(or informercials) are television commercials
that run for one minute or for as long as a typical television program
. Infomercials are also known as paid programming
). Originally, they were typically shown overnight (usually 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.) --- outside of peak hours
. Some television stations chose to air such programming as an alternative to the former practice of sign-off
. By 2008, most infomercial spending is during early morning, daytime, and evening hours.
While the term "infomercial" is loosely used to refer to any direct response television advertisement (DRTV), in the US it is typically used to describe program length advertisements which are 28 minutes and 30 seconds in length. In the US, DRTV advertisements of :30 seconds to 2 minutes in length are typically called "short form" and not included in the advertising industry's use of the term "infomercial". Note that in the US market, a small amount of media can be purchased for 5 minute length advertisements however this time is quite limited.
While the term "infomercial" was originally applied only to television advertising, it is now sometimes used to refer to any presentation (often on video) which presents a significant amount of information in an actual, or perceived, attempt to persuade to a point of view. Often, it is unclear whether the actual presentation fits this definition because the term is used hoping to dis-credit the presentation. In this way, political speeches may be derogatorily referred to as "infomercials" for a specific point of view.
The word "infomercial" is a portmanteau
of the words "information
" and "commercial
". As in any other form of advertisement, the content is a commercial message designed to represent the viewpoints and to serve the interest of the sponsor. Infomercials are often made to closely resemble actual television programming. Some imitate talk shows
and try to downplay the fact that the program is actually an advertisement. A few are developed around storylines and have been called "storymercials". However most do not have specific formats but craft different elements to create what they hope is a compelling story about the product offered.
Infomercials are designed to solicit a direct response which is specific and quantifiable and are, therefore, a form of direct response marketing (not to be confused with direct marketing). For this reason, infomercials generally feature between 2 and 4 internal commercials of :30 to :120 seconds in length which invite the consumer to call or take other direct action. Despite the overt request for direct action, many consumers respond to the messages in an infomercial with purchases at retail outlets. For many infomercials, the largest portion of positive response they aim for is retail sales. These retail sales make infomercials similar in impact to traditional commercials where advertisers do not solicit a direct response from viewers, but create the commercials with a goal to leave behind messages and brand that the advertisers hope will lead people to purchase their product or increase acceptance of the product.
Many traditional Infomercial producers make use of flashy catchphrases, repeat basic ideas, and/or employ scientist-like characters or celebrities as guests or hosts in their ad. The book As Seen on TV (Quirk Books) by Lou Harry and Sam Stall highlights the history of such memorable products as the Flowbee, the Chia Pet, and Ginsu knives. Sometimes traditional infomercials use limited time offers and/or claim one can only purchase the wares from television to add pressure for viewers to buy their products.
Major brands (e.g. Apple, Microsoft, Evinrude, Rubbermaid, Sears) have begun using infomercials for their ability to communicate more complicated and in-depth product stories. This practice started in the early 1990s and has increased since. Brands generally eschew the "cheesy" trappings of the traditional infomercial business in order to create communication they believe creates a better image of their products, their brands, and their consumers. Some other programs also touch on other issues which aren't selling anything, such as a paid program for a law firm dealing in recruiting mesothelioma patients for lawsuits which began to air in October 2008.
During the early days of television, many TV shows were specifically created by sponsors with the main goal of selling their product, with the entertainment value secondary. A good example of this is the early children's show The Magic Clown
, which was created essentially as an advertisement for Bonomo's Turkish Taffy
. Eventually, FCC limits on the amount of advertising that could appear during an hour of television did away with these programs, forcing sponsors into the background.
It is quite possible that the first modern infomercial series which ran in North America was on San Diego-area television station XETV-TV, which during the 1970s ran a one-hour television program every Sunday consisting of advertisements for local homes for sale. As the station was actually licensed by the Mexican government to the city of Tijuana, (but the station broadcasts all of its programs in English for the U.S. market), the FCC limit at that time of a maximum of 18 minutes of commercials in an hour did not apply to the station.
Infomercials proliferated in the United States after 1984 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eliminated regulations on the commercial content of television established in the 1950s and 1960s. Much of their early development can be attributed to business partners Edward Valenti and Barry Beecher, who developed the format to sell the Ginsu Knife.
The longest continuously running infomercial is for "Barefoot," a general use arch support, created by Rosalinda Johnson and Andrew Hecker, which first aired in 1993. The success of the Infomercial spawned the Good Feet Store that grew to 160 franchised locations based on the television markets the informercial airs in.
In Britain, teleshopping was pioneered in 1979 by Michael Aldrich who demonstrated real-time transaction processing from a domestic television and subsequently installed many systems throughout the UK in the 1980s..
Some televangelists such as Robert Tilton and Peter Popoff buy television time from infomercial brokers representing TV stations around the U.S. and even some mass-distributed cable networks that are not averse to carrying religious programming. A block of such programming appears weekdays on BET under the umbrella title BET Inspiration.
When they first appeared, infomercials were most often screened in the United States and Canada during late-night/early morning hours. As stations have found value in airing at other times, by 2008 a large portion of infomercial spending is early morning, daytime, early prime and even prime time. There are also entire networks devoted to just airing infomercials all day and night for the sole purpose of cable/satellite providers receiving revenue from the channel operator from any sales for their area, or to fill empty time on local programming channels. CNBC, which airs only one hour of infomercials nightly during the business week, airs up to 28 hours of infomercials on Saturdays and Sundays during the time where the network's business news coverage otherwise airs. A comparison of television listings from 2007 with 1987 verifies that many broadcasters in North America now air infomercials in lieu of syndicated TV series reruns and movies, which were formerly staples during the more common hours infomercials are broadcast (i.e., the overnight hours). Infomercials are a near-permanent staple of ION Television's daytime and overnight schedules.
The first feature length documentary to chronicle the history of the infomercial was Pitch People.
Because of the sometimes sensational nature of the ad form and the questionable nature of some products, consumer advocates
recommend careful investigation of the infomercial's sponsor, the product being advertised, and the claims being made before making a purchase. At the beginning of an infomercial, stations and/or sponsors normally run disclaimers warning that "the following program is a paid advertisement," and that the station does not necessarily support the sponsor's claims. (See "External Links" for two such examples.) A few stations take the warning further, encouraging viewers to contact their local Better Business Bureau
or state or local consumer protection agency to report any questionable products or claims that air on such infomercials.
Widely used pitches
- "Would you pay..." (lists large and outrageous amounts that quickly decline before the announcer rejects the past prices and hypes the lowest price possible)
- "This revolutionary product..."
- "Introducing the revolutionary (product)"
- "It's truly revolutionary!"
- "Ordinary (product type) (announcer lists faults), but (product)..."
- "But wait!", "But wait there's more!", or "But that's not all!" (after pitching one deal and before pitching another, better deal. For example: "But Wait! Call in now and we'll knock off one payment, and add (product)")
- "For (number) easy payments of (price), (product) can be yours!
- "And if you aren't satisfied, you can try (product) risk free for (number) days"
- "If you call within the next (number) minutes, you'll also get..."
- "If you call within the next (number) minutes, we'll cut (amount) dollars off the price!"
- "If you're one of the first (number) callers, you'll also get..."
- "If you're one of the first (number) callers, we'll cut (amount) dollars off the price!"
- "If you pay by credit card, you'll also get..."
- "If you pay by credit card, we'll cut (amount) dollars off the price!"
- "Supplies are limited, and this deal is available for only (number of minutes before end of program)..."
- "I am so convinced that you'll love this product that I am offering..."
- "We guarantee that if you don't lose up to (any number of) pounds in (any number of) days..."
- "(number) million sold, and why not get your own (product)?"
- "Call (telephone number) toll-free. That's (telephone number). Call now!"
The Infomercial format has been widely parodied. One example was a skit in the cartoon series Tiny Toon Adventures
in which an infomercial hostess is trying to sell a clothesline for $39.95, but has to include additional offers to try and justify the high price. Another example could be found in the Garfield and Friends
episode, "Dream Giveaway", in which Garfield
dreams of attempting to give away Nermal
in an infomercial, but no one wants to take him. In the 2003 live-action film The_Cat_in_the_Hat_(film) The Cat in the Hat
, the cat performs an entire talkshow-style infomercial spoof for a magical (but disastrous) cupcake maker. In the spoof, the Cat plays the roles of host and
guest/expert. Yet another example can be found in The Lion King 1 1/2
sits on the remote in mid-movie and the screen switches to a jewelry
). Quebec-based Têtes à Claques
has produced several Informercial parodies in French.
- Three networks, SPEED Channel, Golf Channel and Versus, call their infomercials by the euphemism "Consumer Product Showcase." The origin of the name is an executive decision made by the Bill Daniels family, which owned SPEED and Versus at the time, then called respectively SpeedVision and Outdoor Life Network. Today, SPEED is owned by Fox Cable Networks while Golf Channel and Versus are both controlled by Comcast.
- DirecTV has nine channels that air infomercials at least 12 hours a day: 222, 223, 224, 225, 237, 246, 268, 314, and 315.
- The strategy of buying primetime programming slots on major networks has been utilized by presidential and state candidates for elected office to present infomercial-like programs to sell a candidate's merits to the public. Fringe presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche regularly bought time on CBS and local stations in the 1980s and 1990s during his campaigns, and Ross Perot also bought network time in 1992 and 1996 to present his presidential policies to the public. Hillary Clinton bought an hour of primetime on the Hallmark Channel in 2008 before Super Tuesday, and on cable sports network FSN Southwest in Texas before that state's primary to present a town hall-like program.
- Although not meeting the definition of an infomercial per se, animated children's programming in the 1980s and early 1990s, which included half-hour animated series for franchises such as Transformers, My Little Pony, Go-Bots and Bravestarr were often described by media experts and parents derisive of these types of series as the equivalent of infomercials, as they also sold the tie-in toy lines and food products for the shows within commercials. The Children's Television Act of 1990 was instrumental in ending this practice and setting commercial limits (12 minutes per hour weekdays, 10.5 minutes per hour weekends) for children's programs, and gave rise to the FCC's E/I educational program policy for broadcast stations. Currently, any advertisement for a tie-in product within the show is considered a violation of the FCC rules and is considered a "program length commercial" by their standards, putting the station at risk of paying large fines for violations. These regulations do not apply to cable networks such as Nickelodeon, which has recently aired preview airings of direct to DVD films for the Barbie franchise which would never be able to air on a broadcast channel, although many children's cable networks and advertisers adhere to voluntary guidelines which are somewhat equivalent to FCC regulations.
Some well known traditional infomercial marketers include Guthy-Renker
, Time-Life Music
, International Shopping Network, Sylmark, Telebrands, TriStar, and others. These companies source the products, pay to develop the infomercials, pay for the media, and are responsible for all sales of the product. Sometimes, they sell products they source from inventors.
There is also a well developed network of suppliers to the infomercial industry. These suppliers generally choose to focus on either traditional infomercials (hard sell approaches) or on using infomercials as advertising/sales channels for brand companies (branded approaches). In the traditional business, services are usually supplied by infomercial producers or by media buying companies. In the brand infomercial business, services are often provided by full service agencies who deliver strategy, creative, production, media, and campaign services.
- The DMA The Direct Marketing Association has a broadcast council focusing on issues in DRTV.
- Electronic Retailing Association Trade association for tv, radio and online retailers. Also has magazine on DRTV issues.
- Response Magazine Independent Magazine Reporting on DRTV
- DMNews Weekly news magazine covering all direct marketing issues.
- jwgreensheet The Jordan-Whitney DRTV monitoring website with rankings and copies of commercials.
- IMSTV.com Infomercial Monitoring Service. Another DRTV monitoring service with rankings and copies of commercials.
- Screenshot examples from WLUK-TV and WACY-TV of a station's infomercial disclaimer.