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Case Study: How a Long-Running Tool Infomercial Has Kept Sales and ROI Strong for Six Years

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Company: Professional Tool Manufacturing
Contact: Kevin Blodgett, Director of Marketing
Location: Ashland, Oregon
Industry: Manufacturing, B2C
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 80

Quick Read:

How do you sell a niche product with a limited potential audience? Try an in depth-television infomercial. Professional Tool Manufacturing's infomercial for Drill Doctor, a drill-bit sharpening machine, is one of the longest-running infomercials in TV history. It has consistently driven retail sales—more than two million Drill Doctors have been sold—while substantially saving advertising costs.

Professional Tool Manufacturing and its direct response television (DRTV) agency Atomic Direct created an award-winning infomercial by avoiding the traditional yell-and-sell approach and instead honing in on communicating the benefits of drill-bit sharpening to a sophisticated, do-it-yourself audience.

The Challenge:


Overcome a limited market of radio and print to increase distribution and drive retail sales for a niche product: Drill Doctor, Professional Tool Manufacturing's drill-bit sharpener.

Campaign:

Picture this: You're knee-deep into an afternoon home-improvement project, and halfway through your drill bit goes dull. Work comes to a grinding halt. You can either abandon the job altogether or get in the car and head to a home-improvement store for a new bit.

If you are a middle-aged male, Professional Tool Manufacturing and Atomic Direct want you to see their long-form, 30-minute infomercial, which shows viewers how sharpening drill bits will keep a project's momentum going and improve the quality and ease of work.

Hank O'Dougherty, president of Professional Tool Manufacturing, said when the first version of the infomercial ran in 2001, he knew that success depended on communicating information that only an in-depth infomercial could provide.

The company needed to spur direct consumer sales while also attracting retail outlets.

"The infomercial has played a central role in our marketing for five years, and we still find TV sales to be strong," he said. Moreover, Drill Doctor's retail distribution includes all the big-name stores: Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, Ace Hardware, and True Value Hardware.

The fundamental goal was to drive retail sales, said Kevin Blodgett, director of marketing. "Without the infomercial's communication, the Drill Doctor would be limited to a smaller market and less distribution." He also wanted to save on advertising costs.

Professional Tool Manufacturing set out six years ago to find a DRTV agency. Daunted by the task ("you want a 30-minute infomercial about a what?"), several agencies wouldn't even take the call. But Atomic Direct did, and it has been supplying the communication and business strategies for the infomercial ever since.

Extensive consumer research ($40,000 worth, according to Blodgett,) pieced together a clear picture of the potential Drill Doctor buyer and the best way to make a difficult message make sense.

"For our target audience, it's not about saving time or money—it's about working guys being able to complete their jobs," said Blodgett. And it's a matter of pride. "Our buyer wants to create a clean hole and do good work."

And, yes, the gender most likely to sharpen a drill bit is overwhelmingly male, with men accounting for 95% of Professional Tool's market.

"We also found that the people who purchase the product are pretty sophisticated. Half own an arc welder and a table saw," said Atomic Direct president Doug Garnett. "Most of them are working around the home and some work on cars—both scenarios that can leave your drill bit dull."

Here's how Atomic Direct has kept Drill Doctor's message strong for six years:

  • Keep it fresh. Atomic Direct created an infomercial that avoids the standard yell-and-sell approach that is all hype and no brand, says Garnett. The original infomercial, produced in 2001, won a Telly Award honoring the long-form infomercial; a more recent version won a Davey Award, which recognized the infomercial's creative distinction.

    Noting that 30 minutes is ample time for a viewer to become skeptical, Garnett advised Drill Doctor to be believable. "If the message is flaky, they won't buy and might just turn the channel."

  • Let the customer talk. Drill Doctor has some diehard fans, and it relies on close to 30 customers' testimonials throughout the infomercial to share their real and compelling stories. Garnett credits the testimonials to the infomercial's long-term on-air success.

    Through fan mail, for example, it found that one customer's Drill Doctor still worked after the shed in which it was stored burned to the ground. Another customer credits the Drill Doctor with saving his life. When the truck he was working under fell on him, he used the Drill Doctor to prop up the truck and push himself out.

  • Keep it moving. "People who buy from the infomercial tend to do so within 14 minutes," says Garnett. Calls to action occur at the 10-, 20-, 25- and 27-minute intervals. He also advises hiring professional actors who can follow a script and appear sincere.

  • Break the rules. Who says you can offer only one product in your infomercial? Drill Doctor bucks the standard direct-response law of never offering two products within a TV campaign. In the call to action, both a high-end and a lower-cost Drill Doctor are shown. About 15% of callers take the up-sell and purchase the high-end Drill Doctor available only through telephone sales.

  • Allow adequate time for production. From the start of the infomercial writing process to the finished production, the Drill Doctor infomercial took about five months to complete, including six weeks of planning, Garnett said. Atomic Direct recommends to clients that they allow five-to-six months to produce a finished long-form infomercial. Take the time to perfect your message, Garnett advised: "When people take a half-hour to watch, you better get the message right."

  • Run it often, and on the right channel. The Drill Doctor infomercial airs about 2,500-3,000 times a year on national cable networks and channels, including Speed, Outdoor, TLC, Discovery, and National Geographic.

Results:

Sales remain strong six years after starting the infomercial, showing that it is still attracting sales from consumers who might have seen the campaign before. (Precision Tool won't release sales data but says it wouldn't still be running infomercials if they weren't working.)

Its ROI is strong, too: Garnett estimates that for every dollar spent on television advertising it makes 60 cents in profit. Being a repeat buyer of television time has helped. "We can buy our TV advertising at 60 percent off."

Lessons Learned:

  • Use focus groups, and listen to them. When the main infomercial was about 90% complete, Atomic Direct conducted at least eight focus groups. The participants helped the team arrive at a final script and evaluate the finished show.

  • Integrate your marketing mix. Drill Doctor's marketing includes radio and print ads, but both point to consumers to its infomercial. "See our infomercial on TV," they advise, since the infomercial presents fundamental messages that can only be delivered in long-format TV. Even its website streams a partial cut of the infomercial.

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