THE BOSTON GLOBE - 4/10/2004 "The Sell is on for Ad Format TV Spot aimed at corporations"

What Victor Grillo Jr. did for Ginsu knives he now wants to do for corporate America. And he's using the same kind of ad he used to turn Ginsu into a household name.

By Naomi Aoki, Globe Staff, April 10, 2004 - What Victor Grillo Jr. did for Ginsu knives he now wants to do for corporate America. And he's using the same kind of ad he used to turn Ginsu into a household name.

His one-minute spot, due to air Monday during morning news shows on channels such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News, uses statistics and testimonials to sing the praises of the format, known as direct-response ads because they urge viewers to call a toll-free number.

It isn't subtle. The ad boasts billions of dollars in sales, steep discounts on air time, and if you call now, Grillo will back his claims with a money-back guarantee. "We're practicing what we preach," said Grillo, chief executive of Advanced Results Marketing, a Marlborough firm that specializes in direct-response TV ads.

What executives would call a toll-free number advertised on TV to strike a business deal? Well, Grillo will soon find out. The beauty of the format is that its results are easy to measure. For Grillo, if a few dozen people call, the ad is a success. If that doesn't happen, the ad's a lemon.

"I've never heard of anyone doing a TV spot to promote their own advertising or marketing agency," said Tobe Berkovitz, an advertising professor and associate dean of Boston University's College of Communication. "All the old-school ad guys will probably criticize it, but it could prove to be a great door opener."

Infomercials and shorter direct-response ads are shedding their image as the shunned stepchildren of the ad world. Traditional 30-second commercials still dominate television. Advertisers spent about $57 billion on TV ads last year. By comparison, they spent $24 billion on infomercials and direct-response ads, according to New York-based industry group Direct Marketing Association. But the genre is one of the faster-growing segments of advertising, and mainstream companies including Microsoft Corp., Nextel Communications Inc., Pfizer Inc., and Procter & Gamble Co. are increasingly adopting the lowbrow format as their own.

Guys like Ginsu "in the slicer-dicer business are getting squeezed out by the Fortune 500 guys," Grillo said.

Direct-response TV ads are cheaper to make and air. Typically one or two minutes long, they allow more time to promote a product. And unlike traditional ads that aim to build a brand's image, direct-reponse ads sell a product or a proposition.

These days, even giants like P&G that can afford prime-time advertising use direct-response ads. The Cincinnati company watched and learned from the success of stain remover OxiClean. Despite the fact that P&G's Tide dwarfed sales of OxiClean, retailers jumped at the chance to stock the product when its maker, Orange Glo International, approached them after years of selling the product exclusively through TV ads. So in 2001, P&G used the ad format to help launch its at-home drycleaning kit Dryel. Most recently, it used direct-response ads to launch its Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash kit.

"Once it appears on the retail shelf, it's like unlocking the demand for the product," said Bob Gilbreath, P&G's brand manager for Mr. Clean products.

Holmes Inc., a Milford maker of small home appliances, switched almost entirely to the directresponse TV ads for its air purifiers and crockpots. Not only are the ads cheaper, but the sales they generate cover anywhere from 25 percent to 100 percent of the cost of the advertising. David Sarlitto, Holmes's vice president of direct channel marketing, even provides a testimonial in the ad for Grillo's Advanced Results Marketing.

"We've found it to be an extraordinarily efficient way to promote the product's features and drive retail traffic," Sarlitto said in an interview.

A Bay State native, Grillo fell into direct-response ads in the late 1980s after graduating from Bentley College. On a lark, he and his friends made an ad to sell Dura-shears scissors. They filmed it in his house basement with a video camera. They cut a penny in half and offered a lifetime guarantee.

"Who ever heard of scissors breaking?" Grillo mused. They bought airtime on Channel 38 for $100, and sold 50 scissors at $14.95 each, plus $4.95 shipping and handling. By year's end, they'd logged a few million dollars in sales.

After a decade of selling gadgets, Grillo decided that the ad genre could also work for corporate America. But one after another, advertising and corporate executives cast aside the idea with little consideration.

Fed up, Grillo offered a foolproof deal to executives at New Jersey kitchen and hair appliance maker Conair and Las Vegas resort and casino operator Mandalay Resort Group. If the ads didn't work, they didn't have to pay. That was five years ago, and both companies remain clients. Last year, Advanced Results Marketing logged revenue of nearly $40 million. Grillo expects to double that amount this year. To that end, he is spending $1 million on this ad campaign, which will run until at least year's end.

"I've learned to strike when the iron is hot," he said. "I want everyone to know we're here."

Naomi Aoki can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .