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By Jim McNamara
Reprinted from Response Magazine

You’ve just finished that script for your next infomercial or DRTV spot, and it’s a killer.

But what can you do to make sure that it’s absolutely the best it can be?

If you’re smart, you’ll go back over it one more time, making sure that it meets all the touchstones of great direct response writing. Here are 11 of the most important points to look for:

#1) Check your USP
What’s the reason somebody should buy your product and not the other guy’s?  It’s supposed to be what legendary copywriter Rosser Reeves called your USP, Unique Selling Proposition.

There has to be some compelling reason that your goods are better than the other ones out there. You, as the creator of your little sales message, ought to not only know what that is, but be able to state it succinctly--and probably use it in your commercial.

It’s not enough that you have a good product that’s pretty much like the other ones in the marketplace. Do you have a feature nobody else has?  Is there a problem you deal with that the others don’t?  Are you cheaper, or faster, or better-designed or made?

These are the “big questions” that writers of traditional advertising have struggled with for years. Don’t think they don’t apply to DRTV. In our live-or-die world that demands we get immediate results from our copy, they’re doubly important.

#2) Tighter is Better
By the time you’ve finished your script, you’re in love. That poetic wording, the way you built your sales argument, the clever way you used that problem-solution setup are priceless, aren’t they, destined to live forever in the Direct Response Hall of Fame.

Now cut them.

The novelist William Burroughs once said that he thought advertising was the most difficult kind of writing there is.

Why?  Well, Jack Foster, one of LA’s most famous creative directors once explained it to me very clearly. He said that advertising was more “idea-intensive” than other forms of communication.

He was talking about the fact that there’s so much thinking behind each sentence, each point you make in advertising, that’s it’s just a lot harder to do than, say, writing a page of your novel.

Everything you’re trying to say must be boiled down into its tightest, purest essence, especially if it’s going to make it into your :60 TV commercial.

I know my own scripts go through 10 or 15 revisions before I’m done with them. In each pass, I’m constantly looking for ways to say things crisper, shorter and cleaner.

My advice to anyone in this medium is to go line-by-line through your script and throw out anything that isn’t absolutely essential.

#3) Get to the Point
Want to know the easiest place to shave time?  It’s usually the beginning. In my experience, there’s usually the most fat in a script right at the top.

You’d be amazed how many scripts I’ve seen that have two or three paragraphs of copy that are unnecessary, totally cut-able. It’s almost as if the writer needs a little warm-up before he gets to the point.

Here’s a rule of thumb I use:  if you’re not showing and saying the name of the product by about :10 into the CTA, you’re wasting time. Busy prospects need you to get to the meat of your little coconut sooner.

Besides, if you don’t, you’ll never have time for all the rest of your points before the fade out.

#4) Testimonials, Anyone?
It’s a cruel reality, but, try as we might, we professional writers and producers aren’t always the best salesmen.

Oftentimes, it’s the average, ordinary man or woman who beats us out. And for good reason:  he or she has actually plunked down money and used the product, in the real world to solve their own, real needs. They know what they’re talking about, and so they’re the ones who often sell it the best.

One time I was creating a sales video for a retirement community in Arizona. I’d packed by show with industrial strength sales copy, my best material.

But the real star of the piece turned out to be this old guy I’d interviewed by the swimming pool, saying:  “I’m gonna take a picture and send it back to my friends in Detroit. Here I am, barbecuing hamburgers, and they’re up there freezing their butts off.” 

Gee, I thought, how come I didn’t write that?

A scene from a kitchenware infomercial

A scene from a kitchenware infomercial


#5) Make it Visual
TV is a visual medium. But selling is often a verbal one. I mean, in the end, what we’re really doing is “talking people into buying,” right?

The best TV scripts blend the two worlds into one powerful whole. They show and tell powerful points about their product. They are interesting to look at, and convincing to listen to.

I once did a TV campaign for a company that leveraged purchases of precious metals. It doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of subject that lends itself to sparkling visuals, right?

Actually, the solution we came up with was. We had piles of gold and silver bars and coins “grow” before your eyes, visually emphasizing how leveraging works to your advantage. It was a powerful visual that pulled a ton of calls, yet very inexpensive to shoot, once we had the right idea.

If you’re a writer, you may feel most comfortable building concise, pithy statements about your product first, then sitting down and thinking of great ways to visualize them.

It takes work, and time, but you have to come up with ideas for images and pictures that get your point across.

#6) Value Built to Last?
If your commercial or show doesn’t work, what went wrong?

Well, here’s one simple way of explaining what happened:  you didn’t build up enough value in your product to justify the price.

When a consumer watches TV, she wants to see products and services that can have a positive impact on her life. She wants something that can save her time, or trouble, or money. She’s looking for fun, or security, or love, or a dozen other things.

 It’s your job to make sure she gets it.

I once spent $39.95 for a bottle of household cleaner (and then later went on it sell the same product on TV). Now, I’m not sure this was the smartest purchase I’ve ever made, but it sure seemed so when the salesman was at my door.

The reason?  His presentation built so much value for the product. He demonstrated it, he talked about this universe of things it would clean, he talked up the ingredients, he even drank the stuff, for heaven’s sake!

Before you ask for money, you have to build an overwhelming case for the idea that your product is going to be huge, a real plus, in the consumer’s mind.


#7) Clean Up Your Offer
How many times have you been confused about what a TV commercial is selling? Almost never, right?

The offers also seem so clear, the price and what you get seem so straightforward, you wonder:  how could anybody screw up an offer?

Unfortunately, it’s easy.

The fact is, you almost always see a clear offer on a TV commercial, because you’re only looking at successful commercials.

The ones that didn’t work, well, they’re just not on TV after a few days. They died. And it probably had a lot to do with the offer.

Shooting a cookware infomercial

Shooting a cookware infomercial


When you’re in the script business, you see a lot of drafts with half-baked or confusing offers. Or offers that just aren’t that exciting. It’s your job to clean them up, add the punch and clarity to them.  

Now, a lot of DRTV copywriters don’t consider this within their realm. Sometimes they (or their clients) figure they’ve been hired to write, let the marketing boys set the offer.

I say, you’ve been hired to make a successful commercial. To that end, you ought to fight for whatever will make it work.

Many times, that means you have to put on your marketing hat and re-work the client’s entire marketing strategy.

You may have to change what is offered, or what the price is, or the way that the product is sold for TV. In this area, it helps to have experience and knowledge of what has and hasn’t worked in this tricky little medium before.

Re-structuring an offer is some of the hardest and loneliest work you can do on a project. But it’s also the work that can have the biggest payoff.

#8) Guaranteed Results
“The product is king”. You hear that a lot in DRTV.

But the fact is, no consumer ever actually sees or touches or smells a product they see on TV. All they ever see is what you choose to show them. Which is why your presentation has to be great. And why you have to have a dynamite guarantee.

The guarantee is probably the most under-used weapon in the DRTV marketer’s arsenal.

It’s like the offer itself in that a lot of writers don’t know what to do with it, or that they’re allowed to change it, yet it has such an important job to do in your marketing.

Remember, your viewer doesn’t know you, has never actually seen your product, and so she has a right to be skeptical. You take those fears away with a great guarantee that’s stated powerfully.

You can take away fears, and allow her to reach for her phone.

#9) Super Impressions
Here’s another way to punch up the power of your commercial:  punch up your supers.

Supers, of course, are the words and graphics that are going to be displayed on the screen. They are copy, yet they’re usually shown on the left side of the page by the shot descriptions, so they often get overlooked.

A good super makes an important copy point. It reiterates a point that the announcer is making in the audio, or it makes a sub-point (i.e., “available in Original or BBQ flavor) that clarifies the sale.

A good writer doesn’t turn in the script until all the supers are there, carefully worded and placed.

He even works out the wording of the legal disclaimers, since most lawyers only went to law school because they couldn’t write (don’t sue me, I’m just kidding).

#10) The 1-2-3 of Timing
Is your script too long?  Too short?  Do the supers come in at the right times, and do pitch the price at the right moment?

All of these are critical decisions, and you will have to make them at one time or another. My recommendation is to make them now, at the script stage, instead of frantically cutting or writing copy on the edge of the set as your production budget goes out the window.

Time your script. Read each paragraph of copy and note it’s duration (At McNamara & Associates, our script format has a special column where we type these in).

It will help you know if you’re too long or shot. And it will offer you valuable insights into the key moments when hit critical points in your sales message.

#11) Illegal Holding
You ought to have your script reviewed by an attorney who knows DRTV. And ought to have all the powers-that-be at your company review it, too, even if you have to sit and explain it to them a line at a time.

Now, you’ve heard this before. But sooner or later, you won’t bother to do it. Then, on the day of your shoot, somebody will frantically call you and say you’ve got to change something.

Or worse yet, you’ll have shot your commercial, it will have tested successfully, and then you’ll find out that you have to make changes.

It’s at this point that you’ll discover the difference in cost between writing on paper and re-writing on video. It’s a difference that can cost as much as a beach house.

Most “revisions” easily cost more than the original script, especially if you figure in the cost of your time, your attorney’s, editing suites, etc.

I can’t tell you how many times clients have come to me in this awful situation. We’ve played “show doctor” on many, many projects, which forces us to not only be creative but to be so using a jigsaw puzzle of existing footage and elements.

We do our best. But each time we do it, we always wish that somebody would have started things out the right way from the get-go.



Jim McNamara is a long-time writer-producer for DRTV, internet, print, and interactive projects. He can be reached at or at 818-425-6441.

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