Advice and reflections from retiring Shark|Ninja CMO, George Fettig
George Fettig is a true pioneer in Direct Response Television (DRTV), with nearly three decades experience in driving consumer response. From his early days with 1-800-DOCTORS, to spearheading the campaigns of such DRTV powerhouses as NordicTrack, American Harvest, and Bosley, George has seen the industry change, adapt, and survive many a “death knell,” only to grow even stronger each time. He spent the past six years as Chief Marketing Officer for Shark|Ninja, a home appliance firm that aggressively used DRTV to grow 25% annually, and now stands as a $1.5 billion company. George also served three years as a Board member for the Electronic Retailing Association, the trade organization for DRTV. We asked George to share some of his insights for the benefit of those who may be considering DRTV as part of their marketing strategy.Script to Screen: George, you’ve got a nearly thirty-year relationship with long-form DRTV, dating back to its early emergence as a viable format. Over the course of time, what changes have you seen?
Years ago, at the dawn of the infomercial age (circa early to mid 80’s) long form media time was, frankly, dirt cheap. Pretty much every infomercial, long and short, was a financial success. It simply cost very little to generate a sale, or lead on TV. Changes in viewing habits, the proliferation of cable channels, fragmentation of audience, together with rising media rates and declining TV viewership—all have contributed to change that. Plus, there’s the rise of digital media, the evolution of second, third and fourth screens. Certainly the traditional DRTV landscape has become a more challenging environment. DRTV marketers must, and for the most part have, evolved their strategies and honed their tactics to compete in this new and more sophisticated selling environment.
STS: What do you know about marketing and advertising today that you wish you knew many years ago?
GF: That’s easy. I started out as a traditional brand development marketer, educated and trained in classic marketing and advertising strategy. As a young brand manager for Dial Soap, and later Marketing Director, I, like many of my peers, was content to develop sophisticated (and expensive) ad campaigns that for the most part might have been strategically sound but often highly inefficient. Even if the agency won a Clio!
Like many of my traditional brand focused counterparts, I looked down upon those practicing the art of direct response marketing. I only wanted to build brands, gain market share and create compelling ad campaigns. “Sales” was someone else’s job! It only took me a decade or so to learn how myopic that thinking was. Today, after thirty years in direct response, it’s clear to me that DR can and should be part of any brand-building campaign. A DRTV component can immediately help support the financial media commitment, enhance consumer awareness, build brand loyalty and contribute mightily to retail success as well.
There is a relatively new buzz word in the industry: “Brand Response.” This simply refers to the strategy of employing proven DR techniques, but with the overall end goal of developing a consumer brand that will stand on its own and develop a strong loyal consumer franchise for the long term. Brands like Proactive, Meaningful Beauty, Shark/Ninja, NordicTrack, Sleep Number Beds, are examples of effective Brand Response campaigns.
STS: As CMO of Shark/Ninja for nearly six years you helped the company develop an extremely strong commitment to DRTV, both long-form and short-form, that’s gone beyond direct sales to tremendous retail success as well.
GF: Yes, I was privileged to be part of one of the most successful Brand Response companies of all time. With Shark/Ninja I saw firsthand the power of direct response in true brand building.
Shark Ninja marketing efforts were almost exclusively DRTV for many years. Recent years have seen the integration of digital marketing to support the overall campaign. Using a combination of well-developed DRTV creative, an effective DRTV platform with a heavy media investment, consistent brand building messaging and a sophisticated digital marketing deployment, the company has been able to generate tremendous awareness, trial, and brand loyalty over time. Moreover, retail sales were phenomenal, generating great retailer loyalty support and subsequent national product distribution.
The company grew over 25 percent annually for 6 years, eventually reaching over $1.5 billion in sales. That is the power of brand building through effective DR strategies, and clear proof of its ability to directly impact retail sales and distribution. Managed correctly, retail and direct sales can and do go hand-in-hand.
STS: How do you balance brand building with selling? Which takes priority?
GF: This is the crux of the brand response strategy. It order to keep the media on the air, hopefully paying for itself, or as close to that as possible, the DRTV campaign has to generate immediate sales, or at least generate significant leads for follow up sale. The CTA or call to action in the infomercial is critical in this regard. The CTA must move the viewer to action with a comprehensive summary of the product features and benefits, and provide some attractive inducement and guarantee to make a purchase decision NOW.
On the other hand, the infomercial itself, through clear and compelling messaging, high impact product demonstrations, instructive animation, and honest, effective consumer testimonials will help build a quality image and a trustworthy brand. Remember, as effective as the DRTV campaign is at generating sales on its own, if your product is available at retail you’ll see 8 or 10 times as many purchases made there after viewing the DRTV campaign.
STS: You’ve worked with a number of very different types of products that have done well in DRTV. What would you say are some key elements of a successful DRTV product?
GF: First, in direct response it’s essential that the product fill an unmet consumer need. That’s the very essence of DR—illuminate a consumer problem, and solve it with your product.
It’s also important to appeal to a significantly large target audience. Direct response is a numbers game, and you win on volume.
Obviously, it helps to be unique. “Me too” products are much more challenging to sell on TV, unless they represent a tremendous value by comparison.
Of utmost importance is the visual demonstrability of the product. A consumer has to be able to see the product in action, and visualize themselves enjoying that same benefit.
Your product must represent an excellent value in terms of quality. Speaking specifically about Shark Ninja, every product first had to pass strict hurdles in consumer satisfaction, purchase intention, and product quality testing before it would even be considered to part of the Shark Ninja brand franchise and DRTV campaign.
I want to add that no matter how strong the product, selecting the right creative, production, digital, and media partners is critical. Successful product introductions require a complete team effort, with each partner totally committed to success and performing at the highest level. Any weakness in any part of the introduction will result in failure at launch.
STS: So I’ve got what I feel is a great product for DRTV. How do I creatively present that product in an infomercial?
GF: The infomercial format is designed to allow the marketer enough time to “tell a story.” If you cannot write a compelling story in the first two minutes of an infomercial, chances are there is little chance of success.
The linear structure of this story is very important. It should be compelling, well organized, easy to comprehend and believable. The story should be broken into digestible segments where particular features and subsequent benefits are demonstrated and explained. If there is a competitive advantage, this is a good time to bring it out. As each unique feature/ benefit is highlighted, often a consumer testimonial is brought in the highlight that particular benefit. The story should be compelling and cover the major points but leave the viewer with wanting to hear more about it. The objective is to have the viewer watch the entire show and hear the details of the offer at the CTA.
STS: Let’s take a little side trip for a moment and talk about the realities today of being a Chief Marketing Officer. It appears to be a position that has become more tenuous in terms of stability. Any advice for CMOs out there interested in keeping their jobs?
GF: My advice to any CMO is to keep up with the changing technologies, especially digital. No campaign today can be successful without a full digital component. Every digital strategy needs to be evaluated and tested, whether it’s the owned properties of web sites, micro sites, landing pages and paid search tactics, or the more elusive “earned” platforms on social media. It’s all important in today’s environment. That said, the arena is extremely diverse and complex, so don’t try to be an expert in all facets, especially in the evolving digital technologies. Bring on the subject matter experts, either in-house or with outside consultants.
STS: It seems like every year or so we hear that DRTV has run its course, and yet here it still is, in many ways stronger than ever. What’s your take on this?
GF: The demise of DRTV has been predicted again and again by industry insiders and outsiders alike. I guess I would say if you don’t evolve with the times, the prediction might come true. But those companies that take an omni-channel approach and provide great service and high quality products to their franchise, wherever and whenever they want to engage, they’ll do just fine. As far as DRTV goes, of course it’s more difficult as viewership fragments and DRTV continues to get more expensive. But Shark/Ninja is just one example that proves that DRTV remains a very effective strategy to build and maintain an enormous and loyal consumer franchise.
I started in DRTV in the eighties, and heard the death knells then. In 2015, Shark/Ninja had its most successful year ever, and spent more on DRTV than ever before. So perhaps the imminent death of DRTV has been slightly exaggerated.
STS: What insights would you like to share with young marketers interested in the arena of direct response and DRTV?
GF: When speaking of how he wanted his copywriters to think, David Ogilvy once said of the consumer, “The consumer is not a moron. He or she is your husband or wife. Remember that when you write advertising copy.” This is truer today than ever. Shoppers are educated, sophisticated, comparative, skeptical and demanding. Marketers who disregard this reality when producing products or delivering consumer messaging do so at their own peril.
Surround yourself with bright people, both internally and externally. No one person can know or do it all. Find the experts and follow their advice. This is especially true in DRTV. There are many agencies and services that claim to be experts, but far fewer have had the years of hands-on industry experience that will provide your best chance of success. Align with those partners, and let the others learn on someone else’s nickel.
To learn how a direct response campaign may help your company, please call Alex Dinsmoor on 714-558-3971
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Fettig, now President of Fettig Brand Direct, LLC may be contacted by email at: email@example.com