|“Did you watch the “Civil
War” series on PBS or “Baseball” by Ken Burns?
Did you know that you were watching an infomercial”?”
William M. Thompson
This is a new look. It’s more subtle, yet very effective.
Remember the “Civil War” series on PBS by Ken
Burns? That was an infomercial. Perhaps Mr. Burns would argue
the point: mixing creativity and commercialism often produces
an indigestible reality. But the reality is there, nevertheless.
Whenever one combines the producer and sponser to
affect a collaborated sale in a program length vehicle, one
has, by government regulation, created an infomercial.
The “Civil War” produced over $200,000,000 in
sales and in still going strong.
Think about that for a moment. An 8+ hour black and
white video montage of old photographs, narrated by people
no one’s ever heard of, while spouting facts and anecdotes
about American history at $179+ a pop! When you think of those
couch potatoes watching Roseanne or The Simpson’s and
write them off, think again. They want to learn more about
you and your product. If you tell them in a fun an interesting
way, they will buy.
Clint Eastwood’s, “The Unforgiven”, was
a 1992 feature film that won several Oscars including Best
Director and Best Producer. Just before the film was released,
a TV special was aired, “The Making of ‘The Unforgiven’”.
The TV special was almost as long as the movie. It was an
infomercial. The TV program was designed to drive people to
movie houses. And it worked. Now we are seeing more and more
television programs on ‘the making of ….’.
Oprah Winfrey interviews Michael Jackson “Live”.
Great ratings. The two-hour special’s primary objective
was to introduce Michael’s new record album. And it
worked. The last half hour of the program was one solid commercial
for Michael’s new record.
New Year’s Day. Disney World’s and Disneyland’s
Parade. Hours of entertainment featuring the floats and balloons
from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Excuse me,
but I saw these floats and balloons last year. Not one or
two but every commercial was a Disney Theme Park commercial
or of a supporting companies such as Delta Airlines.
When will major marketers understand the power of infomercials?
It seems to me they have already passed judgment.
In my opinion, there’s good reason why most ad agencies
don’t support infomercial marketing. Accountability!
John Bernbach of DDB (Doyle, Dane Bernbach — America’s
largest ad agency) told me, “Bill, before you can sell
anything, you have to understand ‘agenda’. The
agenda of an ad exec is simply ‘keep his job’.
Infomercials are ‘accountable advertising’. The
client knows for certain whether or not it worked. With ‘image
ads’ no one knows for sure which ads worked and which
didn’t work. The last thing an ad exec wants is to be
put in the white hot light of accountability.”
John Wanamaker, the founder of Wanamaker’s Department
Store in Philadelphia, has a great quote: “About 1/3
of my advertising dollars work. The problem is, know one knows
which 1/3 is working.”
These disguised infomercial programs as well as more recognizable
infomercials are on the air in every market in the USA and
around the world. Consumers, who in the past would never have
considered buying a gold chain in a retail store, are allowed
to peruse vicariously without having to confront a salesman,
without having to feel obliged, without having to suffer the
guilt of either rejecting a salesman or being rejected by
a salesman, without having to become involved in a “purpose
of movement” (driving to a retail store, parking and
This is the psychography that applies to all of us, but especially
TV shoppers. A psychography is a definable human characteristic
as compared to a demographic, which is a definable human quantity.
Psychography Example: You and I will laugh hysterically
sitting ringside at The Comedy Club. We’ve heard the
jokes before. But we still laugh. At home in front of the
TV we watch the same comedian with the same jokes. Maybe a
chuckle or chortle at best. Why? Guilt. At the Comedy Club,
participating in an audience response is de rigueur. At home,
it isn’t. The same applies to shoppers. Using television,
one may decline product guilt free. One may also purchase
it risk free. Few retailers understand the significance of
When a television shopper dials the 800 number to purchase
a product, he or she is greeted politely by courteous operators,
trained sales people who take the time to treat the caller
as a person. Names are always used:
“Hi, my name is Cindy. What is yours?”
“Hi Martha! How can I help you today?”
Martha will hear her name over and over again. She will talk
to Cindy and buy the product. Cindy may have an “add-on
sheet” to ’upsell’ other items complementing
Martha’s purchase. Cindy is also trained to offer goods
in a pleasing way. She never pushes. She allows Martha to
In a short period of time, Martha gets her package. She has
had time to think about her purchase and anticipate its arrival.
When Martha opens the box, her realization should be greater
than her anticipation. Good packaging method aims for this
goal. The package should contain everything she ordered. It
should be packed properly. She should feel that she is the
first person to ever touch the treasures being uncovered.
Done properly, it’s a Christmas present.
Our surveys indicate television shoppers are tuned
on by the flow of products being offered politely and enthusiastically
by top quality sales people. The views are vicariously running
their fingers through mounds of potential possessions. It
is catalog shopping come to life; it is intravenous materialism
without guilt; it is sales allure without rejection; it is
quantitatively improving the quality of one’s life with
at least the perception if not the reality of satisfaction.
Katy Halpainy of Salem, NJ, a television shopper interviewed
by Business Week, said, “At first, I said: “How
corny. Only hillbillies would watch this.” But after
a while, it’s sort of addictive.” She said she
did most of her Christmas shopping by TV last year.
High price points do not seem to be a problem with home shoppers,
provided they perceive value and knowledge about the product.
People are buying merchandise, which they may have never considered.
In fact, they’re buying more and sharing their new acquisitions
on a level never before seen. Purchase may be of little interest
to the shopper himself. Gift buying is very prevalent.
- According to QVC, they have sold quite a number
of $3,800 fur coats.
- We are selling pre-fab houses costing $50,000+.
- The Shop-At-Home Network sold a baseball trading
card for $114,000.
- We recently completed an in-home infomercial for
a $10,000 exerciser.
- Teleshop sold 18 $2,900 stereo rack systems at
- HSN frequently offer $275 blue fox furs and $4,500
In the New York/New Jersey market, a cable operator told
me that his reports show that subscribers are tuning into
commercial programs an average of 1:06 hours per day. He was
quick to add that the study indicated that the time period
was cumulative. The viewers were watching 1:06 per day but
not at one time. His subscribers were “zapping”
conventional passive commercials to “peek” at
what was being sold on TV infomercials. Infomercials
are generating “ratings points” higher than competing
Unlike short form commercials that are often zapped or ignored,
an infomercial viewer has made a conscious decision to tune
in and watch your product being demonstrated and sold. I like
shoppers who are attentive, don’t you?
The message is clear. The television set (and the home computer’s
Internet access) has evolved from an appliance and the primary
source of entertainment to the household’s link to his
environment. It has taken on a completely new personality
that will be a source of income for those who learn how to
This new medium with its varied facets promises to be the
most important factor in retailing by the end of the century.
Even now, when its many doors have only partially been opened,
programmers, cable & broadcast operators and suppliers
can reach new markets, develop new merchandising strategies
and generate new revenues by combining their various talents.
How many times have you stood in a retail outlet and waited
How many times in business have you been pitched by a poor
salesperson that didn’t know how to close? You may have
even helped him with the close.
The identical situation faces you.
The infomercial works. People like them. Stations like them.
Accountants like them.
What are you going to do about it?