Is it me… or is there more to DRTV than talking fast and looking earnest?


A director meets a celebrity to discuss their latest project: a direct response commercial. The director is experienced – but not in DRTV. The celebrity is experienced – but not in DRTV. This will be fun, they naively agree. The agency creative enters, she’s wielding a brief:

“Well, it’s quite simple. Textbook DRTV. Direct to camera, twenty lines, and syllable perfect. Five call to actions, three phone numbers, the website details and the small print. All while gliding through a supermarket.”

Celebrity’s brow furrows.

“Stutter and it’s over. Stumble and it’s over. Obviously the whole piece must be delivered with warmth and compassion – like you’re talking to an old friend. But clear and strong enough to generate direct phone responses”

Celebrity’s award-winning smile evaporates.

“Oh, and as I told your producer, we only have eight hours to shoot everything, including the variations – that’s the 30-second commercial, the regional variations and three 10-second films. Ready?”

Cold sweat glistens on celebrity’s remarkably wrinkle-free forehead. Celebrity and director exchange a look. Director thinks: perhaps there’s more to this DRTV lark than meets the eye.

This actually happened. It was my introduction to DRTV – and I’m pleased to say it was a success. But talk about a learning curve. The thing is; DRTV is different to other commercials. It’s not about mood boards and perceptions. DRTV commercials deal in hard numbers, immediate data and measurable results.

That’s why they require a safe pair of hands. They need a director who knows how to work with actors and has the scriptwriting experience to input ideas. Crisis management skills are also vital. I remember shooting a DRTV ad when the presenter suddenly burst a blood vessel. Film school doesn’t teach you how to handle this – experience does.

DRTV has its roots in direct mail. It follows similar rules. Namely: ‘if you have something worth saying, it’s worth saying.’ The Father of Advertising, Sir Ogilvy, knew this. He said so in this fantastic video from 1985. Listen to your dad.

But all this talk of numbers and measurement doesn’t mean DRTV has to be dry and calculated. Honestly. Even the simplest messages can be given a human or humorous touch. It’s about finding ways to elevate the film without diluting or confusing the content – and knowing where to put the camera to get that subtle look or extra laugh.

Just look at this fantastic example from the Dollar Shave Club. Costing just $4,500 to make, it’s been viewed over six million times on YouTube and has catapulted Dollar Shave into the world’s consciousness and Google’s first page. And then there’s this award winner for Warner Leisure, a Grand Prix winner, and my personal favorite.

Technological advances mean DRTV is now more economically efficient than ever before. The videos are also better quality and more versatile. Ads like this no longer cut it. Forced sincerity and clunky scripts are out. Today’s DRTV should be shared online as well viewed on daytime TV and shopping channels. Just look at these spots from Hotter and Vertbaudet. With their bouncy soundtracks and warm, human feel, they could be lifestyle commercials. These can sit on a company websites and earn their keep.

Companies are starting to incorporate their DRTV work into their overall brand strategy. There’s no point spending a fortune on TV ads and agonising over your online presence if you’re going to jeopardise your hard-earned kudos by banging out a quick DRTV talking-head.

And that’s the big change. I’m getting more calls than ever from clients who want to add production value and brand values to their DRTV presence, treating their campaigns in the same way that any other brand or agency treats a TV launch, and that’s before you’ve even talked about what an online presence can do.

Brands are starting to realise that DRTV can be an affordable and pivotal advertising medium – did you see the front page of last weeks Campaign Philips launches direct marketing contest. They’re not the only ones. After three years creating successful campaigns for LV, Asda and now McCarthy and Stone, I now know that there’s more to this medium than meets the eye. I’m officially a DRTV convert and I have a little secret to share with you all…

Somewhere, hidden in one of my most recent films is Boba Fett, how cool is that?

Carl Prechezer