Speaking Directly

Tune in now to learn for futureThe following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a...

Tune in now to learn for future

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.

Strategy also invites other news items or column submissions for this section. Enquiries should be directed to Mark Smyka, editor, (416) 408-2300.

It has been said that the trouble with the future is that it usually arrives before we are ready for it, and, in interactive media, the future has started to arrive, heralded (as it usually is) by the unmistakable sound of money hitting the table.

If you are looking for opportunities to grow your business via interactive media, the key word is opportunities. We are a long way from a significant reality – and not just in the technology department.

Somebody finally thought to ask consumers what they think of it all.

A study by Advertising Age found that only 19.1% of u.s. consumers are even aware of the concept of interactive media, and 80.4% are not aware of it at all. This is despite the proliferation of front page banner headlines, business news stories and hyper hype.

So, who is going to be the home shopper of the electronic future?

Traditionally, 60% of shopping from home has been conducted by women, but when it comes to tv shopping, almost 50% are men.

Does that say men spend more time watching tv? It probably depends on the day of the week and the progress of the home team.

Not surprisingly, age plays an important role in tv shopping.

In theory, retired people have the time, money and interest in tv to be good prospects, however, scarcely 11% of retirees actually shop from tv.

Meanwhile, almost 45% of tv shoppers are under the age of 35. Compare this with traditional catalogue shoppers in which less than 33% are under 35, while almost 14% are in the senior age bracket.

Traditionally, the majority of paper catalogues appeal to a relatively upmarket crowd. Almost 40% of catalogue shopping households earn more than $40,000. tv shoppers, on the other hand, have been decidedly downmarket, with almost 45% earning $25,000 or less.


Given the billions of potential sales dollars all the articles about interactive tell us about, the gentrification of tv home shopping is to be expected.

Upscale u.s. cataloguers are not jumping on the bandwagon to sell junk jewellery to housebound women from blue collar households with overextended credit cards, which is how traditional marketers have generalized home shoppers.

Interactive tv and the super information highway have become the buzzwords of the ’90s, but, by the time it all comes into existence, I’m afraid we will all be tired of hearing about it.

Despite all the news stories assuring us it is just around the corner, at the moment, interactive tv is confined to some very localized testing in the u.s. among a few thousand households.

Predictions are that systems will roll out from 1996 to 2000 and that by 2000, $3.5 trillion in worldwide sales will be conducted through interactive tv.

Meanwhile, the Canadian company, Videotron, has had a modest headstart in Quebec since 1990 with the largest, most advanced system and 230,000 subscribers.

What does it all mean for marketers?

For starters, don’t panic – time is on your side, so let those with the most money iron out the bugs first. Likewise, don’t cancel your printing contracts. The paper media will not disappear.

It will (or should) change to integrate with all marketing efforts in whatever media, so get ready for a metamorphosis.

Tune in now to learn for the future. Get involved, if you can, in helping mould the products and services consumers will be offered. Build relationships with people, and companies which are in the forefront of technological developments.


Since the superhighway is still in the future, in the meantime, try to learn how to use tv. And look for co-venture opportunities because it is often too expensive to do on your own.

In the end, always keep in mind that it is only the medium that has changed. You still must offer high quality products at affordable prices, satisfaction and personal service.

I say, the time to start looking at interactive media is now.

But, look hard before you leap. Don’t forget about that 80% of people who have yet to figure out what interactive media means, and could care less.

Barbara Canning Brown, a 20-year veteran of the direct marketing industry, is a direct marketing consultant specializing in catalogues.