There are few species lower on the advertisement food chain than the infomercial. The word connotes such lowbrow associations that even those within the infomercial industry prefer calling the 30-minute television segment “long-form” ads.
But slice and dice it as you wish, this much-maligned advertising genre is being polished for a new brand of television viewer. Move over you hawkers of Ginsu knives, chicken rotisseries, and Ab Rockers. Human-resources services and luxury car manufacturers are invading your realm. And their audience no longer consists of merely the half-dazed daytime bonbon nibblers and late-night couch potatoes.
Proof that long-form ads are catching on: Last year, Mercedes-Benz premiered its first infomercial on national cable networks. Major online job site Monster.com debuted its first long-form ad, “The Monster Show,” on cable channels and local network affiliates nationwide.
America Online partnered with Koninklijke Philips Electronics to create an infomercial touting the company’s set-top box device and AOL’s service. And Excite@Home, which aired its first infomercial quite a few years ago, has released subsequent infomercials each year and plans a new one this summer.
Watch now, buy later
So what is piquing these companies’ interest in a genre often linked with aging stars pushing cosmetics or fitness gurus hawking exercise gizmos?
New entrants to the world of long-form ads are waking up to what gadget king Ron Popeil has always known: Infomercials get results. While industry data for sales generated solely from infomercials are hard to come by, the Direct Marketing Association estimates that in 2011, sales driven by direct-response television-including long-form, short-form, and home shopping-reached $317.6 billion, up from $168.5 billion five years earlier. The group projects that number will reach $678.9 billion by 2018.
It also touts the long-form ad as a cost-effective alternative to high-priced traditional commercials. In 2015, the average cost to produce a 30-second national spot soared 16 percent to $843,000 in 2015, the most dramatic increase since the American Association of Advertising Agencies began conducting the survey 21 years ago. While it’s difficult to nail an industry average for producing a 30-minute infomercial, estimates range anywhere from $325,000 to $900,000. Even on the high end, the cost per second weighs in at considerably less.
“Infomercial media time is purchased in an entirely different way than other time,” says industry veteran Steven Dworman, who runs Steven Dworman Enterprises, a publishing and marketing consultant firm in Los Angeles. “They basically run a spot on a station, and if it’s profitable then they’ll keep running it. If it isn’t, they won’t.”
That’s one reason why Mercedes-Benz chose to make one.
“With budgets being what they are now, marketing communications must show tangible results, whenever possible,” says Scott Keogh, manager of communications planning for Mercedes-Benz USA. “We thought an infomercial was a good way to do that. Through it, we could get hand-raisers and actual names.”
Produced by New York’s Rapp Collins Worldwide and touting the tagline “The Mark of Passion,” Mercedes-Benz’s infomercial exudes a Midas touch. During the segment – which plugs Starmark, Mercedes-Benz’s used-car program – viewers learn about the company’s century-old brand through sepia-tone archival footage as well as testimonials from satisfied Starmark owners.
This flexibility contrasts sharply with sinking millions into a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. While a high-profile outlet such as the Super Bowl guarantees advertisers a certain number of targeted eyeballs, the disadvantage is if it flops, the advertiser has blown a big wad of cash in one fell swoop.
Another reason advertisers find the infomercial format attractive is the length. Sometimes marketers need 30 minutes to relay their message effectively.
“Our position is that in 30 seconds you can create a brand impression, but in 30 minutes you can create a brand experience,” says Hugh Allspaugh, vice president of business development and client services for Tyee Euro RSCG. This Portland, Ore.-based agency produced Excite@Home’s infomercial last year. “Time allows you to communicate your message and demonstrate complex products and services very clearly.”
Jennifer Doyle, Excite@Home’s vice president of marketing strategy, says explaining her firm’s broadband services to general consumers posed a challenge that the longer infomercial aptly addresses. “The experience of broadband is a total paradigm shift to the average online user,” Doyle says. “Most don’t understand what it means when you don’t have to dial in and what speed can do in terms of enabling new applications.”