The New Era Infomercial
New Age of Advertising
The new age of advertising, marked by advances in technology that have put every brand in direct contact with their consumer, has been called “the Wild West of Marketing.” The ubiquitous reach of digital media today is unmatched in history and has pretty much destroyed the rules in the traditional advertising handbook.
It is easy to believe that these new circumstances require completely new marketing strategies. There is a format, however, from another Wild West era in marketing’s history. It is a surprisingly sophisticated tool for this digital age, in spite of its often-maligned reputation: The Infomercial.
You might think of the infomercial as a remnant of another era, with fast-talking pitchmen hocking the latest product to move from the county fairground to television, but this is anything but the case. The modern infomercial is a performance-driven sales tool — a multichannel series of content with high-end production values, which allows a company to not only to raise visibility and capture a stronger set of first-party data, but make immediate sales while also boosting sales at retail.
A Word from Our Sponsor
The infomercial really took the form we know today in 1984, when the FTC eliminated regulations on the length of commercial ads on television. The now-familiar 28:30 “long-form” was new territory for marketers and consumers alike. Unlike traditional advertising’s soft-push-to-retail approach, infomercials employed decidedly different tactics; they appealed directly to the consumer, moving viewers into action now, during the commercial.
The Call-To-Action, or CTA, which is the commercial portion of the half-hour program, contained an “offer build” designed to create urgency in the viewer to immediately purchase the product via a toll free phone number, website, and now even through text. Infomercials were decidedly more aggressive in their approach, and they often employed “pitchmen” sometimes recruited from the fair circuit to deliver appealing problem/solution messaging and product demonstrations that would captivate and astonish the audience and move them into an immediate purchase.
The “circus barker” quality of these pitches may have helped provide the “Wild West” moniker for this age in marketing. It also helped create the split – and even rancor – between traditional advertising agencies and the Direct Response Television, or DRTV, marketers who specialized in infomercial advertising.
Some of the Most Successful Brands of All Time
Traditional advertisers looked down their collective noses at the direct, in-your-face approach of early infomercials, but, the effectiveness of this approach could not be denied. In fact, infomercials have launched some of the most successful brands of all time, including Proactiv, OxiClean, George Foreman Grills, Bowflex and, of course, Snuggie. Now, many of today’s largest brands that used to rely on traditional advertising have turned to infomercials as a way to introduce new products, including Apple, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson.
Why? Well there are many reasons, not the least of which the 28:30 format provides more time and space to explain the unique qualities of a new SKU to a target audience. And media is less expensive for DRTV advertising, whether it be for long-form or the newer short and mid-form DRTV media, which can be anywhere from :30 – 5:00 in length. Additionally, infomercials have gone through an evolution of their own. Production companies that specialize in this form of advertising have become more sophisticated. Gone are the barker days; today it is not uncommon for A-List celebrities to endorse a DRTV brand or even launch one of their own through an infomercial.
The Proof is in the Numbers
Yet, the old “infomercial” term still carries a stigma, so the old name has given way to other more descriptive titles: Direct Response moved to Brand Response, then to Performance-Driven Advertising, which may be the most important reason infomercials have survived their Wild West history to enter another. What infomercial marketing has always had that traditional advertising has not is the ability to track sales across all media, calculated through a formula known as a MER, or Media Efficiency Ratio.
In spite of its seemingly unsophisticated origins, the infomercial industry has always relied on data-driven results measured by this simple formula, which allows brands, advertisers and marketers to adjust media spending, creative content and offers to meet consumer needs and to achieve the most profit at the least risk. This is the biggest reason infomercials and performance-driven advertising are still thriving today; they are able to produce solid – and measurable – business outcomes. The proof is in the numbers: The DRTV business was estimated to exceed $250 billion by 2015, with growth projected into the future.
Experts of this New Era
While many brands still don’t want to hear the word “infomercial,” they want an infomercial and all the specialized marketing that goes with it. Additionally, advances in technology have brought about many new marketing channels that require direct-to-consumer expertise. Whether you want to call them Infomercial, DRTV, Direct Response, Brand Response, Direct-to-Consumer, or Performance-Driving Marketers, they have unique skills that meet the extraordinary Wild West circumstances of this Digital Age.
These competences include the ability to develop long-term customer relationships and brand loyalty; predictable media results from ad spends, thereby reducing risk; creating and holding product/brand value; delivering faster payment terms than retail; and the ability to deliver social proof through longer marketing formats. Don’t let an old label fool you. Infomercials are even more powerful today, and the marketers who understand direct-to-consumer marketing are the experts of this new era.