A deep transformation of the relationship between the consumer and
the producer demands that marketers should act fast and with innovation,
argues David Stubley.
Not so long ago it was argued that putting telephone numbers on ads
’spoilt the look’. Recently, I ran this thought past a friend of mine
working in a New York advertising agency whose simply reply was: ’How
Marketing has changed enormously in the UK over the past two to three
years, however, and with it has grown the importance of generating
direct responses to communications.
Innovative campaigns for the likes of Tango, Daewoo, BT and Martini have
made direct response eminently respectable to the marketing
’Go on then’, the luvvies cry, ’stick a number on the end of the ad and
be done with it’.
But what we are witnessing goes way beyond marketing fashion, and
reflects a radical shift in the relationship between consumers and
This shift was clearly highlighted at last year’s Marketing Society
conference, where service and value were top of the agenda. The battle
lines are now drawn - the consumer is king, substandard offerings will
no longer be tolerated, and hollow claims can be spotted a mile off.
Growth in consumer confidence - both in using telephones as well as in
decision making - is one reason why DRTV is growing so fast. The other
is the determination of many companies to regain control over their
distribution though building closer relationships with their
This has given birth to a new breed of direct sellers across a wide
range of sectors. Whether it’s savings, insurance, holidays, computers,
mobile phones or catalogues, there are few categories unaffected by the
move to the direct approach.
The revolution is led by organisations like Virgin and Daewoo, fast on
their feet and happy to challenge the accepted model of marketing and
The academics used to tell us that the three secrets of retailing were
’location, location, and location’, but in the electronic age, this no
longer holds true. Given databases and telephone lines, location can as
easily be a business park as a prime high street site. Now it is all
about ’technology, technology, technology’, and ’people, people,
How much longer will it be before the travel industry develops this
opportunity, or Tesco (already trialling an on-line service) removes the
misery of the weekly shopping trip. If it makes it easy for me and
doesn’t deliver raspberry yoghurts when I ask for vanilla, it will
certainly get the Stubley family business.
The direct trend is, of course, very good news for the TV companies.
Increasingly, it is not just a medium to use twice a year to coincide
with key sales peaks, but the central plank in an ongoing direct
marketing programme. Some 20 TVRs a week, across 40 weeks of the year,
might be enough.
This thought is one that Marketing magazine seized on last year,
declaring that, ’increasingly, response is becoming the primary measure
It it is simply not true that the two (branding and response) can be
Traditional wisdom would support this assertion. After all, television
builds strong brands, which remain the primary defence against
commoditisation - this is especially true for the direct operators,
which are able to ’cut out the middleman, but not the marketing’.
However, in the absence of branch networks, a steady stream of new
business leads must also be generated. Hence the present ’brand or
But why should it be one or the other? It is possible to achieve both
through television, but it needs careful media planning and clear
For example, is the responsive priority one-stage lead generation (such
as, for example, with Oxfam), or two-stage lead generation (as with
Is it a brand-response strategy (the choice of NatWest, for example),
the development of direct brand values (Direct Line), or a means of
underpinning the creative proposition (Tango)?
There are five potential strategies there, and the answer might well be
a mixture of all five. The challenge then is to build up a portfolio of
commercials which can be shuffled, almost like a pack of cards. Media
strategies can then be developed for individual sections of the day,
individual TV stations, or both.
You might, for example, choose to run out-and-out lead generators in
cheaper, off-peak slots, or on satellite channels. Providing that they
are, at worst, brand neutral, and that they are able to integrate
successfully with other parts of the programme, what’s the problem? The
minute they cease to deliver response, then you act in the same way you
would have done if direct mail or coupon response dried up - you go
In prime-time, however, you might adopt a brand-response strategy in the
pursuit of much longer term differentiation. After all, it will also
give the telemarketing operators a rest in the shorter term!
For the many reasons I have outlined, I can see no reason why the growth
of DRTV should not continue exponentially. Last year, around 23% of
commercials carried carry telephone numbers, which means that the market
has doubled in volume between 1994 and 1996.
For its part, Channel 4 will commit itself to seeking to maintain its
status as market leader by continuing to provide what DRTV is all about:
targeted audiences. In addition, it will seek to add value wherever
Recent examples of this include a five-year commitment to industry
research, and the launch of 4-Link, a system enabling co-operating
telebureaus to confirm the screening times of commercials.
As competition intensifies, TV must also learn to re-invent itself.
This could be through encouraging ’event’ TV, such as the pioneering and
memorable Miller Time ads, or perhaps through the provision of long-form
infomercials in the early hours.
Alternatively, it might be through opportunities to cross-refer to
Teletext pages or Web sites, or through innovative sponsorship ideas and
the development of interactive/digital services.
Like our confident and knowledgeable consumers, however, I suspect that
it will be similarly-equipped individuals who take control of this brave
new world. They might be admen, media executives, direct marketers,
sales promotion specialists, or even management consultants. That’s the
exciting thing about the many challenges ahead - no one can do it
David Stubley is business development controller at Channel 4.