DRTV Look at Pros vs. Joes


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By:  Chrissy Ferrier, Creative Director, Mercury Media Boston

“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” The phrase was so overused a few years ago that the practice of using actors for testimonials in Direct Response ads  was viewed negatively;  however, it’s time to reconsider. Professional actors can be a positive factor in the ROI of a Direct Response TV campaign (DRTV). It’s not to say that “real customers” won’t provide the response rates and returns necessary for some products. But let’s look at the reality of the “pros vs. Joes” in DRTV.

First, professional actors are an essential part of the efficient budget choices a company makes when they budget for and then shoot creative for an effective DRTV campaign.  With real customers, you never know what you are going to get in terms of performance.  Real people are nervous when the camera is on and unless you have an exceptional director, the client runs the risk of coming up short with content, and in this case the testimonial is the content. Are you ready to risk that for the possibility that just maybe, a real customer will come up with a more authentic, grassroots tone?

You could spend half a day working to get one real testimonial in the can and come out  with minimal usable footage. That’s not even taking into an account all the time spent going through the database of customers that the client has to find a willing customer. Then, factor in travel. Either the client is paying for the crew to travel to each testimonial or the client is paying for the testimonials to come to the crew. The client could end up paying double for the overages.  At the end shooting real testimonials could increase overall production costs by 20-40%

Using paid talent is more predictable, and even credible. The goes through a casting process and comes out with talent that will be attractive to the target demo and the product.  Paid talent lends an air of professionalism and authenticity.  Actors will deliver the testimonial in a lot  less time which leaves more time for the client to get other pick up lines and b-roll to use in future spots – a better use of client’s time and money .

It’s all about ROI. In DRTV time is money. It can’t be risked on the homespun quality that the very few effective “real customer” testimonials come up with. At the top line, real customers cost more money to find and shoot. At the bottom line, there’s no evidence that real customers drive a better response rate.

Having said that, there are some product categories that still profit from “real customer” testimonials. Some personal health products fit here. For example, acne products work well with real customers if the before and after shots are dramatic and if the customers can present a compelling case to their fellow teens for paying the top dollar. But credibility has been restored by the “actor portrayal” tagline that is now necessary in DRTV ads and a mandate governed by the FTC since 2009 with specific guidelines to follow. So consumers are used to them.

So I recommend “go pro.” As Barry Farber wrote in the May 2010 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine:  “The presentation is extremely important. Sometimes buyers will only give you only a few minutes to convince them that your product is worth looking into more. One way to move buyers is to prove your product has an audience built in already, before it goes on air. Has it sold successfully in other markets like Fortune 500 companies, the promotional products industry or others?

Also the use of testimonials in your presentation–to show how your product has solved problems and provided value–always helps.”

Chrissy Ferrier is the Creative Director of Mercury Media Boston.  An 8-year direct response, marketing and client service veteran, Ferrier oversees the management of the creative department, who have produced hundreds of successful DRTV spots.  Ferrier works closely with Mercury’s Key Accounts, such as Hoveround, Nuance, eDiets and others, by creating compelling spots with high response rates to create the best ROI for Mercury’s clients.  Since being at Mercury Media, Ferrier has produced a large number of spots from brand direct, such as Hotels.com and Liberty Medical, to products, such as the One Touch Can Opener and the Faraday Flashlight, both of which were back-to-back year smash hits!

Contact her at cferrier@mercurymedia.com

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