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Jun 21, 2005
Case Study

Can Direct Response TV Commercials Work Online? 77% of Viewers Vote Yes

SUMMARY: It's one thing to wind up watching a DRTV ad on late night TV when you're idly channel surfing. It's another to actively click on a link to watch the same commercial on the Web... or is it? Will consumers respond to online video the same way they do to TV pitches? Foster Parents Plan of Canada partnered with AOL broadband to find out. And MarketingSherpa's got the exclusive results for you.
Broadband is finally ready for primetime, but is it ready for off-prime as well?

Faced with plummeting direct (postal) mail response rates, Foster Parents Plan of Canada found itself relying more heavily on just three donor acquisition strategies:

1. Door-to-door reps 2. Internet ads 3. Direct response TV ads (DRTV)

Of these, door-to-door had bad churn rates; folks would cease monthly donations after a few months. Internet-driven donors had exceptionally low churn, new names staying on the active files year after year after year. New donors from DRTV ads were somewhere in the middle.

The creative team wondered, "If we married DRTV with online, would we get improved ROI?" Six months ago when AOL Broadband offered free ad space as part of its Canadian kickoff, Plan decided to go for the gusto.

Although the media buy was donated, the team took the campaign as seriously as they would a paid campaign, investing substantial effort into squeezing every last drop of potential learning.

So, they expanded the goal from simply, "Will a DRTV ad in this one particular place work?" to "How will a range of online users react to proven TV creative?"

Step #1. Pick the best ad for the job (link to samples below).

Key: Although ultimately Plan will probably invest in Internet-only video creative, the team decided against this tactic for the test. Instead they reused the 60-second spot that had been running for almost a year with great success.

Why? They had benchmark data on how that ad typically performed. Any variances in results would be due to the medium, not the creative.

Aside from already being a proven winner, the ad chosen had two features that worked well for Web viewing:

o A compelling human interest story: The ad focused on the story of one child, Wilman. AOL chose to serve ads in a non-interruptive manner, so viewers had to click to open and start viewing the video selection of their choice. This means your ad title had to sound darn appealing and carry through with a strong emotional punch to keep and convert viewers.

o Slow-action and locked-off shots: Although broadband has advanced a great deal, you still shouldn't post videos with lots of quick cuts and fast action. Close-ups and smooth action are best.

Step #2. Augment with a survey

The team tacked a survey offer on the end of the ad for three reasons.

First of all, immediate conversions probably wouldn't be significant-enough data. Plan's online ads tend to convert well, but extremely slowly. Lag time can be 30-60 days after first viewing a Plan banner, during which time other media touches may have come into play.

Secondly, they wanted to measure response beyond direct conversions. What if ads created a strong emotional response or brand awareness that might result in better responses to ads in other media?

Thirdly, they hoped to replicate Nissan Canada's findings that online focus groups can give almost duplicate results to offline focus groups for TV ad evaluation at a fraction of the cost. (See link to Nissan Case Study below.) If Plan could pretest new TV creative online, offline TV ROI would improve.

The interactive survey ran for about 12 minutes, during which time respondents used a toggle bar to give their opinion of the ad's creative elements as it replayed before them. (Link to screenshot and sample survey tool below.)

Step #3. Cross-test to other online audiences

The team decided to offer the video ad plus survey to three different audiences so they'd get enough data from the test to be worth discussing: o AOL Canada broadband visitors o 100 Canadians recruited from an existing online market research panel o All online donors to Plan during the month of February. (The offer was placed on the thank-you page of the donation form.)


Plan Marketing Director Rebecca Crampton says, "We were encouraged to learn that 77% of the sample said the online commercial made Plan at least 'somewhat appealing'". In comparison, only 38% had felt that way prior to viewing the online commercial.

Plus, new donors strongly felt the ad was wonderful. In fact, it helped validate the decision they'd just made to join. Could this affect long-term churn? We'll see. In the meantime, it's a great idea for any month-to-month subscription or donor organization to add compelling content onto the thank-you page.

Roughly 1% of AOL broadband users who saw an offer to view the video ad clicked on it.

49% of these viewers agreed to take the survey afterwards (an unusually high response) but only 16% actually completed it (a dramatically low response.) We suspect, unlike online research panel volunteers, these folks weren't used to 12-minute surveys and bailed. A two-minute version might have been more appropriate.

In response to the question "Do you think the commercial you just saw would be better for TV only, Internet only, or both TV and Internet?" 74% of AOL respondents chose TV and Internet both, 22% picked TV only, and 4% picked Internet only.

One respondent noted, "I personally spend more time on the Internet and less watching TV. I wouldn't normally have seen the ad."

Does this mean marketers should race to hurl TV ads online? We advise taking these findings with a cup (if not a bucket) of salt. Remember, surveyed users were a smallish group of consumers who'd just clicked to view a commercial online. Plus, there was no option for "neither TV nor Web."

Also, unlike TV, we know of currently no broadband remnant commercial space you can buy cheaply online.

That said, you certainly could use traditional cheap online ads such as text-links to promote a video ad you hosted. This could work well as long as your video title was fascinating-sounding, and you made it clear up front the link went to a video. (Best practice: never surprise users with totally rich media landing pages. Let them self-select to be there.) Crampton isn't moving ahead full-blast into DRTV ads online just yet although she'll consider more tests. However, the survey tool proved invaluable for offline ads. "The tests provided us with some insights on content and creative enhancements for this year's DRTV program development."

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples and screenshots from the campaign:

Check out how the survey software works:

Related past MarketingSherpa Case Study: Nissan Tests TV Commercial Creative with Both Online & Offline Study Panels -- Will Results Match?

Delvinia - the interactive agency that created online version of ad, including the AskingMedia (TM) rich media surveying tool:

AOL Canada:

Foster Parents Plan:

See Also:

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