Infomercial Drives Golf Industry to Repeat Its Success

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The overwhelming success of the Adams Golf "Tight Lies" infomercial last year has golf retailers rethinking their marketing approaches for 1998.


Named the best infomercial demonstration show at the 1997 NIMA Awards, Tight Lies has lifted annual sales for Adams, Plano, TX, from $3 million to an estimated $30 million in just one year.


The company now commands more than 4 percent of the U.S. woods market and 10 percent of the fairway or utility woods market, according to October sales figures from Tom Stine of Golf Datatech, Orlando, which tracks golf equipment sales.


The buzz has convinced industry leaders and small, established companies alike to try the infomercial route, not necessarily to establish direct sales but rather to drive retail sales.


Top-Flite Golf, Chicopee, MA, the fifth-leading seller of clubs in the United States, has been running a 30-minute infomercial since November featuring its Intimidator 400 Woods. It features club designer Lee Trevino and CBS golf commentator David Feherty and will run through June.


Top-Flite also is in production on a 5-minute infomercial for its micro-groove putters that will feature Feherty and noted instructor Jim McLean. Armour Golf, another leading seller based in Morton Grove, IL, is contemplating a TV spot.


Putter maker Ray Cook, Vista, CA, heads the tier of smaller, established brands that will unveil 30-minute infomercials in 1998. Cubic Balance, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA; Orlimar, Hayward, CA; and Competence Golf, Palm Springs, CA, also are planning spots.


"While print and television will reach millions of people, it is difficult to fully explain the technical features of the Top-Flite Intimidator Series," said Ron Goldblatt, Top-Flite Golf Club Company general manager. "The entire story … cannot be conveyed in a 30-second spot or traditional print.''


Tony Kerry, vice president of marketing for Script to Screen, a producer of infomercials in Santa Ana, CA, predicts more golf spots will fill TV screens this year than ever before.


"Adams' success has gotten the attention of the golf industry,'' he said.


Mark Jones, president of Prime-Time Sports TV, a San Luis Obispo, CA, company that buys media time for infomercials, foresees a definite increase in golf spots this year. The introduction of DRTV in Japan also should increase the market coverage for golf products beyond the United States, which Jones said makes up just 40 percent of the global market. Prime-Time will launch infomercials in Japan on the Golf Channel next month.


Club maker Taylor Made, Carlsbad, CA, which is ranked second in sales, became the first major manufacturer to go the infomercial route in 1996 by introducing its Burner Bubble shaft technology.


"We had made a change in our club philosophy -- and you can't tell that technical story in 30 seconds,'' said Kevin May, assistant manager for direct marketing.


Taylor Made followed with a second 30-minute spot for the TiBubble2 driver in 1997 but has not decided on this year's plans. Unlike Adams Golf and other small manufacturers, Taylor Made does not sell directly to the customer. Instead, it used the infomercials and its other DM efforts, which includes a quarterly magazine for Taylor Made equipment owners, to drive customers to retail outlets.


Creating increased retail demand is the preferred route of golf companies. Even with its tremendous growth, Adams generates just 20 percent direct phone sales, and according to founder Barney Adams, "Our goal is to make that a decreasing percent. Our goal is to drive retail sales." The company recently added six field representatives for retail support.


Edwin Watts, co-owner of Edwin Watts Golf Shops, Fort Walton Beach, FL, the world's largest individually owned golf retailer with a mail-order business and 40 retail outlets, encourages manufacturers to experiment with infomercials.


"We recommend golf companies run regular infomercial ads without necessarily selling anything on the air," Watts said. "They don't need 30 minutes. They may need only three minutes to show the consumer why you need that product. Some of the big guys can do it without selling a product.''


The infomercial serves different purposes depending on the size of the company. Giants like Taylor Made simply want to increase product recognition and market share -- while for a start-up, the goal is to introduce a product that will become an independent profit center.


The model for this approach is the Alien Wedge, which was introduced in 1994 and became golf's breakthrough infomercial. Smaller companies like Adams use the format to gain retail distribution for their products. More established companies like Ray Cook use the direct approach to make the most of a limited advertising budget.


Infomercials are more cost effective than traditional advertising. Kerry said 30-minute spots cost from $250,000 to $400,000 to produce and $50,000 to test. A traditional 30-second TV commercial costs about the same to produce but millions of dollars and months of waiting to gauge its effectiveness.


Adams admits he was skeptical when first approached about going the infomercial route and he warns that hawking gimmicks and gadgets could lead to a backlash against the medium.


"I think you will see more people taking a look at [infomercials]," he said, "but at the end of the day you need a product that works."

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