TV may be Old School but it Works for DTC Brands Transitioning into Retail

Only a few short years ago, all you heard from marketers was how linear TV was dead. How TV was too old-school and no one watches. Certainly not often enough within the most desired Gen Z and millennial demographics, who were all about ‘cutting the cord.’ While that may be true for younger demographics, there are also many ‘cord stackers’ — homes that have both cable/satellite TV sitting alongside their Roku or Apple TV devices connecting them to the many CTV options out there today.

For DTC brands, linear TV is often not a media buy consideration, but it should be because at some point in your brand’s development you will reach the point where there is literally nowhere left to go for growth. If your DTC brand is like Kettle & Fire, you’re probably good at marketing, and with a product that solves problems for consumers, your brand will grow strong for the first five years. You’re building a large, loyal fan base as well as your subscription program, and you’re aggressively marketing online and social media. Everything is going according to plan.

But at some point, online marketing will hit a proverbial wall and growth will slow. In the case of Kettle & Fire, there was a realization that they may have begun to reach a ceiling, that is to say, they have introduced their brand to many people online who were willing to buy bone broth and sign up for a subscription. That’s when, as marketers, you need to ask: what are the other audience circles that are buying our category at retail, but who have no idea who we are? How do you reach those people?

The answer may lie in ‘old fashion’ linear television, with the caveat of buying that media strategically and flexibly. TV purchased without a plan can be a huge waste of money. Why? Because you’re looking just for eyeballs. The Super Bowl has the biggest linear TV audience available, but they’re engaged with the game, and it’s extremely unlikely they’re going to pause the game to go to a website or an app and make a purchase.


The trick with using linear TV to grow your DTC brand is to first be clear about what your goals are, and then find the stations that deliver those goals. Of course, that can be easier said than done.

Marketing Goals Dictate Your Media

Understanding what your media goals are before diving into the current linear TV milieu is crucial. There are a lot of options available, and what you’re trying to achieve will drive your strategy and the specific channel mix that will be most efficient to get you there.

Are you trying to move units at retail or drive traffic to a website? Perhaps your goal is an overall branding message? Each of these requires different media plans or tactics, designed in different ways. You can’t do all of that at the same time.

However, the biggest determining factor to success with linear TV will be what retail stores you are currently in. If you’re in Kroger, Target or Walmart, that’s fantastic. National cable offers a great eyeball-versus-rate equation, and you can stretch that budget and move people into retail to get that desired foot traffic.

However, if you’re only in, for example, specialty stores, like Sephora or Ulta for the beauty sector, you may want to consider waiting to launch your linear TV effort till you’re in a few more big box retailers. Most Walmart or Target buyers, when meeting with DTC companies looking to get into retail, will ask flat out: Are you on TV? If you’re not, they will tell you to come back to them when you are. CPGs and big box retailers don’t agree on everything, but they do about the power of TV to reach a mass audience and get them into stores.

The challenge is knowing which stations are the best for direct response. Surprisingly, they’re often not Nielsen-rated, but are extremely efficient in their eyeball birthrate and conversion, and flexible in their pricing. In the case of Kettle & Fire, one might assume a channel like the Food Network would be ideal for them, but the reality is it’s too expensive, with too much competition.

So what should DTC brands think about when using traditional linear TV to drive retail? Here are some takeaways to consider:

  • Know what your goals are going in: Are you driving consumers to retail or to a website, or is it more of a branding exercise? Different channels are better for driving retail versus direct response.
  • There is a minimum you need to spend for linear to be effective, and if you’re not willing to make the investment, it may not be worth it. You have to spend enough to move foot traffic.
  • Your media agency can help you evaluate your creative campaign: A good media agency can offer insights into what works best, e.g. two :15s or one :30, with a particular channel, or where the best place is for retail logos.
  • Use your first-party data to help inform initial strategies. When we know who your customers are, you can effectively deliver ads to them. When you add CTV alongside linear you can be even more hyper-focused.
  • Generally, customers will go to buy where you tell them to. If you tell them to go to Target or buy online, then that’s what they’ll do. But remember when you add a retail logo to your ad it will diminish your online sales.

The bottom line is everything old is new again in media, and linear TV is no exception. It’s become a popular place for DTC brands to be once again, but so has outdoor, and even email marketing. We’re in a moment when marketers are looking past the hot, new and cool and reverting to the tried and true places where the CPMs are high. We’re in an efficient world right now. Cash is king and performance is needed. And for many DTC brands that means rethinking linear TV.

Stacy Durand is CEO and Co-founder of Media Design Group and Owner, Partner and Board Member of Smart Media Technologies. She is a nationally recognized advertising expert who has played a central role in redefining and shaping the future state of media buying, performance video advertising, and growth marketing. In her current position she leads a rapidly growing independent agency in Los Angeles planning and placing video advertising for some of the largest companies in the country, including Amazon, ZipRecruiter, and Tractor Supply Company, in addition to numerous successful startups like FightCamp, Tovala, and Grammarly. Victoria Belinsky is the Director of Brand Marketing at Kettle & Fire. Previously holding positions at Budweiser US and KIND, Belinsky is a brand marketing professional with a focus on food CPG brands, health and wellness and lifestyle. Over her 10+ years of experience, she has demonstrated success in digital and social marketing growth, strategic planning and execution of integrated marketing campaigns, influencer marketing, community management, cause-related communications and events.

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