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DRTV Advertising: More Cowbell, Please!

In the famous Saturday Night Live skit, when Will Ferrell enthusiastically bangs on a cowbell to Blue Oyster Cult’s song, Don’t Fear the Reaper, the call for “MORE COWBELL” became a part of our popular culture. People started to take notice of the once lowly instrument. Look at the list of all the rock songs that use a cowbell. Seriously, just Google it – you’d be surprised. Now, the cowbell is a force to be reckoned with.

What, you might ask, does the cowbell have to do with Direct Response television advertising? Well, everything really. DRTV is like the cowbell of the advertising world.

The cowbell, on its own, is perhaps not a sound we appreciate but in the context of an awesome rock tune, it works. So too with DRTV; in the context of a well-crafted advertising campaign, it also works really well.

Milking the Cow(bell)

Like the cowbell, DRTV gets a bad rap, even though it has resulted in some of the most successful advertising campaigns, ever – for instance, ProActive and BowFlex. Also, like the cowbell, DRTV has been around for ages. Ginsu knives, anyone?

In its infancy, DRTV commercials were those yell-and-sell commercials that worked like gangbusters but grated on the nerves of marketing professionals. So, you can understand that when the idea of DRTV is brought up in the modern-day boardroom, memories (or rather, nightmares) of the ShamWow commercial come flooding back and the marketing team shudders at the thought of doing THAT to their brand.

I get it. Hardcore DRTV on its own can perhaps be perceived as an annoyance. But, like the cowbell, you can’t help but pay attention to it – and isn’t that a good thing?

DRTV is sometimes not pretty, or sexy.

It’s not the first one to be asked to the prom. What it is though, is a science. It’s using every single frame skillfully to make people take notice and to take action now. It’s specifically designed to appeal to people’s logic, emotion and need. It’s not there to win glossy awards, or to be tweeted about. It is there to work – to give you quantifiable and measurable results – to help sell your product or service.

The good news is that Direct Response Television is much more sophisticated now than it was back in the day. It can be a harmonious blend of brand and direct response – the art and the science. It’s the cool guitar riff with the cowbell working together to make an incredible song.

Like Blue Oyster Cult showed with the cowbell, DRTV too can be used effectively within a branded context that doesn’t take away from the brand but in fact enhances it so that it becomes an even better version of itself. Better, because it achieves measurable results. And who doesn’t want that?

Cowbells and Whistles

Now, if you talk to a brand agency, they’ll tell you that slapping a 1-800 number on a branded spot automatically makes it a DRTV spot. While technically it is a DRTV spot, that alone doesn’t make it a good one. In fact, a successfully branded DRTV commercial is 80% science and 20% art. Branded DRTV spots can look fantastic and respect a company’s brand but still sell, and an experienced DRTV agency can help get you there because they understand the nuances of the brand as much as they are able to tap into what drives people to purchase.

By integrating the Science of DRTV with the Art of Brand, an experienced DR agency can seamlessly blend the two to create effective campaigns that both the CMO and the CFO can be happy with.

So when you’re in the boardroom, discussing your next marketing campaign and there are rumblings about using DRTV as part of your marketing strategy, I encourage you to stand up and yell at the top of your voice – MORE COWBELL!

You’ll be glad you did.

About the author

Anna V Fowles, Executive Vice President, Performance Creative

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