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DRTV Testimonials: The 7 Rules to Success

In the world of direct response marketing, few things can take your TV commercial from good to great (and from profitable to very profitable!) faster than good ol’ fashioned testimonials. Like it or not, consumers respond to commercials with real people waxing poetic about a product or service they’ve tried and loved.

Statements take on a new resonance and power when they’re delivered in a heartfelt way by a testimonial. They could even be simple ones like:

“I saved $480 when I switched to X Insurance. I only wish I had switched earlier.”


“My new internet service is twice as fast as my old one and I’m only paying half as much.”


“This isn’t a fitness product – it’s a life-changing machine!”

Why are these simple statements so much more effective when delivered by a testimonial? Because consumers believe consumers – more than spokespeople, more than slogans, and a hell of a lot more than celebrities.

Properly executed testimonials impart a huge dose of credibility to your direct response television (DRTV) campaign and go a long way to strengthening your brand, in addition to igniting results and improving your ROI.

So how do you go about adding testimonials into a DRTV campaign in a way that is cost-effective and enhances your brand? It’s simple.

Just follow these seven rules and you’ll be well on your way to your success:

1. Use Real People

I’ve seen some very successful DRTV campaigns that use paid actors instead of testimonials, and I’ve done it many times myself. If, however, you can use real people, do it.

First, there’s something special about real people talking about a real experience that’s difficult to replicate through actors. The way they talk, the odd phrase they express and the awkward pauses they use all contribute to making their comments more believable – and therefore more powerful.

Secondly, if you use actors, you must disclose this fact with a legal disclaimer on the screen, which dilutes the believability of the testimonials.

2. Start with Your Fans

Virtually every product or service, whether it’s a car or insurance product, has a core group of people who absolutely love it. You know who they are – they call, send you emails, and talk your product up to their friends and family. They’re your true brand ambassadors and they’re worth their weight in gold.

The next step is to reach out, tell them you’re developing a TV commercial and would love for them to be part of it. This is your best bet for finding those truly special people who are passionate about your product and ready to tell the world about it.

3. Cast a Wide Net

If you don’t have a huge fan base or you need to go beyond it, it’s best to cast a wide net. Great testimonials begin with finding great people to give you those testimonials. It’s a numbers game, so go big.

4. Let Your Agency Do the Heavy Lifting

Testimonial recruitment involves emails, telephone calls, Skype messages and, sometimes, face-to-face interviews. In other words, it can be a lengthy, time-sucking, arduous task. Why not get your agency to help?

Of course, you’ll need to provide them with contact information, but there’s no reason they can’t recruit on your behalf. More than likely, they’ll already have a good idea of the type of people they want (e.g., photogenic, articulate, interesting) and can handle the whole process for you.

Alternatively, there are also qualified testimonial recruitment services available that can oversee and manage this process on your behalf.

5. Know the Rules

There are quite a few specific rules and regulations when it comes to testimonial recruitment and usage. You should always check with your local governing body (the FTC in the U.S. and the Ad Standards Council or Telecaster in Canada) to ensure you understand the required steps and are compliant before you head down the testimonial recruitment “garden” path.

6. Don’t Rush the Romance

Good things come to those who wait – or at least take their time. Following due process and gathering strong testimonials can be time-consuming. This means you have to allow for this in your overall production schedule. It’s better to cultivate a lot of strong powerful testimonial options than to rush the process and end up short.

7. Treat Them Like Gold

There are many reasons people agree to give a testimonial. Some genuinely love your product or service and want to share their passion; others love the idea of being on television, and some just want to have some fun. Whatever their reason, make it worth their while.

Show them a little Hollywood: Walk them around the set, introduce them to the cameraperson, shoot photos of them with all the lights and equipment, and make sure there’s a lot of food and snacks. And, last but not least, ensure they are provided with an honorarium to cover their parking and other out-of-pocket expenses. They’ll have a good time and you’ll get better testimonial statements.

In the world of direct response marketing, testimonials are a proven way to grab the viewer’s attention, increase the effectiveness of commercials and increase your ROI. So don’t be shy. Follow these simple rules and use testimonials to supercharge your next DRTV campaign.

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About the author

Ian French, Head of Strategy

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