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Phone Numbers in TV Commercials

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Neal Petrosky
Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:43:18 pm

I produce mostly local commercials and almost every time, whether it is an agency or a direct client, they want the local phone number (NOT vanity #). I'm of the opinion that the local number is wasted screen space for other info (I've actually had a client demand local #, city state and zipcode... for a spot that's running in a town with less than 200,000 people).
Is my opinion wrong? I just think some of these people are holding on hope that they'll be looked up in the phone book? Does anybody have any solid statistics regarding memory of non vanity numbers?
It's one of those things where I'm hired to do professional work, but my advice is thrown out the window.
Edit: I should note that I insist on a web address being in the spot.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 4:55:03 pm

[Neal Petrosky] "I'm hired to do professional work, but my advice is thrown out the window."

Asked and answered. :-)

Speaking more broadly, NO WAY would I put in a web address.

You have to match the medium and the message. Local spots are lo-fi and intimate. "I'm in your house at 2am to tell you that I'm just like you. I share the values that YOU share, not your hipster son with his soul patch and fedora, not your daughter and her nude selfies. You can trust us, because we're just like YOU."

This is true regardless of whether your client does FB, which they may well in their everyday lives. Even if they do for their business it's because their hipster son or nude selfie daughter talked them in to it. They want to do business with phone numbers because they want to business IN PERSON.

If they're the kind of company with a Yellow Pages ad, this is a rock solid truth that cannot be messed with. They are ALL about the phone number.

I'll go further and say that the phone number is the second most important part of the ad -- right behind the name, just ahead of the address. It supports the key message: "You can reach us. You can touch us. You can shake hands with the owner." That's the kind of intimacy that people WANT from a local spot. Local spots should touch them where they LIVE.

This is quadruply true if they have a legacy area code or exchange in their phone number, which says they've been here for a long time.

It's not hard to get a vanity number though, which I'd at least talk about with them -- but even that may send the wrong message. Their message with an awkward number is, "We've had this number since before the days you could make up your own. The PHONE COMPANY gave us this one, just like they gave you yours."

In other words, it DOES NOT MATTER if people CALL the phone number. The phone number is the MESSAGE, not the call to action. The call to action is the address. Your client wants the customer in the DOOR....and one reason why they'll go in MY door rather than my competitor's door is that I'M LOCAL.

The website actually GETS IN THE WAY of the action. It creates a barrier between the LOCAL spot by putting the potential customer on the WORLD wide web. No no nononono. The message is find us HERE. If you have any questions, you can CALL and talk to a real PERSON.

Now, if their message is NOT "we're local, we're intimate, we're your friend and neighbor," then maybe I'm wrong. MAYBE. But I'm not. In fact, if they TRIED to get a web or FB address in the spot, I'd demand they take it out.

What does the website do? It says we're not necessarily local, we don't need you to visit us, we're hipper and more modern than you, we have soul patches and fedoras, and we send nude selfies. AND you need a computer and the skills to use it if you want to get the most information about us.

Or you could CALL.

I love you man LOL but I think that anything webby or next gen is a bad move that risks creating the opposite response you want.


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Neal Petrosky
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 4:59:09 pm

I think we'll just have to disagree with your general view of the message. Hometown, local, etc... that's fine. But the reality is that most suburban areas are still growing with new people moving in. And also, everyone has the internet connected to them in their pocket (ok 99% of the people do). My point is, you want them to find you. If you have name, local address, local # and web address, then the person's ability to remember any of that is basically gone.


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Todd Terry
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 4:58:26 pm

Your opinion is, in my opinion, not wrong.

I'm of the opinion that a phone number in a television commercial is a total waste. Unless you are specifically telemarketing something, or unless you're advertising one of those mattress companies that has a jingle that sings the darn phone number over and over again... then no one ever gets a phone number off a TV commercial, especially for a "regular" business.

But... it's a losing battle.

Clients often want (or insist) on phone numbers, and we give them to them. It's their money.

I'm often reminded of Carrie Fisher's great line to Bruno Kirby in "When Harry met Sally" when she said "I'm just trying to help you have good taste." Part of our job is to help our clients have good taste, help them implement marketing ideas that actually work, and create good effective advertising.

We're constantly trying to "guide" our clients in the right direction, and help them learn what should be in a TV commercial and what shouldn't. Sometimes it's hard because you want to yell "Nobody wants to see your kids," or "It doesn't matter that you've been in business since 1978, that's not what's will bring people in the door." But you can't scream too much.

We do tons of health care advertising (several medical practices, a couple of large hospitals, numerous dentists, a couple of cancer centers). It's taken a long time to educate doctors that their potential customers (and that's what patients are, customers) don't want to see anything scary or "medical." We have to plead with them don't show a patient in an operating room, don't show a dentist with his hands in someone's mouth, don't show someone strapped into some scary medical apparatus... all of which invariably seem to be their first thoughts as to what they want seen. So we try to educate them... there's a reason that pharmaceutical companies show nice slice of life footage, not patients going through scary drug trials.

Same deal with phone numbers... we try to educate, then eventually beg and plead.

But, at the end of the day, it's their money... and sometimes they want what they want. The customer is always right, even when they are wrong.

In those cases, we put the phone numbers on, cash the check, and move on.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Neal Petrosky
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 5:03:09 pm

Todd, I'm completely in agreement and glad I'm not the only one that sees it that way.
I was hoping if anyone had any analytical data... something to pull up and say "See... I'm not making this up just to be a pain in the ass, but because I'm trying to do what actually works for you". I've been making commercials for a few years and you're right... the client is, at the end of the day, the one that is right even when they're wrong.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 5:34:58 pm

I still think you're mixing "wanting to people to contact them" with HOW the client wants people to contact them. Maybe the client is trying to tell you, "We don't like the web, we don't understand it, and we're not going to properly service anyone who reaches us there," but are too embarrassed to admit it to you.

I think you're also still mixing what you think they should want people to DO with what they want people to UNDERSTAND about them.

Seriously, do they have a yellow pages ad? THEN USE THE PHONE NUMBER.

Additionally, ask them what they want from their website. I guarantee that the answer is "We want them to call us or come by." And if their website DOESN'T feature their phone number prominently, then it's a bad design for a local business. The phone number is EVERYTHING.

They're the client, and you have to yield no matter what....but if you're more than a couple of years younger than they are, I rest my case. LOL This has nothing to do with "reality" and everything to do with their feelings about "this is our image, this is how we want people to contact us..."

...and everything to do with creating a second step between the ad and personal contact.

There's no upside for you in this, and potential downside.

For research, you can look at some other local spots, but this shouldn't be an argument between you and me. I don't think you or my dear friend Todd are even a little bit right about how absolutely critical a phone number is to a local business, but really, your goal is to make the client feel you understand them and their wishes.

If they come back to you and say, "We didn't get the response we wanted," THEN you can try the website...but I guarantee that the response that they want is for more phone calls than more hits on their website.

Otherwise, why would they come back to you? "He wouldn't do it our way, he kept trying to talk us into doing something we knew wasn't a good fit for us, so we're going to go with someone who's really listening to us."

What's the win for you? Making the customer feel good about THEMSELVES. Their feelings about the product and the results are numbers two and three, in that order.

I won't repeat myself, but the more I'm thinking about it, the stronger I'm feeling about it. LOL And fwiw, I did a ton of local spots when I was still in production ("Advertising" was part of my company's name), and I lived by my own advice. :-)

But you know your client and your market better than I do, so I'll leave it at that.


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Bob Cole
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 7:39:14 pm

I don't think you can determine the answer except by testing. You might produce two versions of the spot, one with the phone number, one without. Run the two spots on alternating weeks; track the sales.


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Nick Griffin
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:30:15 pm

[Bob Cole] "You might produce two versions of the spot, one with the phone number, one without. Run the two spots on alternating weeks; track the sales."

I seldom disagree with Bob, but have to point out a flaw in this idea. Spots don't exist individually in a vacuum. In fact one of the most basic premises of media planning is calculating 'frequency" -- the number of times the theoretically average viewer sees the spot. (I'm a couple of decades removed from buying TV time, but the theory used to be that you needed a frequency of at least 6 or 7 to break through and get noticed -- at all.)

Therefore if the spot runs with a phone number the first week and not the second, comparing week to week sales would not take into account the fact that in week 2 the viewer might be seeing the spot for the nth time and subsequent weeks would just add to the frequency with which the spot had been seen. A valid test would be if you could advertise versions with and without the phone number in different, yet statistically similar markets. That might have some validity as a test.

Clients, especially locally advertising clients almost always want to cram as much contact info into a spot as possible. Like the earlier post about someone wanting their zip code as well as their address, this is ridiculous and makes for bad, ineffective advertising.

But the exception, and what hasn't been mentioned oddly enough is "Direct Response" advertising. In the world of Direct the spot IS the salesman in addition to the promotional vehicle. The phone number and/or website is the call to action because there is no other way to obtain what is being advertised. Hence memorable phone numbers repeated ad nauseum and web addresses being displayed throughout the entire spot. And as always the kicker, "But wait! If you act now, we'll DOUBLE the offer." (Just pay double the already inflated shipping and handling, which probably costs more than the item being sold.)

For regular, non-direct response local retail advertising. Location names and or maps can be an effective way of providing a response mechanism that actually works, again IMHO.


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Bob Cole
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:15:36 pm

[Nick Griffin] "Spots don't exist individually in a vacuum. "

What, Nick? Just because I don't know what I'm talking about, you're going to disagree with me?

Of course you're right; testing is much more complicated than I was suggesting. But in some form, testing is the only way to resolve this question - and there are probably scads of studies on the topic.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 7:47:40 pm

Because I know that when I'm sitting on the couch, watching the tube, I ALWAYS keep a clipboard with paper and a pen next to my remote, and in my car glove box, so I can jot down phone numbers I hear off of spots.

Not.

Nobody does, and if they do, they are weird.

I would say most people watch TV using DVR's now, whenever possible, and they are skipping your spots entirely unless a split-second impression in passing gets their attention enough to make them back up and play it over.

The clients want the phone number because in their head, they *think* video spots are the same as old radio spots. I would argue that phone numbers are ridiculous in either medium these days. I actually heard a radio spot the other day, take time out from selling to suggest to listeners ( some obviously driving in their cars ) they can store the phone number they just heard in their phone to use later.

Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot.

Today, it's all about remembering the name, keeping it "top of mind" against the day and hour when the customer needs something in your category and the brain pops up with "well, I recall XYZ company in town sells those". ... and , if you need them to contact you, you go with a snappy, easy-to-recall dot com address.

Clients that want the address, phone and etc. on the screen tend to ask for that due to a sense of " get as much up on the screen for our dollar as possible, any way you can". I think it's wasted, with very few leads coming from people actually making the effort to write down the number or interrupt the show to call right then. Unless you're taking orders by phone with an 800 number, like QVC or Ron Popeil, or taking phone votes for a talent contest, phone numbers are a useless distraction. Your call to action is not to make the phone call, after all; it's to come to the store and see/buy the product, or order one online.


That said, if they insist, then hang that lower-third from end-to-end as long as you can. But I still think it's a waste.

Future TV spots will have something like QR codes on them so you can point your remote or phone at the screen and link to the service/product automatically, and even authorize an impulse purchase.


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Richard Herd
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 9:57:37 pm

[Mark Suszko] "that lower-third from end-to-end as long as you can"

Which will be blocked by the DVR controls.


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Todd Terry
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:00:20 am

Mark said pretty much exactly what I was thinking... except one of us was too lazy to write it all out, and one of us wasn't.

I'd forgotten what a producer I knew years ago said about on-screen phone numbers... he said instead of the actual number you might as well just super "Hey, we have a phone"... because that's really all it means. No one actually gets the actual number (except for Mark standing by with his clipboard).

Again, I think it all comes down to educating clients about what is useful and what isn't. And I always preach to try to narrow down your info to one message if possible. Actually getting it to one is darn hard and usually a battle, but it's a good goal. That extra info (like a phone number) just dulls the overall message.

We have two basic kinds of commercial clients... advertising agencies, and the rest who come to us directly. Most of our agency clients are good/smart enough to know what works and what doesn't. It's those individuals who hire us both as a creative agency and a production facility that usually require some educatin'.

You can't win them all though, no matter how hard we to try to, as I said above, help a client have good taste. We have not one but two disparate clients who insist their dogs appear in their spots... for businesses that have nothing whatsoever to do with dogs, nor are they utilized in a clever method or even in any way that makes sense... they're just stuck in there, that's what they want.

I want to quote them a bit from one of southern comedian Ron White's routines, where he says... "I'm a dog lover, I love dogs. Well... I love my dog, I don't give a sh*t about yours." But we know that argument would fall on deaf ears. We plop the dogs in, take their money, and move on to clients who do listen and let us do good work.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mads Nybo Jørgensen
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 8:30:24 am

May I add, without having a clue about phone numbers, that some years back one of my broadcast masters for an unnamed very big client got stuck on the count-down clock on air - that sparked a phone call from Spain to London about budget for doing a golf commercial...

Nothing wrong with phone numbers or business details or website - it shows that the business exist - my 5p :-)

All the Best
Mads

@madsvid, London, UK
Check out my other hangouts:
Twitter: @madsvid
http://mads-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.co.uk


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Mark Suszko
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 1:45:38 pm

Mads, the info people put on the countdown/ leader is another separate subject entirely. Back in the 80's and 90's there was an artistic arms race going on, as every production company tried to make their slate/leader/countdowns more and more fabulous and cool. Even then it was kind of a joke because usually only tape operators and engineers would ever see it. But as you said, that slate was also a kind of calling card, advertising the hipness and advanced capabilities of the post house that did the work, which went past the usual gate keepers, attached to the client's reel like remora hitching on a shark. But you'd never know if and when a potential client might see it.


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Todd Terry
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:43:37 pm

[Mark Suszko] "...the info people put on the countdown/ leader is another separate subject entirely."

And in this day and age of electronic delivery, largely a moot point.

I'm trying to think on an exception, but I believe every single one of the broadcast/cable outlets that we regularly deliver to now completely forbid countdowns or slates of any kind... a delivered file of a 30-second spot has to be exactly :30... 900 frames, no more, no less. Even 901 frames gets it kicked back and slates/leaders/countdowns are verboten.

We haven't put a countdown or slate on a commercial spot in a couple of years or more now.
Which I kinda miss... I liked our funky retro countdown.

Way off track of this thread... but maybe worth mentioning.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Richard Herd
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 6:21:29 pm

Regarding slates:

LOS ANGELES NEWS SERVICE; ROBERT TUR, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CBS BROADCASTING, INC.; COURTROOM TELEVISION NETWORK, Defendants-Appellees

OVERVIEW: The copyright holder owned copyrights to videotape footage of the beating of a truck driver during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Plaintiffs claimed that a video news service owned by the broadcasting company's predecessor had distributed the copyrighted works to recipients including the network. The network used a few seconds of the footage to promote news coverage and as part of the introduction to one of its programs. Plaintiffs had agreed to a stipulated dismissal of their initial suit against defendants, but refiled their complaint after the parties failed to reach a settlement. The appellate court found, inter alia, that the district court erroneously excluded certain evidence on the basis of the stipulation agreement. As a videotape of allegedly infringing footage and its identifying slate were not hearsay and were sufficiently authenticated, there was enough admissible evidence to preclude summary judgment as to whether the broadcasting company was liable for infringement. However, the network's use of the footage was protected as fair use given some transformative use, the factual nature of the work, the small portion of footage used, and market considerations.


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Mads Nybo Jørgensen
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:53:10 pm

Hey Mark,

With all due respect; I do think that the point is as much as we video professionals can find new and engaging CTA's, the old fashioned telephone number is for many people still a viable way to communicate. Whether the number features on an advert, direct TV commercial, in programme or indeed on a count-down clock, do not underestimate the power of the telephone and that personal touch that helps the customer decide that your firm is a nice one.

One important point though: it was not the invention of the first telephone that made the difference, it was only when the second one came into existence (+ the cable connecting them), that it really took off :-D And so it is that the telephone will only work on commercials if there are someone around to answer the call.

All the Best
Mads

@madsvid, London, UK
Check out my other hangouts:
Twitter: @madsvid
http://mads-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.co.uk


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Simon Roughan
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 4:11:07 pm

Exactly, Mr Suszko.
You will never be able to track SALES from a spot, because a spot cannot sell. You could track contacts perhaps.
The very best you can hope for with a TV commercial, is exactly what Mark describes. Perhaps sometime in the future, when someone needs the product or service in the ad, your ad was good enough to stick in the mind so they will then be motivated to contact the firm. I never promise anything else to a client.
Selling is done properly only by real people. Leave the phone number out, include a relevant and easy-to-remember web address.
My 2 cents, as a commercial producer with a few years behind me, although not as much as Todd...

mfg
Simon


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Mark Suszko
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:26:28 pm

Danke, Simon.

I would however attach one proviso: IF you use a number specifically created just for the campaign, or a web site address specifically created for the campaign, THEN, you CAN get a metric on the number of calls/ web hits before and after the spot, to judge relative effectiveness. You would have to generate additional, unique phone and URL for a second, different spot, running in the same places and times, to "know" which ad is "better". This is a truer version of the so-called "A/B Testing" that another poster referred to earlier. But the quality of the comparison suffers, if you don't present simultaneously to identical audiences.

There's a number of articles on using A/B testing in development in many different industries and applications, might be worth a Google to look them up.


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Richard Herd
Re: Phone Numbers in TV Commercials
on Oct 29, 2013 at 9:56:34 pm

Phone number and a drop shadow.

Thanks!


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