Infomercials are long TV commercials, usually lasting about half an hour. They are often hosted by celebrities and are designed to look like celebrity talk shows or light and entertaining news shows. Another term used to refer to infomercials is “direct response TV.” Even though infomercials are often considered annoying, they have gained an undeniable reputation for effectiveness that has gained them respectability within the business community. Research over the past 20 years—the time period in which infomercials became an advertising superpower—has shown that most people who make purchase decisions while watching infomercials are between the ages of 25 and 44, a sought after demographic.
In the words of Thomas Burke, president of the infomercial division of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, infomercials are “the most powerful form of advertising ever created.” A recent article in Forbes entitled “So Long, Suzanne Somers,” explains that what started off as a much-mocked advertising method has gained respectability and has become lucrative enough to attract large corporations and the so called “A-list celebs.”
Much of this success is due to the creativity of infomercial advertisers who use the infomercial’s marginality to create a kind of cultural or sub-cultural symbol, giving a voice in the form of purchasing power to the late night and early morning consumer. These consumers are likely to be homemakers, blue-collar workers, and salespeople. This demographic information is an essential component in determining which products are selected for infomercial treatment.
One sign that the legitimacy of infomercials as an effective marketing tool has been recognized in recent years is the growing attention that larger companies have paid to the practice. As more companies, and larger companies get involved with infomercials prices for ad spots on cable stations has risen. Nonetheless, according to AdWeek, infomercials are still a more efficient and flexible way to acquire ad time and target prospective customers. “Direct response inventory tends to sell for 50-70 percent cheaper than tranditional spots and can be used for the same purpose as conventional ads.” The ability to incorporate tranditonal media tools like Nielsen and MRI ratings with an infomercial campaign is proving to be both powerful and cost effective.
Infomercials usually work best with products that are easy to demonstrate, so that an interaction with the viewing audience can be achieved. This interaction is quite often that of teacher to student, so that infomercials become a medium for instruction, teaching people (or supposing to teach) how to better their social lives or their bodies. Such an approach creates a dialogue that the viewer can take part in, which often leads to a viewer inquiry for more information or to a purchase.
Another useful approach is to create a “storymercial,” in which the infomercial sells its product by encasing it—and the targeted consumer—within a story.
These “storymercials” often look and feel like documentaries in which a family or businessperson go about their daily lives aided tremendously by the advertiser’s product. Testimonials, or little product specific anecdotes, are similar, both pulling viewers into a world where the product is essential to success and happiness. All in all, these infomercials are attempting to show the consumer how to answer the question “How can this product help me?” When planning an approach, advertisers often consider several criteria, such as how similar products have fared in other markets, time slots, and seasons. Most infomercial producers believe that even small television ratings for an infomercial can translate into strong returns.