OPINION: The Thin Line of DRTV Talent

by Cory Bergeron on Jan 30, 2015 3:00:00 AM DRTV

Editorial Disclaimer: 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.

OPINION-The_Thin_Line_of_DRTV_Talent-537410-editedMy wife cringes when you mention the ’80s. Let’s face it…there is much to cringe over. Pinch-rolled pant bottoms, neon shirts from Chess King and Merry Go Round, Aqua Net, and mullets. It’s enough to send shivers down your spine! But aside from the intentional hokey-ness and gaudy everything, the ’80s also marked the birth of DRTV. HSN, being the first kid on the block, began broadcasting on a radio station, then local TV, then nationwide. The concept expanded like wildfire. Infomercials were not far behind, creating some of the legends we all recognize like the Ginsu knife, The Great Wok of China, Tony Little, and Billy Mays. Our industry was exploding like a wide-eyed child, discovering his own fingers for the first time. The possibilities seemed endless.

DRTV in Its Infancy

During this time of glitter and glam, big hair and outrageous fashion, electronic music and commercials with people shouting at the screen, the foundation for infomercials and retail television was laid. Watching those first infomercials and home shopping years was certainly entertaining. The on-air talent looked as though they would jump out of their skin if they could! Leaping toward the camera, pointing at the screen, honking sales horns and shouting at the lens, they were the kings and queens of attention-getting hard-sells. What you had was DRTV’s infancy embedded into radical 1980s culture—and it all worked.

Yet, times are much different now. We live in an age of earth tones, organic food, endless channel options, and a universal source of all human knowledge in our pocket. People know they have unlimited shopping options from their laptop or mobile phone. They don’t want to feel pressured or yelled at. They want to spend their money at their leisure when they feel best informed. It used to be that if people missed the deal on TV, they might not see it again for a long time...maybe ever! Impulse buying was the DRTV norm.

Although that magic $19.99 price point is still a sweet spot for people willing to mindlessly drop a fin-note without much convincing, the number of times a person needs to see a product before committing to purchase has risen. It makes sense. More than 50 percent of all people using smartphones research items they are interested in buying while standing in the physical store! Times have changed with technology. If consumers happen to catch you on TV or Internet video, a sure way to get them to tune out before you’ve reached them the optimum number of times is to start shouting at them!  

However, there is one point to consider: high-energy, hard-sell tactics historically work in the case of many products. You will probably exhaust your viewers’ mind and emotions and they won’t want to hear you again after-the-fact, but you will have a better chance of getting the sale in the moment. It is a shortsighted understanding of TV sales, but if the short term is your biggest concern, then the hard-sell approach is an effective one. It causes people to sit up and listen. They engage because they are not used to being addressed with such passion. It has been proven that dopamine levels spike in the human brain during this type of sales tactic. They slack off three to five minutes after the sales presentation has ended, but for the time being, viewers are hopped up on mental feel-good juice and ready to take action!

Times Are Changin'

As a television product presenter or “pitchman” who has sold 280+ products on national television in the U.S. and internationally, I can tell you there is a fine line talent now walk.

We must appease both the concepts of the energetic hard-sell that is historically proven to get people to pick up the phone in the moment and the conversational “tell me, don’t sell me” desires of our current culture. This is a tough line to walk. Those who are concerned with a short-term, airing-by-airing definition of sales success want the hard-sell. Those who are more concerned with developing a relationship and a core following want the conversational approach. Thus, the difference between infomercials and TV networks. Infomercials = more hard-sells and energy; while television networks = more conversation and infotainment.

I have seen network management quiver watching as infomercial talent take to their airwaves and have witnessed seasoned TV network talent fail at moving infomercial product.

If there is one certainty, it is this: The world of DRTV talent is not as straightforward as it was 30 years ago at the dawn of the industry. It is now a delicate balancing act and those who have mastered it are highly sought after. They get results and still have a likable on-camera personality. DRTV talent work is an art.

I recently watched a Joan Rivers video clip of her imitating an infomercial talent. The clip is not very old, but Joan could not scream loud enough at the camera. It was absurd (as it was intended to be), but the video threw into sharp contrast how outdated early DRTV talent tactics are and the stereotype many people still assign to the idea of an infomercial. There is a fine line talent must acknowledge and carefully walk these days.

The 1980s are long gone (thank goodness) along with parachute pants, shoulder pads, explosive hard-sell tactics, and other three-decade-old trends!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cory Bergeron is founder of Pitch Video.

Cory Bergeron's blog
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Editorial Disclaimer

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.