Direct response television
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Direct Response Television, or DRTV for short, includes any TV advertising that asks consumers to respond directly to the company --- usually either by calling an 800 number or by visiting a web site. This is a form of direct response marketing.
There are two types of direct response television, short form and long form. Short form is any DRTV commercial that is two minutes or less in length. Long form direct response is any television commercial longer than two minutes. This was the accepted term for an infomercial from 1984 until "infomercial" came into vogue in 1988. The most common time period available for purchase as "long form" infomercial media is 28 minutes, 30 seconds in length. Long form is used for products that need to educate the consumer and create awareness, and typically have a higher price. A relatively small amount or media time may be purchased in lengths less than 30 minutes but more than 2 minutes. Five minute is the most commonly available time of these lengths.
Direct Response Television campaigns are commonly managed by specialist Direct Response or DRTV agencies with a full range of strategic, creative, production, media, and campaign services. They may also be managed by media buying agencies who specialize in direct response. In either case, these agencies purchase remnant air time from media outlets such as broadcast stations and cable networks. As DRTV has gained presence outside of its start in the United States, local agencies have developed in many countries.
To qualify for the special media rates offered DRTV commercials, the advertising must ask the consumer to contact the advertiser directly by phone, by text message, or via the web. In the early days of DRTV, this was nearly always to purchase the product. Over time, a wide range of consumer actions have become used. And, many consumers watch the advertising, but choose to purchase at retail without ever contacting the company. Typically for every unit sold on TV, anywhere from 3 to as high as 15 units sold at retail depending on retail distribution. Retail Impact
DRTV As Sales Channel
When it first appeared, DRTV was used to market goods and services directly from the manufacturer or wholesaler to the consumer, bypassing retail. Over time, it has also become used as a more general advertising medium and is now used by a wide range of companies --- often to support retail distribution.
Many types of companies use DRTV. Marketing companies who specialize in DRTV continue to use the format to offer product exclusively sold through TV. Many of these items find their way to retail shelves once their television campaign has ended or has matured. Mass merchant retailers often have "as seen on TV" sections in their stores.
DRTV as Advertising for Brand Marketers and Retailers
Starting in the 1990's, many brand manufacturers began to use DRTV as a part of their advertising mix. In these cases, most products featured on DRTV are also available at retail. The DRTV campaigns ask for direct consumer action either to purchase the product or to obtain a coupon which they can use at the retail store. Companies who have used DRTV for these purposes include DuPont (Teflon), Hamilton-Beach, Space Bag, Rubbermaid, P&G, Toyota, Philips Consumer Electronics, Bissell, Evinrude, and Sears (Craftsman brand).
DRTV has also become a commonly used advertising medium for insurance companies, mortgage companies, cell phone providers, credit card companies, and a host of other services. Companies using this approach include AAA Insurance (various), Citibank Credit Cards, DirecTV, Dish Network, and many more.
Lead generation has become a large segment of many DRTV campaigns. Typically these campaigns collect leads and close the sale at a later date via direct mail, email, or phone specialists. Other uses of DRTV include branding via hybrid campaigns, whereas you create awareness of the product and drive retail sales with no firm response goal. Even retailers themselves use DRTV to drive demand. Examples include The Sharper Image, Home Depot, and Sears.
An extensive set of articles documenting these uses can be found on the website for Response Magazine. 
Several award programs recognize excellence in DRTV advertising. Awards are sponsored by The Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) who honor both short-form and long-form DRTV advertising. Annually the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet offers a range of DRTV recognition awards. And even general advertising and production award shows, like the Telly's and Davey's, include categories for DRTV work. For short-form television direct marketing, the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) recognizes program excellence via the A. Eicoff Broadcast Innovation Award, named for DRTV pioneer and DMA Hall of fame member, Alvin Eicoff.
Super Bowl and Direct Response Television
Many advertisements during the Super Bowl have been DRTV ads and encouraged direct response via websites and 800 numbers. These include ads for web services ranging from Cars.Com to Pets.com and Monster.com. The eTrade advertisement shown during the 2008 Super Bowl featured both an 800 number and a website for response. (See these ads at this link. ) In 2000, Netpliance aired a 30 second advertisement driving phone calls to 1-800-iopener or Netpliance.com in Super Bowl XXXIV . Anticipating high response they obtained additional web hosting services in order to support direct response web traffic from the advertisement . During the 2009 Super Bowl XLIII, Cash 4 Gold ran a national advertisement during the Super Bowl. This was erroneously reported to be the first DRTV ad in Super Bowl history .
- The DMA The Direct Marketing Association has a broadcast council focusing on issues in DRTV.
- Response Magazine Independent Magazine Reporting on DRTV
- DMNews Weekly news magazine covering all direct marketing issues.
- jwgreensheet The Jordan-Whitney DRTV monitoring website with rankings and copies of commercials.
- IMSTV.com Infomercial Monitoring Service. Another DRTV monitoring service with rankings and copies of commercials.