Posted November 9, 2010 5:22 pm by with 8 comments

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You’re the author of a book on how to turn kitchen waste into cash and you want to spread the word. So what do you do? Why not invest in a snazzy TV commercial to play on the Food Network or during Pawn Stars. This is your audience, foodies who love to treasure hunt! But author Joel Comm says don’t waste your money because despite all the hype, TV ads are not the stuff dreams are made on.

It goes back to the early days of TV, when Ralph and Norton demonstrated the Handy Housewife Helper and Lucy proclaimed that Vitameatavegamin was so tasty, too! For years, sitcoms have taught us that a single TV commercial can result in an avalanche of sales which generally left our TV hero struggling to meet the demand with comical results.  In reality, a TV commercial is just another tool in the tool kit and not always the best tool for the job.

Joel Comm is the author of “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays.” Let me take a moment here to say, I haven’t read his book, only the first two chapters and the press release he put out today, but I thought the point was a good one so with that caveat in mind. . .

Comm ran an advertising experiment comparing TV ads to online ads. He hired a firm to create a commercial then ran it 230 times during a 10-day period in October on such popular shows as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Fast Money, Man vs. Food, Mad Men, and Wall Street Journal Report.

The ad offered a URL ( where people could go to download the first two chapters of the book for free. There was no request to buy and no toll-free number. The ad was designed simply to drive traffic to the website for the purpose of collecting email addresses of potential buyers. Here’s where Comm inserts his own caveat, which is that the ad only ran last month, so there’s no telling the long term affect but at the moment, it was a flop. Despite 8.3 million impressions, he only got 112 visits and less than half of those people filled out the two lines needed to get the free download.

Says Comm,

“This is a massive failure. This is proof that old media calls to action do not translate to sales on new media. People who watch TV rarely take note of the ad and they aren’t motivated to go online as a result. TV is about branding and keeping a brand in the forefront of a consumer’s mind.”

In contrast, Comm ran the same ad on YouTube, got 5,000 views and 1,375 visits, a conversion rate of almost 33%. More than half the visitors requested the two free chapters and it didn’t cost a cent to run the video on YouTube vs the price of buying commercial time on TV.

I could say that the facts found here are obvious but hey, remember The Gap article? Obvious doesn’t mean everyone is paddling with the same oar.

The trouble with TV commercials that send viewers to a website is that they require the viewer to make note of the web address. This adds an additional step to the process and we know that every extra step is another chance of losing the potential customer. I’ve seen plenty of commercials that made me think, hey, that’s cool, but by the time I’m back in front of the computer my enthusiasm has waned and the URL is forgotten.

Until most of America has Web TV, the process of getting viewers from screen to browser is going to remain cumbersome. You might get people watching TV with iPhone in hand and the occasional person who uses pen and paper to write down the address, but in general, placing an ad on the internet where people can click through instantly is going to be your best bet.

And with video and mobile on the rise, there are more ways than ever to turn an old school TV commercial into a modern marketing tool.

Have you ever run a TV ad for an online product? We’d like to hear about your experience.

  • Related to the URL memory issue is that many people may just search for the term the advert refers to. e.g. “KaChing” or “How to Run an Online Business”

    If your website is not advertising for those phrases or showing up in those organic results, you will be wasting a lot of that TV ads potential.

    If you are showing up then you should track it and credit the TV ad for any boost in traffic.

    • Cynthia Boris

      But if someone has to search the term – how do you know they’re coming in on the ad? I guess you could use a questionnaire. But I think the point is good that TV is great for branding but not so much for an online product

  • Those are pretty dramatic differences. One other test that would be interesting for TV would be to have a domain name that is short and easy to remember and spell. This URL is three words, one of which is likely to have typos, and we don’t usually hear URLs that start with the.

    Doing the test with a shorter domain name or one that is easier to remember would also be a good exercise to show the importance of choosing a domain name when it comes to people actually being able to remember the URL if they’re not in front of a computer.

  • Cynthia,
    You’re definitely right on saying that the major obstacle of turning audience from tv to browser is what I call ‘a transition of media,’ which may cause the audience to ‘lose steam’ when they turn from one media to another. In fact, I’m thinking to put a tv commercial on Google TV Ads, but after hearing the bad experience from Joel, I really have to be more cautious. But I think the reason for one to succeed in TV commercials is more complicated than the factor of URLs. I heard quite a number of successful stories such as I’m wondering what are the factors behind those successes. I think it has to be judged from case by case.

  • If a website is not advertising for those phrases or showing up in those organic results, it will be wasting a lot of that TV ads potential. business to business marketing

  • All rather. You do not know гделучше to you to appear

  • This is NOT a good test.

    Among other problems, the URL is too difficult to remember. There is no mention of HOW he got so many YouTube visits ( title of video / keywords ) And the conclusions – eg, TV is only for branding – are WAY overstated.

    Companies do make money with direct response TV. You just need to know how to do it. And Mr. Cpomm does not.

    • Cynthia

      But see, what you’re saying is the lesson – too many people think, I’ll just make a TV commercial and all my dreams will come true. It’s not true – I probably should have gone with a different headline because it’s not really about TV not working, it’s how advertisers don’t make TV work for them.

      As others have mentioned, bad URL, wrong product, get all of this right and it could pay off, but even then, it’s not instant success as many believe. (And you know they do.)