Video Advertising Perspectives from Tim Hawthorne, an Entrepreneur Long Before Streaming Video

While we all hunker down, work from home, and stream video content, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to talk to one of the original greats in long-form video advertising, Tim Hawthorne, founder of Hawthorne Advertising. On June 1, Tim will be bestowed a “Lifetime Achievement” honor by Marketing EDGE in New York as part of its EDGE Awards. Here, he shares valuable perspective on a video advertising career in an increasingly rich, ubiquitous medium for consumers, brands, and marketers.

Video Advertising

A ‘Love Story’ for Film

Chet: Tim, first of all, congratulations! I’m so happy to see you recognized by Marketing EDGE – with its mission of marketing education and professional development, bringing the best and brightest into the marketing field. When you graduated from college – Harvard University no less, in 1973 (really, I mean, “Love Story“) – did you have any inkling that you would build a career of first in direct-response television (DRTV) and video advertising?

Tim:  No, I had no idea in 1968 as I matriculated to Harvard that I would eventually become a pioneer of direct response television marketing. (First of all, yes, “Love Story” for sure. I was wandering through the Harvard Yard in the fall of 1969 when they were shooting exteriors. Not sure, but I might be one of those students hurriedly rushing to class in the background.)

Tim Hawthorne
Tim Hawthorne, founder and strategic advisor, Hawthorne Advertising (Fairfield, Iowa), will be honored on June 1, during Marketing EDGE’s EDGE Awards in New York.

It was turbulent times while I attended Harvard – 1968-1973.  (I’m actually Class of ’68 but took a year off after my sophomore year to teach school in Ethiopia with the Harvard Africa Volunteer Project, so I graduated in ’73.) Initially, I intended to study chemistry, then switched to social psychology, influenced by the turbulent social times in the late 60s. But after getting my hands on a still camera in Ethiopia, I decided I’d take a still photography/documentary filmmaking course when I reentered Harvard in the fall of ’71. I was fascinated with the process of editing film, and then determined I’d pursue a career in filmmaking.

Searching for a job post-graduation in my hometown of Minneapolis, I was fortunate to be hired by the investigative documentary unit of the local CBS station, WCCO-TV. I worked there for almost five years, advancing from production assistant to editor to cinematographer, learning the craft of long-form storytelling. Our unit produced amazing documentaries that were often the No. 1 rated television programs in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market and won multiple awards, including the du Pont-Columbia and Peabody awards. I then became a producer/director/writer when I moved to the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia and eventually worked for a number of LA-based network primetime reality-based shows such as “Real People” and “That’s Incredible.”

Chet: Did you grow up having a love for industrial films of the 50s and 60s – which I think were a great precursor to the infomercial age and video advertising?

Tim:  No, I didn’t have any particular love for industrial films (which in the 50s, 60s, and 70s were the height of boring and simplistic video communications!) It’s my background in documentaries – telling a long form story on people and subjects – that seemed a natural basis on which to pioneer telling long-form consumer product stories.

Like many consumers, I’ve never liked being “sold” especially when I’ve felt manipulated. And of course, short-form TV commercial brand selling is very much about manipulating emotions (via humor, poignancy, excitement) and associating strong positive images (sex, strength, beauty) with a product – a very subtle and often deceptive way of selling.

Infomercial or long-form advertising has always been based on factual selling – the exposition of features and benefits – of course, in as entertaining a way as possible. But at least the channel is up-front about its message:  Here’s a product, here’s what it can do, and here are the benefits to you. This “truth in advertising” has always appealed to me. Producing documentaries is also about discovering the truth about a person, group, or issue.

In 1984, having moved from LA to Iowa for lifestyle reasons (wanting to raise our daughter Jessica in the Midwest where I grew up), I was open for new opportunities.  A local real estate investment entrepreneur heard of my background and approached me about producing a long-form commercial. It would be an hour long … and a challenge. That was November 1984, one of the first infomercials on air. Within 12 months, the infomercial had grossed more than $60 million dollars and dominated the long-form air waves. Fairfield Television Enterprise was the company I formed to market the infomercial and over 18 months we revolutionized long-form TV direct response.

Chet: How did early success stories translate to business growth? Were there mentors you paid close attention to? (Alvin Eicoff comes to mind).

Tim:  Eighteen months after launching Ed Beckley’s real estate investment infomercial, I became disillusioned with the way the company was moving forward. I resigned in April 1986 and took a couple of months off before starting Hawthorne Communications, later to become Hawthorne Direct, and then become Hawthorne Advertising. In late June 1986, I was a one-person company with the goal to persuade Fortune 500 companies to add long-form TV commercials to their marketing mix. We were the first infomercial ad agency in the world and I was confident that virtually all products had, somewhere at their hearts, a fascinating story we tell and hold viewers’ attention for 28 minutes and 30 seconds.

The agency had a singular focus: TV long-form advertising. There was no road map for the industry. We invented it as we went along. Certainly Al Eicoff was the reigning master of DRTV (and his book “Or Your Money Back” a short-form DRTV bible) but his company focused on short-form DRTV (2 minutes or less). So I and my growing team began to innovate, and I began to write about and present the long form story to marketing groups and corporations literally around the world. There was no road map; we were the trailblazers.

A Litany of Firsts and Video Advertising Innovations

Chet: Trailblazer indeed. What are some of the innovations you have brought to the field of DRTV, infomercials, and more recently digital video programming? How has digital disruption affected the traditional DRTV and broadcast channel, from a marketing perspective?

Tim: I’ve been called a “leading architect” of the DRTV industry by producing an impressive string of “firsts”:

  • Co-founder and president of the first infomercial direct marketer to break the $50 million revenue per year mark, Fairfield Television Enterprises
  • Founder and chairman of the first infomercial advertising agency, Hawthorne Communications
  • Produced the first infomercial for: a Fortune 500 company – Time Life; a major music company – Time Life Music; a major credit card company – Discover Card; a major health insurance company – Blue Cross Blue Shield; and a retail driving campaign for a brand name product – Braun
  • Infomercial Agency of Record for the first infomercial for: a major computer company – Apple Computers; and a major weight loss company – Weight Watchers
  • Infomercial Agency of Record for the first “promo-mercial” – a half-hour promotion for a primetime TV series (NBC’s “JAG”)
  • Published the industry’s first newsletter: “The 1-800 Report”
  • Published the industry’s first hard-bound textbook on infomercials: “The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing”
  • Created the first long-form TV media buying computer analysis system – “Time Track”
  • Purchased the first long-term cable TV bulk media contract: Discover Network, for $50 per half hour, six hours per night
  • Established the first infomercial agency/traditional agency alliance with Earl Palmer Brown

As for innovations to digital video, Hawthorne was one of the first agencies to actively use video promotion on websites (late 1990s) and we pioneered the “drive online direct sales” with short-form TV commercials, which were designed to motivate new visitors to our web-based clients.

Yes, the digital economy has significantly disrupted DRTV, as it has the television entertainment model as a whole. With a 35% drop in primetime adult (18-49) viewership from 2015-2019, the era of aggregating mass audiences on broadcast TV is long over.

A Family Affair – and an Investment in the Future

Chet: Was it a great leap – or expansion – from Fairfield, Iowa (hey, I’m from Nebraska) to Los Angeles? What brought Hawthorne Advertising to LA (and beyond)? Was there a talent pool you needed there?

Tim: From the beginning, Hawthorne was somewhat disadvantaged being a national advertising agency headquartered in a small Iowa town. We did have a small LA office (two staff) from the early 90s to keep in touch with our West Coast clients. But when Jessica (my daughter) came on board in March 2007, she brought an energy and vision to the company previously unknown.

Her goal was to build the LA office and lead the company into a digital future. And she has done that in spades, making LA our headquarters, while our Iowa office strongly administratively supports LA to this day. Our LA office certainly had access to talent we always struggled to persuade to move to Iowa, as you, being a Nebraskan, are probably aware of. It was a brilliant move by Jessica which has allowed the company to continue to thrive going into our 35th year.

Chet: Well now we know why Marketing EDGE named Jessica Hawthorne-Castro a 2015 Rising Stars honoree. (You must be very proud!)

Tim: Yes, I’m very proud of Jessica’s ownership and leadership of the company. And it wasn’t by design. Jessica was a thriving talent agent at Endeavor, one of the few women agents at that male-dominated business with six years’ tenure. But she recognized that industry was missing certain business and spiritual values important to her. In February 2007, I coincidentally asked her if she had time to monitor a commercial talent audition in LA that we needed someone to attend. She did it, enjoyed it, and said she would be open to coming on board at Hawthorne. Over the next five years she soaked up the business, brought much-needed youthfulness to our efforts, advanced from client service associate to CEO, and built our LA office to 50-plus employees, while transforming the agency to a digital foundation.

Chet: As an author of several business books on DRTV and infomercial formats, and likely a bevy of company alumni in the field today, you’ve contributed so much to the professional development of data-driven marketers, marketing measurement, attribution and the like. What part of giving back to the field do you find most gratifying? Is there a particular “lifetime” achievement you’re most proud of?

Response Magazine
Tim Hawthorne and Jessica Hawthorne-Castro share the cover of Response Magazine (June 2011) on the 25th Anniversary of the Hawthorne Advertising agency.

Tim: My greatest achievement? Creating a company that has endured for 35 years and allowed hundreds of staff to learn, thrive, and grow in marketing knowledge and experience, while realizing greater personal achievement and confidence. We created a company that was a home for our staff to do great work amid friendship and respect. Undoubtedly my greatest achievement, far beyond any creative work for a client.

Thank you Tim – and we’re so happy to celebrate your contributions at the EDGE Awards come June 1.  And much more video success ahead!

Tim Hawthorne Honored With 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award by Marketing EDGE

LOS ANGELESJan. 22, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Tim Hawthorne, Founder and Chairman of creative, analytics, and technology-driven advertising agency, Hawthorne Advertising, has been named as a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree by Marketing EDGE, a nonprofit organization. This award recognizes Hawthorne’s contributions to the field of marketing and the educational development of future marketers. It pays tribute to the lives, campaigns, and businesses Hawthorne has influenced and inspired to pursue career excellence and performance through intelligent, evocative, creative, accountable marketing.

Tim Hawthorne

“It’s an honor to receive the Lifetime Achievement award from Marketing EDGE,” said Hawthorne. “I’ve dedicated my career to pushing the advertising industry forward and fostering the next generation of marketing leaders. I deeply appreciate the recognition and thank Marketing EDGE for this opportunity.”

Hawthorne graduated cum laude from Harvard University. After producing and writing news documentaries with CBS and NBC TV stations in Minneapolis and Philadelphia, he founded Hawthorne Productions in 1980 and was accepted into the Directors Guild of America. Early clients included the prime-time programs Real People and That’s Incredible! and the syndicated shows You Asked for ItRipley’s Believe It or Not, and Entertainment Tonight. He also contributed programs to the emerging Cable Health Network.[2][3][4]

In 1986, Hawthorne founded Hawthorne Communications, now Hawthorne Advertising, the first full service agency focused exclusively on long form direct response television (DRTV). Since its inception, the company has managed over 600 DRTV campaigns and grossed billions of dollars in sales for its clients with its performance marketing expertise. Hawthorne Advertising consistently wins dozens of awards each year for the excellence of its work and collaborates with an impressive roster of Fortune 500 clients. The agency stands out for the impact, influence, and innovation of its campaigns.

Tim Hawthorne is credited with a number of DRTV industry firsts. He was the first advocate of major brand advertisers incorporating long-form TV advertising in their media mix and negotiated the first long-term bulk media contract with a national cable network. He co-founded NIMA (later known as the Electronic Retailing Association) and wrote the industry’s most cited full-length textbook. Hawthorne produced and managed the first infomercial for a Fortune 500 company, a major credit card company, a major health insurance company, and created the first campaign using DRTV to drive retail sales for an established brand. He oversaw the development of the first software program dedicated to analyzing sales and viewership performance of long form media and coined the term Media Efficiency Ratio (MER), a key performance indicator now a standard industry metric.

Hawthorne has garnered many awards throughout his career including a Lifetime Achievement award from the former Electronic Retailing Association and induction into the Direct Response Hall of Fame. He has been named the “Entrepreneur of the Year” for the Midwest Region by USA Today and Ernst & Young and recognized as one of the “25 Most Influential People In DRTV” by Response Magazine. Hawthorne’s long-term leadership in the DRTV field earned him the moniker “Father of the Infomercial.”

Today, Hawthorne Advertising is owned and operated by his daughter, Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, a former Marketing EDGE Rising Star who also has a host of awards including the Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” for Greater Los Angeles. Hawthorne-Castro continues the tradition of being an industry leader in performance marketing and data analytics, delivering an ROI for their clients that exceeds all others.

“Tim was the person who first introduced me to the advertising business and has always been a tremendous source of wisdom and support,” said Hawthorne-Castro. “It’s wonderful to see his achievements recognized in this way and I am excited to celebrate with him.”

Now in its fifth year, the Marketing EDGE Awards celebrate excellence in marketing leadership. Each year, Marketing EDGE considers a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree by reviewing an individual’s hard work and success throughout their career and considering their dedication to supporting marketing educational programs. The ceremony for the 2020 EDGE Awards will take place on Monday, June 1 at Pier Sixty in New York City. Proceeds from the evening will benefit Marketing EDGE, to further its mission of launching the next generation of diverse and inclusive marketing leaders.

This year, Marketing EDGE held its first ever kick-off event on January 21 at the Nasdaq offices in NYC’s Times Square. Hawthorne-Castro attended the January 21 event to represent her father. To learn more about the company and how they deliver value by combining creative services with data science, visit hawthornedirect.com.

About Hawthorne Advertising:
Hawthorne Advertising, a creative, analytics and technology-driven advertising agency, specializes in strategic planning, creative development, production, media planning, buying and analytics, and campaign management for integrated marketing campaigns. With nearly 35 years of proven excellence, the agency combines persuasive brand messaging with best-in-class analytic systems to create accountable, high performance advertising campaigns. Hawthorne helps brands efficiently target their consumers, improve cost per acquisition, optimize the lifetime value of a brand’s customers, and even drive consumer response to key retail outlets or corporate locations. As a leading analytic and data driven, accountable brand advertising agency, Hawthorne specializes in integrated campaign solutions. The company offers a full suite of integrated solutions with creative, media, digital and mobile services. Hawthorne maintains brand integrity and metrics to efficiently and effectively optimize the results of its clients’ integrated media budgets via leading edge and proven data analytics. Hawthorne has developed successful award-winning campaigns for countless Fortune 500 brands. Please visit www.hawthornedirect.com and http://www.linkedin.com/company/hawthorne-direct for more information.

Media Contact:
Rachel Bernstein
rbernstein@sspr.com 
856-745-3268

EY announces Jessica Hawthorne-Castro of Hawthorne Advertising as Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2019 Award winner in Greater Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES,  July  9, 2019/PRNewswire/ —

EY announced on June 21st that Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne, a creative, analytics and technology-driven advertising agency, received the Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2019 Award in the Transformational Leader category in Greater Los Angeles. As the world’s most prestigious business awards program for entrepreneurs, Entrepreneur Of The Year recognizes entrepreneurs who are excelling in areas such as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities, while also transforming our world. Hawthorne-Castro was selected by an independent panel of judges, and the award was presented at a special black-tie awards gala at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills on June 20, 2019.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro EY Award
EY announces Jessica Hawthorne-Castro of Hawthorne Advertising as Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2019 Award winner in Greater Los Angeles

“It is an incredible honor to be chosen as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Winner in the Transformational Leader Category,” said Hawthorne-Castro. “It is unbelievable that Tim Hawthorne received the EY Award nearly 20 years ago in the Midwest region and the tradition continues with Hawthorne doing groundbreaking work for our amazing clients and our exceptional team members who make it all possible!”

Hawthorne’s innovative approach combines the art of right-brain creativity with the science of left-brain data analytics to create meticulously crafted and expertly executed campaigns that deliver dramatic results for clients. Hawthorne has won hundreds of creative awards over its nearly 35 year tenure, and since 2018, Hawthorne has won over 60 awards for its creative work and company culture, and Hawthorne-Castro has won dozens of awards for her leadership abilities and marketing influence.

“These inspiring entrepreneurs represent the leadership and brilliant ideas that drive growth and innovation in Greater LA,” said Scott Porter, Co-Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year in Greater Los Angeles. “It has been especially exciting to witness L.A.’s burgeoning entrepreneurial scene over the years. We’re delighted to celebrate these incredible innovators who have done so much for our community and our economy, and we’re grateful to be a part of the journey.”

Now in its 33rd year, the Entrepreneur Of The Year program has expanded to recognize business leaders in more than 145 cities and more than 60 countries. EY is at the forefront of identifying game-changing business leaders and celebrating American ingenuity and is considered the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The program has honored the inspirational leadership of companies including Starbucks, Whole Foods, eBay, LinkedIn, Dollar Shave Club, LegalZoom.com and HSN.

To learn more about the Greater Los Angeles program, please visit www.ey.com/us/eoy/greaterla. Join us in congratulating this year’s winners on social media by following @EY_EOYUS and using #EOYGLA

About Hawthorne: 
Hawthorne, a creative, analytics and technology-driven advertising agency, specializes in strategic planning, creative development, production, media planning, buying and analytics, and campaign management for integrated marketing campaigns. With nearly 30 years of proven excellence, the agency combines persuasive brand messaging with best-in-class analytic systems to create accountable, high performance advertising campaigns. Hawthorne helps brands efficiently target their consumers, improve cost per acquisition, optimize the lifetime value of a brand’s customers, and even drive consumer response to key retail outlets or corporate locations. As a leading analytic and data driven, accountable brand advertising agency, Hawthorne specializes in integrated campaign solutions. The company offers a full suite of integrated solutions with creative, media, digital and mobile services. Hawthorne maintains brand integrity and metrics to efficiently and effectively optimize the results of its clients’ integrated media budgets via leading edge and proven data analytics. Hawthorne has developed successful award-winning campaigns for countless Fortune 500 brands. Please visit www.hawthornedirect.com and http://www.linkedin.com/company/hawthorne-direct for more information.

About Entrepreneur Of The Year® 
Entrepreneur Of The Year®, founded by EY, is the world’s most prestigious business awards program for entrepreneurs. The program makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. As the first and only truly global awards program of its kind, Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognizing them through regional, national and global awards programs in more than 145 cities in more than 60 countries. ey.com/eoy

Founded and produced by Ernst & Young LLP, the Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards are nationally sponsored by SAP America and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. In Greater Los Angeles local sponsors include Platinum sponsor: Marsh; Gold sponsor: Tangram; Silver sponsors: Ballard Spahr LLP, Boston Private Bank, and Cresa; Media sponsor: C-Suite Media; and PR sponsor: Olmstead Williams Communications

About EY 
EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. Information about how EY collects and uses personal data and a description of the rights individuals have under data protection legislation is available via ey.com/privacy. For more information about our organization, please visit ey.com.

CONTACT: Rachel Wille, 507-403-9347, rwille@sspr.com