[OPINION] Field Report: March Madness, DRTV Madness & How to Make $1 Billion

by Jordan Pine on Mar 30, 2015 3:00:00 AM DRTV

MarchMadness-920653-editedThe statements, opinions, and advertisements expressed on the ERA Blog and other online entities owned by the Electronic Retailing Association are those of individual authors and companies and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Electronic Retailing Association.

Among the accomplishments of which I am most proud are helping to pioneer two methods of identifying DRTV winners that have become industry standards: Web testing and online surveys. By using these tools, many of today’s top DRTV companies have greatly improved their odds of success and reduced the amount of time and money they waste on failures.

Before you think me immodest, note my careful choice of the words “improved” and “reduced.” Those aren’t boastful words. I certainly don’t tell people I can predict hits or anything crazy like that. I just help them fail more quickly and cheaply than before. As I tell newcomers, the most successful companies in our business fail to pick a winner nine times out of 10—and that’s being generous. Something like the opposite is also true: Every year, a significant portion of winners take the experts by complete surprise…which brings me to men’s basketball.

The other day, I read the following (courtesy of Briefing):    

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is once again proving that picking a perfect bracket is utterly impossible.

Two #2 seeds—Virginia and Kansas—lost to #7 seeds last week. Villanova, a #1 seed, lost to #8 seed North Carolina State on March 21.

Top-seeded Kentucky won its first two games by an average of 18 points.

These examples will be dated by the time you read this, but I trust the point isn’t lost. Despite dozens of experts committing hundreds of hours to analysis, March Madness is still completely unpredictable. Sound familiar?

In basketball, experts use criteria such as shooting, rebounds, and so on as the basis for their predictions. When we say one team “upset” another, one thing we mean is that the underdog has defied one or more of the key criteria experts thought they needed to win. For example, most predicted the NC State Wolfpack would lose against the Villanova Wildcats because, among other things, they were weak in long-range shooting (an area in which Villanova was strong). While that assessment proved true—the Wolfpack only made three of 11 attempted three-pointers during the game—they still won, becoming “just the fifth team to knock out a top seed in the round of 32 since 2001,” according to USA Today.

In DR, experts also use criteria as the basis for predictions, and just like in basketball there are “upsets” or products that defy key criteria to become winners anyway. As one such expert, I have created my own lists of criteria. I have also experienced many upsets. Here are some recent examples:

Criterion: Uniqueness. Products must be different and new.

Upset: The One by MicroTouch. What’s the exact opposite of something different and new in men’s shaving, a category that is all about more blades and fancier features? A basic, single-blade razor like the one your grandfather used. Yet this “modern version of a timeless classic” was a big success.

Criterion: Mass appeal. A DR product must appeal to a large enough market.

Upset: HurryCane. On my blog, I often talk about the ‘segment of a segment’ problem as a reason why projects fail. Well, this “all-terrain cane” should have been Exhibit A in making that case. According to the Census Bureau, less than 5 percent of the population uses “a walking aid, such as a cane, crutches or walker.” Yet, this particular cane sat on the charts for months and was eventually followed by a similar product called Trusty Cane, which became one of the True Top Spenders of 2014.

Criterion: Problem solving. A DR product must solve a perceived problem that doesn’t already have a good-enough solution.

Upset: Snuggie. I could have found a more recent example, but this 2008-2010 juggernaut is the best example from the past five years—perhaps of all time. Back during the height of the craze, a few insiders argued this “blanket with sleeves” solved a problem. A friend from outside the industry had the best response to that: “Dude, it’s a backwards bathrobe!”

Last year, guru investor Warren Buffet made headlines by offering a $1 billion prize to anyone who could pick the perfect March Madness bracket, which would entail correctly choosing the winner of 63 games. To some, that seemed risky. What if someone actually did it? But to anyone who truly understands the madness of trying to pick winners, that seems like the safest of bets. In fact, if you develop the ability to pick 63 DRTV winners, please call me right away. I’m pretty sure I can get you $1 billion, too.

Until then, good luck with that bracket.

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jordan Pine is a consultant specializing in short-form DRTV and the author of the industry blog The SciMark Report.

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The statements, opinions, and advertisements expressed on the ERA Blog and other online entities owned by the Electronic Retailing Association are those of individual authors and companies and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Electronic Retailing Association.