Stew Birbrower is interviewed by George Alger on the the basics of advertising and successful TV commercials. This brief excerpt from the interview highlights some of the most fundamental points, including:
1) Catch their eye
2) Penetrate their mind
3) Warm their heart
He also notes that music is a big part of the effectiveness of television commercials.
Stew is a former Madison Avenue Creative Director. From the 1960’s and into the 1990’s, Stew was behind some of the most notable TV commercials of that era.
Here is a partial list of clients that has Stew has worked with:
- Band Aids
- Boy Scouts of America
- Colgate Palmolive
- Delta Airlines
- General Foods
- Goodyear Tires
- Kentucky Fried Chicken
- New York State Lottery
- Proctor & Gamble
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After 1984, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eliminated regulations to govern the commercial content of television, infomercials began to proliferate the late-night airwaves because they were cheap to make and proved to be a highly profitable media, selling anything that could be easily shipped.
In fact, infomercials became so profitable that more and more money poured into the industry and by the dawn of the 21st century, big brands started pumping money into the infomercial profit party in a much bigger way. This raised the profile of the infomercial industry as a
Having been involved with some of the most successful infomercials, I have observed that infomercials, as an advertising media, have matured in a way somewhat analogous (although not nearly as fast), as what has happened in the Pay Per Click advertising channel. As PPC became a successful advertising model, over the years advertisers have driven up PPC costs.
Further, the level of sophistication in PPC strategies to stay profitable has also increased.
In a similar way, the costs and risks associated with creating and testing infomercials have skyrocketed since their humble beginnings.
And yet, the investment to test for sales potential via PPC is less than TV.
So, when someone asks me if they should produce an infomercial, rather than delve into the relative merits of their product or service and how broad the demographics are for the market that buys it, I simply ask how much testing has been done through less expensive media?
When that has been refined and scaled up to maximize the demand and profits, enough marketing data will be gained to determine what are the best keywords and messages that underlie this product’s success. And all that data will be very important as a research basis for scripting and producing an infomercial TV “test,” to see how it would do on a limited trial basis as a TV advertisement.
There is much more to know about creating infomercials, but the simple answer about whether you should create an infomercial for your product would be based upon how well it’s selling on the Internet and using the supporting data to help evaluate a translation to TV.
Stated another way, for most business persons, the question about whether a product would be successful as a national infomercial shouldn’t even be considered until it’s been tested online and then tested in smaller geographical regions on TV.
OK, yes, it’s true: there are in fact numerous errors that can be made when planning or hiring professionals for a video production. So how can only one be prioritized?
In my years of producing over 1000 videos for TV, web and social media, the #1 error that I encounter boils down to this: Someone with good intentions and influence — usually an executive or business owner — initiates a project by saying, “I’ve got a great idea for a commercial. Let’s get it made.”
Indeed, this is a source of good business for video production professionals. And having a clear vision can make the process of creating a video more efficient. But it’s usually ‘not’ the best way to represent a company’s economic and/or marketing interests — particularly for commercials.
Does this mean it’s always bad? No. But the odds are stacked against any gut instincts when such may lack the experience to embrace all the factors that make a successful video — whether that be a brief commercial or something more substantial.
A better approach would be “We should consider video. Let’s explore this.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that one’s gut instincts or inspired ideas should be ignored. The idea could be valuable to informing the general concept. But it would be wiser to consider such within the context of what you’re trying to achieve in parallel with budgetary factors.
To put this in perspective let’s explore a few key points.
First of all, it’s common that an inspired video idea might be
Secondly, is the budget just to produce the video? Or does it
Sure, you could post it on Facebook and YouTube for free. But if you spent any meaningful resources on the video, the likelihood that it will generate enough exposure to make the project a success is low. (Viral videos are an exception to the rule, in the same
By the way, using Facebook and YouTube as part of a strategy to get your video seen is quite relevant. But getting it viewed is only reliable if you are “paying” to put it in front of the right viewers on YouTube and Facebook, not just posting it online.
Thirdly, if the video is intended to be used as part of a sales strategy, the idea of “return on investment” becomes a factor, and here the variables can become capricious. (Good news follows below in this article regarding how to make the ROI more predictable).
It could be argued that this next point should also be under the heading of “budget,” since the lack of a strategic vision, all in addition to a video vision, could contribute to inefficiency and waste. Nevertheless, its singular importance deserves its own heading.
You can ignore this if you are a marketing professional, since it’s so obvious you would not overlook it. But I’ve observed this to be true even with business executives who achieved a certain level of success in the past through their inherent marketing savvy. You could say they allowed their own enthusiasm for a video project to eclipse the fundamental context of their existing marketing strategy.
Stated another way, does one’s “inspired idea” or “gut instinct” for a video actually align with any existing company messaging?
If you want to get the most bang for your buck, your video
should align with your current marketing materials so that all your
messaging presents a unified presentation.
Unless, of course, a whole new campaign is envisioned, which would then include new messaging for your website, newsletter, printed materials and other advertising. Specifically, if you decide you want to go after a younger demographic by making a commercial or promotional video series targeted to the younger generation, but your website and messaging is written for a different demographic, then the dissonance in your strategic implementation will reduce the effectiveness of your video.
“OK,” you may say, “That’s too obvious.” And so right you are. But let’s get a little more nuanced.
Let’s say you’re a tech company and your website and existing promotional materials all emphasize your cool hardware. But you are inspired to explore a “more human approach” to your company’s presentation by emphasizing the benefits of your products or services over and above the technology, by conveying a touching story. Such is fine and opportune as a vision. But it should also be represented on your company website in pictures and words as well as any other marketing channels in use. Not just in the video.
Video is such a potent way to convey messaging that a one-off production that does not fit into a broader strategic plan is rarely going to be as effective as one that fits into a holistic strategy for your entire business or nonprofit.
MESSAGE AND VIDEO TESTING
OK, this next point is not without controversy to smaller businesses, even though its merits are inarguable. It’s just that its value becomes even more important as your budget becomes more meaningful.
A core problem that many small and medium-sized businesses have is related to strategic implementation — or more specifically, lack of strategy to begin with. In my experience, a number of businesses view marketing and advertising as “let’s try this and see if it works.” Given that as a starting point, always bet that it won’t work and you’ll be living a lavish life versus anyone who would bet against you.
Of course, it could be argued that such an approach is the result of business owners or execs being too busy to understand that every marketing channel, whether that be email marketing, display advertising, search marketing, commercials or any type of video promotion, has its own factors that should be respected for optimum results.
The good news is that your marketing/advertising ROI can be optimized. As well, your strategy can be informed and refined by data. That data needs to be derived by message testing, which is a disciplined comparative analysis of how to represent your own products or services.
In practice, there is much that can be known about this topic. But to keep this brief for any reader unfamiliar with the subject, the idea of testing is to present multiple ads or messages at a time (to different viewers) for comparison. Always present at least two. Online, it’s relatively simple to test many different ads at one time, which are swapped out in real time to different viewers. In other words, viewer “A” sees one ad or message and in the same instant viewer “B” can be shown a different version of the same ad. The marketer then analyzes the data to determine which ad or message generated the most desirable response. The ad with the best response becomes the “control” ad and then new ones are compared against that to find an even better performing control message.
Not only can this be done with video itself, but it can be done before you produce the video. By testing messaging via simple online text ads, you are then better informed to approve video scripts that you already know will perform better. (Read “better return on investment”).
And then after you get to to the video production, you can create inexpensive variations of your video messaging to further refine performance. For example, sometimes you’ll find that a woman spokesperson will perform better than a man. Other times, it’s the opposite. Sometimes an older actor will engender more response, sometimes younger. Sometimes it’s obvious. For example if you are selling to a mature or young demographic it’s best to feature those kinds of people in your video. Other times it may not be so intuitive. For example, you may be targeting grandparents by featuring young children who would represent the viewers’ own grandchildren for the purpose of selling childrens toys or clothes to the grandparents.
Although testing is an ironclad path towards greater video performance, as well as more effective marketing, advertising and messaging in general, the argument against it, typically for small businesses, is that it takes longer and costs more. That can’t be ignored. It does take more time and resources. But when done well, the whole point is to generate a higher ROI on your marketing and video-messaging investment.
Testing is how you can build more predictability into your ROI. And by the way, in some cases, testing inexpensive online text ads before moving to video may demonstrate early on that your gut instinct for a great video doesn’t seem to generate the positive traction you were desiring and you may determine to “not” produce the very vision that initially inspired this exploration.
Testing is not only the path towards more effective video production. It’s the path towards marketing and advertising success.
Of course none of the above deals with the details regarding pressing “record” on a video camera. For those familiar with the overarching three phases of the video production process (pre-production, production and post-production), the above would be categorized as planning and pre-production.
A briefer statement regarding the #1 error in commercial video production would be neglecting that the more you invest in pre-production and planning, the better your ultimate results.
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