” is a famous one, but supplies are always limited so I don’t know about the truth of that one. I guess it’s true of all products. You’re always limited in your goods, particularly in the beginning.
So we’ll say “supplies are limited.” Things like that to create a sense of urgency. That’s the language and that’s pretty much the offer structure, and that’s the whole structure. That formula that I just laid out in a very fast way, if you take any as-seen-on-TV commercial, it’ll usually break down into that sort of formula, that sort of three-act-play, if you will.
The problem-solution opening, what it is, what it does, the body of the commercial which is live demonstrations, magic demonstration if you have it, testimonials—and then the third act, which is the offer, and really building up the value and creating that sense of urgency to call now.
Pete: You mentioned, obviously, ‘as seen on TV.’ What are your top three or four that come to mind, great DRTV commercials people might be able to Google or look on YouTube to get a bit of a feel for this sort of stuff? What are some of your favorites?
Jordan: My favorite commercials? Anything with Billy Mays. The big ones: Mighty Putty, OxiClean. The late great Billy Mays, he’s no longer with us, but he was at the top of the profession when he was alive and really set the standard for everyone else. When he died, it sort of left a void because there are other pitchmen, and some of them are quite good, but no one was at that level. So if you go back in DRTV history, you’re talking about anything with Billy Mays.
Pete: And there’s a great TV series which is available on Netflix and stuff like that called PitchMen, which Billy featured in.
Jordan: Yes, right. Billy did two seasons with Anthony Sullivan, who’s another good pitchman from the UK that has been in many things. He sort of picked up the mantle—they were friends. He does all the OxiClean stuff now as well. So, yeah, Mighty Putty, Mighty Mendit, there’s two Mighty products, OxiClean. Those are probably the most famous Billy Mays ones.
If you’re just talking about commercials there, and to bring that forward—if you want to talk about great pitchmen, there’s a new, relatively new guy called Marc Gill, and he’s famous for the Perfect Brownie, the Grout Bully. These are active campaigns, now that you can see him in.
But he’s sort of picked up that mantle finally after a few years and become the top pitchman. A lot of his stuff follows that classic format that’s representative of the best that industry has to offer, so anything with Marc Gill in it. Grout Bully is the one at the top of my mind that people have probably seen or could Google and find relatively easily.
Pete: The thing about pitchmen that really surprised me when I first started researching and getting into this space and learning what I could swipe and deploy from this area of direct-response marketing to other areas, was that a lot of the people you see as the face of the commercial, Billy Mays for example, is also the actual brains behind the operation, for want of a better term.
He’s not just the camera face; he’s actually the guy putting the whole deal together as well, and doing the marketing and doing a lot of the sculpting of the offers and the actual pitch itself.
Jordan: Yeah, to some extent, right. Obviously, reality TV is paradoxically not always real; and I worked with Billy on many projects, and he was hands-on involved in helping to craft the offers and stuff like that because when you come together to create a commercial, you have a writer, but the guy who’s going to be saying the lines, particularly if he’s Billy Mays, he’s going to have a lot of input.
Billy was very, very well versed, did have his own product-finding company, so he knew a lot about it. But for the most part, the projects that Billy worked on, he was a pitchguy for hire, and the same thing of Anthony Sullivan. The only guy that truly fits that definition would be Vince Offer, the ShamWow! Guy. He’s only ever pitched his own products that he discovered, cultivated, brought all together through a company called Square One.
And speaking of great commercials, if you go back and watch the ShamWow! Commercial; when that came out, there was a lot of negative conversation in the industry about the quality of the video. But when I saw it, I said, “This guy is obviously a pitchman. He obviously gets the fundamentals of what makes a business work.
Because if you watch that commercial today, the first thing you’ll say is, “What did this guy shoot it on? A $5,000 budget?” and that’s not far from the truth. But the second thing you’ll realize is that it’s very well-structured and very entertaining, and it just draws you in.
Vince knew exactly what he was doing in all of his years in the pitch market and made a great commercial. I was a big fan of that commercial. Since then, the quality has gotten really high. He’s spent Hollywood budgets on his most recent commercial, the Schticky. But if you go back to that first commercial, it’s got everything there.
Pete: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Talking about what a good commercial is—I really enjoy your blog, which I’d like to talk about really quickly. I think a lot of people should chuck this in their RSS reader, because you do a great job. Is it every few days? Do you have a schedule of this or do you just randomly posts? Do you have a schedule with your posts?
Jordan: I try to; thank you, by the way. I try to post once a week, but there’s no set schedule. I basically collect a folder of new items that I get the various sources of information. When I have the time, I sit down. I’m a little obsessive about it, so I try to review every new thing that comes out.
I don’t really monetize the blog in anyway; I guess it goes back my journalism days. I try to be objective and so I don’t monetize in any way. It ends up being a lot of work that’s taking away from paying work. But yeah, I try to do it once a week and try to keep current because personally, I like to review these things and stay abreast of what’s going on in the business.
Pete: To give some context to the listeners, the blog’s at SciMark.blogspot.com?
Jordan: Yeah, it’s scimark.blogspot.com. The name is actually pronounced ‘sci-mark’ because it’s a variation of a book about Claude Hopkins. He wrote a book called Scientific Advertising. So when I named my company, I named it Scientific Marketing, SciMark for short. So, it’s scimark.blogspot.com
Pete: Very cool. Because what you do, to give some context to everybody, is you pull apart different short-form DRTV advertising. You talk about what the description is, what the main pitch is, the price point, the bonuses, who’s behind it, a website, whether you think it’s actually going to succeed or not, and then break down some of the key reasons for that analysis.
It’s giving people the opportunity to start thinking as a marketer, thinking as an advertiser. So when they go and see these DRTV spots on their TV box, they can start thinking the way you’re thinking—going, “Okay, this is what makes this work, this is what doesn’t,” and can start using that.
Jordan: Wow, yeah. Thanks for the plug, I appreciate it. Actually, the blog started out as an email when I was at the first company I worked for in the industry. We used to receive all this information about new items that were coming out, and nobody ever really looked at it. I like to do my homework (as I mentioned earlier), so I would start watching it and I would send out little e-mail summaries.
Then I added pithy commentary, and people from sister companies got on the list and it became this sort of unwieldy e-mail list. Then people would ask me like, “A year ago you reviewed this thing and we’re looking at a similar item. We can’t remember what it is, can you go dig in your e-mail archives and find it?” Of course, it’s very difficult to do in some of these e-mail programs.
So one day, I got the bright idea that everybody was using these blog things now, maybe I should start to embrace the modern technology. I started doing it strictly as a research tool to be able to say to people, “Hey, if you want to go back a year, just go on this blog, and you can search it now. It’s fully searchable. It’s a Google blog, so it’s easy to search. Go ahead and do your own research.” Then it kind of grew from there into a life of its own.
Pete: Very, very cool. Well, one final question that I like to ask everyone we have on this show, whether it’s Tim Ferriss or yourself is: what’s the one question I haven’t asked you that I should have about short-form, direct-response TV?
Jordan: One question you should have asked me that you didn’t ask me? I don’t know—I’ll think about that one for a minute.
Pete: Is there anything else that you think people should know about direct-response TV that we haven’t really discussed that you know people often ask about or should be aware of?
Jordan: To your credit, you covered most of the questions that people will initially ask. Consumers in particular always want to know what the deal is with the double processing and handling charges, the buy-one-get-one frees that aren’t really free; and the answer to that question is that if you can understand the model, you can understand why it’s necessary.
Of course, it’s all disclosed these days. But the real reason why everyone does it is because it’s been so hugely successful. It’s a strange thing about consumer psychology. If you’ll put something on the air and you’ll say, “I’ll give you two of these for 20 bucks,” you’ll get X amount of calls. If you say, “I’ll give you two of these for $10, but I’m going to charge you double shipping and handling,” you’ll get 2X.
There’s so many little interesting things about human psychology that I’ve learned from direct-response, and that’s one of them. Just by shuffling things around, even if you’re fully upfront with people (which we are), you’ll get twice the response that you would have gotten had you said it another way.
That’s actually true, I’ve seen it many times. “I’ll give you 2 for 20 bucks, one shipping and handling, or 2 for 10 bucks with two shipping and handlings.” If you do the math, it works out the same exact way, but you’ll get twice the amount of response from a $10 offer. That’s why.
Pete: And it all comes out of testing, doesn’t it?
Pete: Let me ask you this: Claude Hopkins, fantastic, we’ve spoken about him on the show and his books before. What are your other favorite books you’ve read around direct-response marketing?
Jordan: Okay, that’s an easy one. Again, Claude Hopkins, My Life in Advertising & Scientific Advertising. If you want to go way back to the fundamentals, he wrote in the 1920s I want to say. Moving forward in time, very relevant to our business is David Ogilvy’s work, so Ogilvy on Advertising is a must-read. There’s a guy around that same time period called Rosser Reeves who wrote a book called Reality in Advertising.
[Published in] 1950s, 1960s, very insightful book about consumer psychology that applies. Also Tested Advertising Methods by a guy named [John] Caples, that’s a must-read book for direct-response selling. As you go forward in time, in the ’80s and ’90s, a guy named Joseph Sugarman wrote a series of books. Yeah, I have all those books. They were very helpful to me.
Pete: Triggers is one of my favorite books of all times.
Jordan: Yeah, Triggers, excellent book, I have that. Ron Popeil wrote a book called Salesman of the Century, which is a great book to read about the pitch and how the whole thing developed.
Pete: Ron Popeil, he was the slow-cooker, the chicken roaster?
Jordan: Yes, yes, Ron Popeil. He’s famous for the long-form side of the business, the Showtime Rotisserie, many products over the years. There are some fun ones in there in his book. He covers basically his whole life story which includes a lot of details about all the various products that he tested and what he learned along the way. Salesman of the Century, that’s a great book. I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything. There are a handful of other ones; but yeah, those are the main ones.
Pete: Very, very cool, Jordan. Well, mate, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been awesome. For a lot of people, I think this has been very educational. I’ve really enjoyed it as well, mate. Thanks so much for coming on the show!
Jordan: Oh, you’re welcome. Good speaking with you.
Show Notes + Links:
My Life in Advertising – Claude Hopkins
Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy
Reality in Advertising – Rosser Reeves
Tested Advertising Methods – John Caples
Triggers – Joseph Sugarman
Salesman of the Century – Ron Popeil
http://www.scimark.com – The site of Jordan’s company, SciMark
http://scimark.blogspot.com.au – Jordan’s blog, where he critiques Direct Response Ads from various products
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