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Entries in Beevis and Butthead with Billy Dee Williams (1)


The Secret Formula for 100% Great DRTV Writing the Experts Don’t Want You To Know About, Guaranteed!  

William Burroughs, London, 1988

Unless you've worked on a DRTV script before, you probably don't know what "DRTV" means. Direct Response TeleVision is what the rest of the world calls “info-mercials.”  

What it lacks in creativity, DRTV makes up for in revenues, because media people sell direct response as more "measurable" than brand media, and thus more effective at getting "ROI," return on investment.

Don’t Wait. Supplies Are Limited.

DRTV measures results in immediate actions take by consumers: phone calls and website clicks within hours of the ad's airing.

Therefore, successful DRTV features impulse buys, gimmicky gadgets, face-feeding devices, and miraculous cosmetics: People will pick up the phone and call on those things, where they would probably not buy them in a face-to-face environment.

For That Special Area

“Male enhancement” products are one of the best DRTV products ever, because men won’t buy those magic beans in a store, and few if any will return them for a refund when they don’t work. It appears that absorbing the $29.95 loss is worth not having to say, "My special male area has not changed."

DRTV does something clever: It proves its own premise in client and product selection instead of advertising, creative, or marketing skill.

The majority of marketing involved in DRTV is media sales' marketing, to determine which ThighMaster inventor might fall for the flattery and buy network ad time on a "direct response works" sales premise.

Write DRTV Now!

So when you write a DRTV spot, remember you are dealing with clients who expect these results and are marketing these kinds of products.

But have no fear! The DRTV world takes comfort in formula, and expectations for your script involve a pretty strict formula, too. 

A DRTV spot has:

  1. problem/solution at the beginning 
  2. product demonstration
  3. customer testimonial
  4. celebrity endorsement
  5. product offer 
  6. a call to action

All of these six elements fit together between two bookeneds DRTV pros will call an "idea." The DRTV "idea" is really just a setup/payoff hook, a catchphrase, a setting, a celebrity casting choice, or (at worst) a hat on a dog.

An example of a hilarious casting "idea": How about Billy Dee Williams for the Beavis and Butthead DVD collection? Strange bedfellows live for this:


1. Problem/Solution: A Lifetime Changed in Seconds

In a DRTV spot, problem/solution comes first and lasts about four-and-a-half seconds. The next time you see an infomercial, notice how long it takes the screen to go from monochrome to color. That's the problem/solution.

Ironically enough, infomercials offer quick solutions to problems that usually took entire lifetimes to develop: bad eating habits, wrinkles, baldness, financial ruin, low achademic achievement, dead-end careers and the like.

Rule: Always Use Black-and-White To Color

The metaphor of upgrading an old black & white television to a new 1954 RCA CT-100 remarkably endures as one of the biggest prosperity narratives in American culture.

"Remember old-fashioned, gym-class sit-ups?" a voiceover might say, and we’re shown someone straining over the most gutbusting sit-up ever. You can bet that sit-up will be shown in black and white.

Then, the Ab-Jammer flashes in full color with shiny red seat and shiny chrome handles. DRTV clients love the “Go To Color” convention. It establishes an “aspirational” problem/solution contrast.

“Go To Hi-Def” or "Go To 3D" will someday replace it.

2. Product Demonstration: "It Looks So Easy"

Next, the demonstration shows real actors using the product. These real actors show the superior utility and their high levels of satisfaction with the product.

3. Customer Testimonial: “It Is So Easy!”

Show, then tell. In testimonials, have different real actors (more racially diverse and less pretty than the demonstration actors) say to the camera what was just shown to the camera: superior utility and high levels of satisfaction.

4. Celebrity Endorsement: “I Used To Think That, Too, Before I Realized <Insert Claim>”

After the demonstration, you'll want an endorsement from someone with high esteem within the target audience. Enter Joe Theisman or Alex Trebek (or an actor playing Joe Theisman’s doctor who looks like Alex Trebek).

This is the “I’m not just the owner, I’m a client,” part of the script, and this is where a big part of the DRTV expense comes in.

Rule: Make sure you can afford Cindy Crawford before you write her into your script.

Think about finding cheap spokespersons: older pop musicians, former sports stars, past-prime social celebrities, or their lookalikes. Consider American stars who are currently popular in Japan.

“Oh my god, is that Debbie Gibson for LifeLock?”

5. Product Offer: You Get Both Slicers, The Prosthetic Finger Kit And...

When you write the product offer, be extra careful when spelling the product text bulletpoints, because this is where clients will notice any errors or omissions. Actually, many long meetings will be spent determining what these "Supers," or superimposed words, should read.

It's like when marketing people discuss PowerPoint bulletpoint verbiage. It's important.

6. Call To Action

It's not uncommon for the call to action to contain a simple XXX placeholder: $XX for price, xxx-xxx-xxxx for phone number, and for websites. Those placeholders leave the script open and malleable for segmentation and response tracking in different markets. This is where the media people gather their proof of concept.

What you want to concentrate on during the offer is the build, so that you hold off the call-to-action until you can get everything in there.

Like a good horror movie, you don’t want the big cut until you have the chainsaw in the hands of the injured madman who's chasing a girl with a broken ankle to the car at the end of the dark driveway where she drops her keys. 

Hyphenate it all in there: “Easy-grip handles, no-fuss dispenser kit, the white-glove splatter guard, and sure-shot red-hot ignition guarantee—for one low price of $XX. Don’t let this offer pass you by! Supplies are limited! Call now! xxx-xxx-xxxx or on the web at”

What’s The Big Idea?

All you have left to finish your infomercial script is the “idea.” And now that you've put all the mandatory elements in, there won't be much room left for an idea, so trust that something will develop during the compilation process.

And what your client means by "idea" is a catchphrase, a dramatic setting, or a “wink” that makes the spot memorable.

  • Sometimes it's so mundane that the actor can provide it during repetitive shooting: "Hi. Billy Mays, here.
  • Or maybe it's a phrase one step removed from a cliché: "When it rains, it scores!" 
  • Or, perhaps, it will slip out as the inverse of what the product actually does: "We want people to see you can do it with one finger" for something you cannot do with one finger, for example.

As long as everything else in the formula is covered in the script, the idea will somehow emerge, everyone will be happy, the formula will be preserved, the guaranteed results delivered, and you will get your money.

Later you can decide whether to admit you wrote the Mr. T FlavorWave script, where the big idea was, "Mr. T busts through a door!" 

Now that's good DRTV.



It Came From The Medicine Show

The history of direct sales is colorful and very interesting. Digital marketing and television have inherited many of the same tactics as the old travelling medicine shows: testimonial, demonstration, audience stacking, appeals to flawed logic, fevered’s all there, hundreds of years in the making.


The Modern Medicine Show: B-To-B

Medicine shows were almost always given for consumer audiences. However, it seems today the language and technique of medicine shows turns up as much in business-to-business selling as in consumer selling.  

Perhaps that's because DRTV is really a B-to-B sale in disguise. 

Selling the platform to pitch—television "paid programming" airtime—is like scalping ballgame tickets to the concessionaires. The suckers who want to sell products to the suckers watching the TV have already been suckered themselves into buying a ticket to do it!

Now There's Something Better

The Internet removed virtually all media expense from broadcasting, so more direct sales people have moved into digital marketing, using the same approaches developed in DRTV.

Only they don't call it DRTV. Now it's called "enterprise rich media" and many of the DR elements remain, only now the appeal is to average B-to-B'ers who think they are involved with the next Apple instead of average television viewers.

If we don’t educate ourselves to recognize it, this medicine show-derived content will seep further into our lives as "information"—on par with old wives' tales about beestings. Info-mercial-info will be everywhere. Muhuhuhahaha.

"And now, a word from our sponsors."

But that's not the writer's problem, now, is it?

No, because most writers think life's a silly bitch, anyway.

So as you write your script, try to remember that people don't have problems that they can solve by calling a phone number they saw on a television ad. Why on earth would you think you could? You wouldn't. Or click on a website.

And none of the people who pretend you could really think so either.

They mostly know how to spot products people will buy in DRTV and how to sell advertising space to those who want to sell those products. We cheer them all.

Becasue the truth is, Mr. T has to eat.

And since before the days of Johnny Appleseed, American culture has evolved the ability to stand and listen to his pitches—and to feel obliged to give a little something in return for the info-tainment.