New York Times Article by Tanzina Vega
TELEVISION pitchmen for quirky products like Pajama Jeans and lighted slippers once tried to get viewers to place their orders by phone and then shifted to getting products into retail outlets with labels that screamed As Seen on TV. Now, they are trying to make impulse buying even easier by experimenting with new technologies.
Because we come from the world of video and TV, who better than us asked Kevin Harrington, founder of a direct response marketing company, TVGoods.
Mr. Harrington, one of the sharks on ABC “Shark Tank”, where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to direct response executives, bought AsSeenOnTV.com and its corresponding telephone number in June. The company, which says it has more than two million customers and 700,000 e-mail subscribers, is embracing technologies that use cellphones and remote controls to enable purchases directly from a television set.
Daily Web videos with product demonstrations are also being produced, and Facebook pages where users can buy products directly are expected to start rolling out before the end of the year.
We anticipate most of our vendors being excited about this as a whole new way to generate products and profits, Mr. Harrington said. AsSeenonTV.com lists 650 products from multiple vendors.
In the online videos, spokesmen like the former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and the entertainer 50 Cent will host product demonstrations. “It’s much like what makes a home shopping network work its a visual, storytelling, its presenting and bringing the products to life,” Mr. Harrington said.
The videos will also be pushed out by e-mail to subscribers to the site. Mr. Harrington hopes to use former hosts from home shopping channels in addition to celebrity endorsers.
Some of the newer products being pitched by celebrities include a nonabrasive household cleaner product line called PumMagic, which is made of finely ground pumice and includes a spray, scrubs and sponges. The product will be endorsed by Hulk Hogan, whose physical strength is meant to mirror the strength of the cleanser, Mr. Harrington said.
Hulk, as a celebrity and a famous athlete, was always talking to us about endorsing products, Mr. Harrington said. It just made sense. Hulk really fell in love with the pumice pitch.
A high-end set of wireless over-the ear headphones that is being promoted by 50 Cent, who is no stranger to product pitches after being a spokesman for Vitamin Water drinks, will sell for $300 to $400.
He’s a pretty aggressive entertainer, Mr. Harrington said. He’s been a great businessman. When asked whether that price was a bit too rich compared to the usual cost of an infomercial product, Mr. Harrington said, it’ll be three easy payments of $99 when we are done.
Streamlining the way consumers buy these products is one a crucial goal. Mike Fitzsimmons, the chief executive of Delivery Agent, the company providing mobile and television commerce technology to AsSeenOnTV, said it is clumsy for television viewers to have to jot down an 800 number or go to a Web site.
Our whole business is taking friction out of the processing,Mr. Fitzsimmons said. Were placing a big bet on that industry that we think is in need of innovation.
This fall, the company will roll out technology it calls audio fingerprinting, which will enable cellphones to decipher which infomercial a user is watching after the phone is held up to the television. The user will then be sent to a mobile Web site where the product can be bought through the cellphone.
Another development will let viewers use ordinary remote controls to buy products off a television screen by clicking a button that opens a purchase window. Advertisers will also be able to track which commercials elicited purchases. The goal, Mr. Fitzsimmons said, is to have a ubiquitous transaction mechanism for television.
Direct response marketers say they are closely watching the new technologies.
If we have the opportunity for them to see a commercial and to react that quickly, the chances for us to make a sale increase dramatically, said Kevin Vick, a partner with Boston Ideas, which owns Bright Feet, a product that combines fuzzy house slippers with LED lights so people can see as they walk in the dark. This takes several steps out. In our society today, we want it now, we want it faster.
Sonia Makurdsik, a marketing consultant for Hampton Direct, which owns Pajama Jeans, said 70 percent of nonstore sales came from online purchases as opposed to over the phone. Flipping through the channel is not enough, she said. Your brand message needs to be present wherever the consumer is.
Data from Nielsen shows that direct response marketers spent $2.1 billion on television, radio outdoor and print advertising in 2010, and $550 million in the first quarter of 2011.
John Yarrington, the publisher of Response Magazine, a direct response trade magazine, said that while these marketers are going to the Web, television is still critical for establishing a brand presence. How would you know to go look for the Shake Weight, if you I’ve never heard of it before he asked.
Once online, however, marketers can sell products more cheaply since they eliminate the need for someone to take a phone order. Television marketing fuels consumers to go to the Web and make purchases online or make purchases to their phone, Mr. Yarrington said.