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How to avoid disaster on direct route to market

IN THESE cost-conscious times, direct marketing of all kinds has grown strongly as companies seek to maximise returns from advertising spending rather than just raise awareness.

Direct response has a somewhat negative image, with many people ignoring the fact that financial services companies, charities and political parties run advertisements including their telephone numbers or addresses. They also assume it is limited to the marketing of 'greatest hits' records, gaudy figurines and the like. But, with a growth rate higher than that of direct response in the US, it is undeniably here to stay.

It is proving especially strong in television, where 12 per cent of UK commercials now carry a telephone number, according to a recent survey by British Telecom and Channel 4. Other sources forecast the figure will be as high as 25 per cent by the end of this year.

However, a new guide points out that it is not all good news. While the sheer level of response that can be achieved is an important advantage, there are potential pitfalls. Most notably, the very fact that direct response television (DRTV) can produce such a large volume of calls in a short period can lead to practical difficulties.

The guide, produced by the telemarketing agency Readycall and published this month, is designed to help clients and agencies alike avoid such problems.

In particular, Maria Hamilton Lyons, managing director of Readycall, which handles the responses to direct marketing campaigns on behalf of advertising agencies, believes there is a danger of companies and their agencies concentrating on television at the expense of print media.

Making the latter the 'poor cousins' in this way not only involves higher costs, because television advertising is generally more expensive than newspaper display, but also risks missing key audiences. For instance, older people are generally reckoned to prefer filling out newspaper coupons to responding to telephone numbers appearing on television.

The guide also says that 'the less intense atmosphere of direct response print advertising, or direct mail, is often more successful for capturing in- depth customer data', which may be important to a client's marketing strategy.

At the same time, television's immediacy can produce problems associated with children or people not really interested in the product or service. One Readycall client found that in the early stages of a DRTV campaign the response was high, but half the callers were time-wasters, which was proving highly expensive.

After discussion within the company and with the agency, he removed mention from the commercial's voice-over that calls were free, and invited callers to call 'any time' rather than 'now'. Response levels instantly fell by about 40 per cent. But the level of sales remained the same and overheads fell.

Ms Hamilton Lyons recommends that would-be users set an appropriate budget for response handling at the outset and choose an agency suitable for the size of the project.

For a copy of 'Handling Advertising Response', tel 0800 444 838.

(Photograph omitted)