Posted by: Marty Fahncke | August 24, 2009

Accountability, trackability…opportunity

(Notice:  If you are an entrepreneurial inventor, software engineer, media analyst, a person in the DRTV industry or otherwise looking for an interesting new business idea, keep reading.  If not, you might be bored with this one. Don’t say I didn’t warn you)

A decade ago, I pioneered bringing the DRTV (Infomercial) industry online.  Under my watch, the company I ran was among the first in the world to conduct E-commerce transactions driven by television infomercials.  We were the first in our industry to use video on a website (this was YEARS before YouTube!), and we were the first to integrate analytics to understand what our customers were and weren’t doing on our site. 

Yes, times were good, and we were generating millions of dollars in revenue online while many of our competitors were still trying to figure out “this newfangled interweb thing”. 

The one big problem we had…how could we effectively track and attribute orders generated by offline media to online transactions?


You see, back when DRTV transactions were done only by “800 number”, it was easy.  You simply assigned a different 800 number to each TV station or network, tracked all orders by 800 number, and PRESTO, you knew exactly how much money you made on each and every TV station and media buy.   Instant trackability and accountability…the lifeblood of direct marketing. 

Now, throw a website URL into the mix, and that all goes out the window.  Thousands of orders flooded our website, but we had no way of telling our media department which media buys brought the customers and which didn’t. 

My colleagues and I tried every solution we could think of, including:

  • Different URL’s for every station – A big campaign could use hundreds of different TV stations.  There was no effective way to secure enough “easy to remember” URL’s to make this effective.
  • URL slashes ( – That didn’t work because most people don’t remember or even write down what is “after the slash”
  • Asking the customer – That didn’t work.  All the customer knows is that they saw it on TV.  No way do they know what TV station they saw it on
  • Offer codes – Even making it a “discount code” and essentially paying to get the data from the customer proved less than 50% effective
  • Geo-targeting with time allocation – We were able to identify some of the orders based on time and zip code for local broadcast stations airing a commercial, but this method did not work for cable ad buys

These are just a few of the long list of solutions we tried.   But we never have found the magic bullet.

For the past ten years, this situation has been a dilemma.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in media spending budgets are at stake, and an entire industry is playing a guessing game. 

While thumbing through my DRTV/Infomercial industry magazines this weekend, I noticed articles in each competing magazine which essentially said the same thing…the multi-billion dollar DRTV industry needs a “Offline to online” tracking solution desperately.  Quotes and links from each article are below:

“If the leaders of this industry band together to figure out a new paradigm for direct-to-consumer advertising, the reward may be the entire universe of marketing and advertising itself.”
Finding a Solution to Eroding Attribution
Author:  Rick Petry
Pub: Electronic Retailer magazine – July 2009


“Imagine how much further we could take our campaigns if we were able to accurately track online response back to originating TV media.”
Media Zone: Measuring Online Response — We Can Do Better
Author:  Dick Wechsler
Pub:  Response Magazine – July 2009

There is a famous quote in business that goes something like this; “Find a need, then fill it”.  Well, I’ve found a need.  But I don’t have the time or expertise to fill it. 

Therefore, I’m posting this as a free gift to all entrepreneurial inventors, software engineers, media analysts, or anyone else who might want to solve a huge problem plaguing an entire multi-billion dollar industry.  And you’ll probably make a ton of money in the process. 

Good luck.

Oh, and please remember me when you hit it big with this idea!


  1. Nice article… but, aside from those methods you’ve already tried, what else have you seen.

    I constantly hear from all the agencies that they have “proprietary” tracking methods which are fully accountable. I believe them not.

    It seems that too many agencies take a shotgun approch to attribution, from testing one week and measuring results and then hiatusing the next and measuring again (obvious shortfalls here), to simply pulling a number out of the air and using that ratio for the duration of the campaign.

    If you will be at ERA, I would love the opportunity to sit down and discuss with you. I have a number of web gurus available to me and maybe we can get them moving in the right direction.


    Gary E.

  2. We’re having a running discussion on Measurement at: I know this has been a frustrating thing in the DRTV space since they added websites to the campaigns. Even with tracking they don’t always know where sales came from. Here’s what some non-profits are using for social media. We found a terrific tool to evaluate social media “An ROI Calculator for Social Network Campaigns.” This one was built for the nonprofits, some of the earliest folks to jump in for measurement of labor and other costs vs. the gains in donations:

  3. OK guys, here’s my thoughts on the subject. To use a successful example from LifeLock, when they advertise on Rush Limbaugh, they ask the user’s to call and state/use the ID code “Rush”. The same is true for Glenn Beck…”use the advertising code Beck”. Since one is not paying for an 800# call center to answer, one is saving themselves anywhere between $6-$10 per order. Why not give the consumers a break on price, and tell them to enter a memorable code like WGN6 (for 6am) or KTLA7 (for 7am), etc. and receive a discount of $x dollars. Just like one add’s unique 800#’s to their commercials, add the unique advertising code for each spot/infomercial. Walla, you now have a tracking method. Your 6AM spot aired with the URL shown and underneath the URL it say’s for an extra discount, use the code WGN6. Give them a reason to use it, (discount), and they will use it! Same URL across the board, but now you are giving them a code to get an extra discount. A couple dollars discount is more than enough motivation for them to use it…..Or tell them you’ll discount the shipping…whatever. You might even motivate otherwise caller’s to an 800# to go to the web instead…..BONUS! Go figure, coming from an ex DR call center guy! LOL!

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