Have you seen the direct-response television (DRTV) spot for Hoveround Scooters? At first, you're not sure if it's for real.

It features elderly people in matching outfits cruising around in unison to some annoyingly bouncy jingle. It's as if they are in some kind of surreal, retro-crazed High School Musical number—only they are old and on scooters.

To top it off, the spokesperson/owner of the company is named Tom Kruse (not to be confused with Tom Cruise, the actor).

Yet it is a real commercial, and despite the ultra-corny and arguably mocking portrayal of the elderly, it's strikingly effective. The more we watch it, the more ingenious we think it is. It could be the best DRTV spot since "Help, I've fallen, and I can't get up" became the catchphrase of the early '90s.

The wackiness of the Hoveround spot spot got us thinking about how some of the funniest comedy skits have been spoof TV spots—and how closely they follow proven DRTV principles to make their sketch more believable and more poignant.

Take notice. Great DRTV spots do several things extremely well: They grab your attention; they frame a problem that needs to be solved; they state their offer as the solution; they show the product in use; and they ask for the order—a lot.

Follow those rules with your next DRTV creative, and you'll have gotten further than most marketers ever get.

What makes the best TV-commercial parodies so funny is how closely they follow traditional direct-response recipes for success. Minus a few quirks, they are textbook examples of how to get great results.

One of our all-time favorites is Old Glory Insurance, a Saturday Night Live (SNL) classic that reminds us of those old Colonial Penn spots for guaranteed life insurance—but this one is selling robot insurance.

The Old Glory spot has a winning DRTV formula: worried old ladies having tea, the fear of violent robots, shocking statistics, charts, a celebrity spokesperson, and an affordable solution by mail. It even has legal disclaimers.

Then there's the SNL spoof for Reliable Investments that features a classic Q&A—a problem-and-solution conversation between a busy executive and a friendly, helpful service rep—to show just how easy it is to invest with Reliable. The approach allows you to tie together a wide range of benefits without seeming choppy or disconnected.

The spokesperson's ability to stay calm and focus on the sale even while he is jumping to his doom is where the humor comes in. He's a professional right to the end.

And who can forget the all-time classic SNL skit featuring Dan Aykroyd selling a way to prepare bass like you've never had it before?

He details the hassle of preparing a bass dinner and promotes the Bass-O-Matic as a convenient and healthy way to prepare bass. He adds credibility to his product by enlisting a testimonial from Laraine Newman while she is enjoying a nice glass of bass. He promotes how affordable his product is and provides a convenient way to respond to his offer.

In DRTV, finding a way to engage your audience and make your message memorable is only half the challenge. Your product has unique features that satisfy an important need for someone. But unless you can get that someone to notice and respond, you haven't done your job.

Take some pointers from those classic comedy skits, and start with a time-proven, results-oriented DRTV formula.

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DRTV: There's Method in the Madness

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Dave Miller is a copywriter for Philadelphia-based TPG Direct (www.tpgdirect.com), a full-service direct-marketing agency and part of Omnicom Group's national network. He can be reached at dmiller@tpgphl.com and 215-592-8381.
Miguel Ferry is the creative director for Philadelphia-based TPG Direct (www.tpgdirect.com), a full-service direct-marketing agency and part of Omnicom Group's national network. He can be reached at mferry@tpgphl.com and 215-592-8381.