Direct Marketing on Chinese Television

(Chinese News Weekly via  By An Yin (安然).

[in translation]

Why do "illegal medicine ads" proliferate on television?  How did they get to be like this?

When will "illegal medicine ads" be eliminated?

Huang Yixian used to be a middle school teacher.  By chance, he entered the field of medical and health care products.  So this person with no special background in medcine has been doing market planning for many types of medical and health care products for more than 12 years.

When it comes to the mystery-shrouded group of bosses behind the television directing marketing companies, Huang Yixian said: "You must think that these people are really trashy.  But they are well-mannered and well-educated.  Television direct marketing is being done by a group of decent-looking people."

Huang Yixian described and analyzed for some of the inside scoop on the business of television direct marketing.

For whom is television direct marketing 'custom tailored'?

They have their special requirements for their products.

First, this product has to be a unique proposition.  During the campaign period, there must not be a similar product on the market.  The product must be 'new, unusual and special.'

Second, the product must cost very little.  The retail price is usually ten times the cost and then the business will be profitable.  The biggest expenditure in television direct marketing is on advertising.

With this sort of cost, the quality of the product is bound to be 'trash.'  But the television direct marketing businesses do not worry about the products being 'trash' because no company will ever link the products to the companies.  Thus, the audience will only remember the product and the number of the sales telephone hotline.  Nobody knows which company is selling the product, or where it is located.  Thus, the product and the company are separate.

In addition, there is another saying within the television direct marketing industry: "If you want to sell something, sell somthing that is ineffective."  When a medical or health product care is ineffective, it will be 'safe', it will not cause any harm, it will not kill anyone and it will not cause big trouble.  Under these circumstances, as long as the consumers do not link the products with the company, then the company can wear a product out and then come up with another 'miracle' product in order to reap more profits.  Some people describe this marketing model as the "self-destructive business model" or they characterize this type of product as "short lifetime products."

Third, when the audience have an urgent need for this product, they will feel that "they have to solve the problem immediately."  Television direct marketing can satisfy the need for "marvelous speed" so that some of the consumers will heed the impulse to purchase without considering the accuracy of the claims or the inflated prices.

Under the above principles, the television direct marketing companies tend to select products related to health care, breast enhancement, weight reduction and sports equipment most often, although there aer also some who offer electronic educational devices and medicine to cure near-sightedness.  Their principal sales targets are middle-aged and elderly men, and female consumers.

Television direct marketing ads do not usually appear during prime time.  Rather, they are done with "garbage time+high frequency of exposures," such as early afternoon and after midnight with repeated showings.

Although the ad rates for "garbage time" is cheap, this is not the only reason.  The television direct marketers like garbage time because they have analyzed their markets thoroughly.  For example, for breast enhancement products, the target consumers are usually too "embarrassed" about their condition and therefore a midnight showing is more effective than prime time.

As to the selection of channels, the true television direct marketing ads are national in coverage and so they all choose the satellite channels.  Television direct marketing is unlike the traditional marketing for this is not done market by market but it occurs nationwide.  With a national market of 1.3 billion people, if you won't buy, then someone else will.  Even if 1% (or 1/10,000 or even 1/1,000,000) buys something, it will be a lot of sales.

Television direct marketing ads basically consist of celebrity endorsements, consumer experiences and expert opinions.  Through out the ad, the product is repeatedly promoted until the viewer is forced to keep it in memory.  The length of the ad is at least 5 to 6 minutes, sometimes as long as 20 minutes.  The most important thing is to repeat again and again, with some variations.  Why the variations?  Mere repetition is insufficient and the impression can be deepened by adding some fresh information.  Also, the exposition must be done in the tone of "rapid howling" and never slowly.  The voice must have powerfully impactly in order to inject the information into the brain.  Through these powerful repetitions, the brainwashing is completed.

This type of television direct marketing ads must boast that the product is nothing short of miraculous.  In terms of production techniques, there are obviously three-dimensional designs and editing techiques that can make the fake look real.  There are fictional characters and events and the experts use their authority status to provide fake licenses, property rights and data.  They will use threatening messages with common scripts such as: "If you don't use a certain product, you will ..." and therefore inflate the worry that the consumers have about certain things.  As to the so-called before-and-after comparisons of the weight reduction program or skin-softening/wrinkle-removal products, most of these are faked in certain studios in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

As for the effect of the product, it is essential that the product can solve problems that no other products can.  The more difficult the problems are, the more effective the cure will claim to be.  Even if there are known solutions to the problems already, the television direct marketing companies will have no compunction about saying that these other products do not work.  They will also present their products as the best and the only available solution.

It is very difficult for consumers to find actual data to confirm the miraculous claims of the product.  After all, the product is not available in shops.  All claims about proof of effectiveness and claims of exclusive rights are impossible to verify.  Furthermore, these direct marketers often find foreigners to say how hot the product is internationally or how a foreign scientist is praising it.  You cannot verify any of that.

At the moment, an ordinary 5-minute weight-reduction advertisement without a celebrity costs about 250,000 RMB and a 10-minute one costs about 400,000 RMB to produce.  The television direct companies are basically small operations which sub-contract the production and distribution to various other companies.  The sales centers consist only of a few girls taking telephone calls.  If caught by the authorities, the maximum fine is about 30,000 RMB.  The cost for breaking the law is therefore very low.

Apart from television direct marketing ads, there is another variation of advertising that consists of interviews with experts.  Basically, these programs imitate the format of CCTV's program "The Road to Health."  But this is not a direct live broadcast.  When the local television stations show these ads, they are all acted by fake 'medical experts' using fake names.  They may have studied medicine once, but they are definitely not "Professor So-and-so."

Huang Yixian had visited television stations to discuss these types of ads.  He found an advertising agency and he was asked what he wanted.  Then he was shown a few sample films that follow different models, styles and lengths.  Basically, you can demand anything that you want.  Ordinarily, the most basic requirements are to have at least one 'expert' wearing a white robe; telephones should be ringing in the background; the doctor will answer questions from telephone callers.  You can find your own doctor or the advertising agency can get you one as long as you pay the fee.

The scripting usually requires the advertiser to provide some written information and then the advertising agency will prepare the script.  You can discuss with them what to change and what scenes should be filmed.  The advertising agency that Huang Yixian visited is responsible for many television programs that run from 15 or 20 minutes but always under 30 minutes.  It costs 20,000 RMB to 30,000 RMB per broadcast and it is shown on a certain channel of Beijing Television.

Actually, the time periods on the television station have been bought by various advertising agencies.  The television station and the advertising agencies have signed contracts.  When Huang Yixuan went to the television station directly, they said that they do not take on these programs directly and they told him to contact the advertising agencies.  These types of programs are very common in the local television stations, usually during the garbage time period.  The progams are effective because people believed that the "experts" are talking about medical science and the prevention of disease on live shows.  Actually, the experts will bring up the promoted products such as medicine and health care products during the discussion.  The experts will present a bullet-proof case with all sorts of scientific reasons and facts.  Then the information such as the telephone hotline number can be presented repeatedly through cut-away scenes or sub-titles.

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