Infomercials' Value for Brand Advertisers

More and more brand advertisers are using infomercials to market their products and services. However, many others that could be using infomercials to great effect have not done so. There are several reasons.

First, many brand advertisers have the very understandable fear that an infomercial will damage their brand. To the dyed-in-the-wool brand advertiser, infomercials — with their pitchmen, demonstrations and gushy testimonials — appear decidedly down-market.

Second, many brand advertisers also question the effectiveness of infomercials. I am no longer surprised when an advertising executive asks in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, “But seriously, do these things really work?” The fact that many of them have themselves bought products off an infomercial does not seem to shake their conviction that they are just too simple to be effective.

Finally, brand advertisers must also contend with the fact that the rules governing infomercials completely contradict the rules governing general advertising. In fact, infomercials go against everything that brand advertisers have been taught about what works, what does not and why.

Here are responses to the most common questions and concerns about infomercials that I hear from brand advertisers.

First, the simplest, most effective way to protect and enhance your brand when producing an infomercial is to use great production values. This could mean shooting all or part of your infomercial on film or in high definition. Or it could mean simply treating your video with Film Look after the fact. The important point is that it should look and feel like an extension of your brand commercials.

This has budget implications, but it is well worth the investment. The average product infomercial costs about $150,000. A brand infomercial will likely cost two to four times that amount.

Note that using high production values does not mean having the same people who write and shoot your 30-second commercials produce your infomercial. Many brand advertisers have tried that, and the inevitable result is an infomercial that looks great but, unfortunately, does not work.

Which leads to the next point, how well do infomercials really work? In short, for the right product or service and using proper creative, infomercials work extraordinarily well. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

If you are selling a product, such as an automobile or a new water purifying system, it is important to remember that the vast majority of your sales (and profits) will still come from retail, which is where the big money is. Infomercials can push new products into retail, increase retail traffic and drive retail sales. They can even push sales to dizzying heights, as is the case with exercise equipment. However, with few exceptions, infomercials are not a replacement for retail distribution. At the end of the day, they are there only to support your retail activities.

If you are marketing a product or service that does not have extensive retail distribution such as insurance, long-distance service, satellite TV service, Internet access or financial services, infomercials can be an alternative distribution system and a very profitable one. Properly executed, infomercials for these products and services can deliver leads and sales at a lower cost than almost any other form of advertising, including direct mail and free-standing inserts.

So once you understand that you can produce an infomercial that protects your brand and you believe in its effectiveness, the next challenge is to understand why the rules of infomercials are so different from the rules that govern general brand advertising.

The most important thing to remember about infomercials is that, unlike brand commercials, they must function as a complete, self-contained sales presentation. An infomercial must capture viewers' interests, inspire them to get off the couch, grab a pen, write down an 11 digit number, dial that number and buy — sight unseen — your product or service. The only way that will happen is if the infomercial works as a complete stand-alone sales presentation.

Because of this, the techniques for producing effective infomercials are different from the techniques used to make effective brand advertising.

For example, general advertisers almost always think in terms of 30- or 60-second commercials. And they have thought that way for so long that they have trouble believing anyone would even watch 30-minute programs. However, infomercial marketers know that the longer they can engage a consumer, the greater their chances of making a sale. That is why 60-second DRTV commercials outperform 30-second DRTV commercials, 120-second DRTV commercials outperform 60-second commercials, and infomercials outperform them all.

General advertisers are also taught to find the most compelling benefit of a product and hammer it home. In a 30-second commercial you must focus on your core benefit, or you will end up communicating nothing. Unfortunately, the unavoidable result of this is that many salient sales points never get into the consumers' heads.

Infomercial marketers, on the other hand, know that they must cover all the features and benefits to make a program work. As mentioned earlier, infomercials work by building a comprehensive and convincing case for purchase. The goal is to give the viewers all the information they need to make a purchasing decision. Explain every benefit, answer all objections and then do it again. No question should ever be left unanswered in the consumers' minds.

Infomercials are not every product or service. However, for the right product, they are the most powerful form of advertising in the world.

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