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Anatomy of an Infomercial



You may have seen many long form shows and you certainly will relate to the following parts and pieces. I include them here so that when you are writing your own or hiring someone to, you are clear on the basics and have some of the lingo down.




There are no hard and fast rules here and there are certainly infomercials that have succeeded in deviating from this formulaic observation. There are shows that include pieces outside the formula that are brilliant as well. This is to just get you started. The basic parts and pieces of the “formula” of an infomercial are following the times of each piece are approximations-




The Opening Disclaimer- (5 seconds required)- The FCC requires all long form shows to reveal that they are paid programming. You must state this with both an audio voice over and graphic stating the legal name of the business entity that is purchasing the airtime.


The Tease (1-3 minutes)- The “Tease” serves to set-up the problem you are going to address and solve with your new product. Teases often start with the emotional or personal pain points that “set the table” for the show. This is where you typically ask the questions directly to the consumer that identify and engage them. “Are you relieved seeing more lines and wrinkles around you eyes every morning?” “Are you self conscious wearing a swim suit in public?” “Does your car look, feel and smell showroom new?” All simple questions that evoke a visceral response from the consumer, questions where you actually control the answer and the response. After all who isn’t self conscious in a swim suit.


You will use some time in the tease to share your innovation, see the benefit and briefly state your Unique Selling Proposition. Often a tease will include small sound-bite testimonials, animations and the juiciest visual elements that preview what the viewer will see. Typically you will address the voice of the skeptic as well inviting them to “see for themselves” the independent evidence. A great tease will end delivering a great sense of engagement and anticipation that will transition effortlessly into the main body of the show. Your goal is to engage the viewer so they just simply get swept away in the stream and end up watching the show compulsively.


The Show Body- Typically three acts separated by “Calls To Action” or the CTA. We frequently have three acts that are approximately 8 minutes, 6 minutes and 3 minutes in descending length, and separated by 2 CTA’s. The show body can be in many formats here are a few of the industry standards.



THE NEWSTALK SHOW OR TELEVISED RADIO TALK SHOW

Probably the number one style of show used by entrepreneurs for its low cost to produce and its simple discussion format. Typically a host acts as a journalist interviewing an expert guest or inventor to discuss a book, a drug or a collection of intellectual property that has been developed. The topics often cover Real Estate, Weight Loss, Depression, and Health Issues.

THE DAYTIME WOMENS’ TALK SHOW

Formulated to look and feel like some form of daytime chat show this format may have two to eight women sitting around a living room set discussing a product. Beauty products seem to reign in this arena. The participants are often the “inventor” of the product, a celebrity or two, a host and “real women’ that provide endorsement and testimonial evidence. This is the format that Guthy-Renker has admirably mastered.





THE DEMONSTRATION SHOW

This format typically has an expert walking through a consumer good showing a variety of applications and usages demonstrating ease of use, incredible effects and all the features and benefits. Sometimes a studio audience is incorporated. This is a common show that lends itself to kitchen products, house wares, hardware products, beds, fitness products and auto products. This is one of our favorite styles of long form because it can be executed with a high degree of direct pragmatic sincerity.




STORYMERCIAL

I have seen the storymercial used on occasion with success. Personally the risk of this type of marketing is far too great for me to bite on as a marketer. The conceit of a storymercial is that it appears as dramatic program with fictional characters that are experiencing a problem in life that the product solves. Perhaps there was a moment in time where this was really an ideal way to come to market but today’s prevalence of reality television makes a dramatized long form a risky proposition.


We have never attempted a storymercial. I do not recommend them for long form. Having said that, the concept of the dramatized problem and solution model has proven to work in the short form space for many many companies, including us and I would highly recommend this kind of dramatization for short form. The trick is to make the story feel and appear real. The best campaign that exemplifies the short form dramatization in my mind currently is the E-Harmony campaign. All actor and actresses that look like very real legitimate couples matched and married by E-Harmony. This is so well executed the viewer never considers that the stories are manufactured.



THE HOST TOUR

This type of show may be studio, home based, or outdoors live and is typically chosen to introduce a new or complex technology with many components. A Single Host walks us through the product and shows us its benefits and features in detail. The host throws to outside segments that help bring validation to the multi faceted product. This host may occasionally be with subjects in studio to explain essential components or validity with scientist and founders. Studio audience is rare but option. These shows work well for complex products and new technologies. Many of these types of shows are rolling out for Web based products and health based products where the host appears in a “virtual world’ and interacts with a variety of animated and graphic components. The budgets on a show like this can be very affordable with a dramatically high production value when executed properly. This is a style of program we routinely turn to again for its direct, compelling informative approach and proven sales.




THE REALITY APPROACH

The emerging new prince of infomercials will no doubt become king, particularly as established brands with identifiable USP’s will move into direct response. The reality infomercial relies on consumer generated reviews and usage of products and services. Consumer self-shot video is the rising sun in advertising. It is the filmed equivalent of E-pinions or an Amazon review. Our client Beach Body has tapped this over and over in the past three years with P-90X and it’s new exercise smash Insanity. A great way to launch a new idea is to let people try it, and submit unadulterated video. This style often still has a host that ties the information together in a much lighter balance than a “host” driven show. Recently Activia, a Dannon Yogurt brand, grabbed this element in short form with Jamie Lee Curtiss hosting “real user” submitted video from Activa consumers talking about their improved “dietary tract” and “regular” benefits achieved with the product. The spots are currently run in traditional media but could easily be reaching even more women with a direct response media plan as the creative is a web driver for couponing and video submission.

Again, these are just some of the choices in show body styles that are out there.

The show body again is typically cut into segments no longer than 8 minutes with

CTA’s separating them.


THE CTA- CALL TO ACTION

All long forms have a 2 to 5 minute segment that appears several times in the show, usually twice, sometimes three times, this is the all important Call to Action. This is what we often consider this to be the single most important element of a show as it can absolutely make or break your entire creative.

In your CTA you have a very short time to again, set up the problem for the consumer and make it real and painful. This places them in a state of discomfort, which you will immediately remedy with your product and it’s USP. More importantly this will be your chance to build a solid value proposition. You might refer to existing technologies that don’t quite cut the mustard for one reason or another. You can explain the costs and aggravation perhaps even the embarrassment of seeking a “professional” solution. Then you need to get to the second most important part of your marketing plan after the explanation of your USP. The offer. Your offer must feel like a relief to the consumer. You cannot disappoint them, they want and deserve a favorable offering that rewards their watching and limits their financial barrier to entry. Give them an included premium that is something that you would want but not necessarily buy for yourself. A gift for purchase the consumer keeps, even if they return the product, increases their confidence. Offer to pay the shipping if you can. That is not the same as “free shipping” in the consumers mind. The normal assumption is that you are screwing them on shipping. Offering to pay the shipping on their behalf consciously makes them admit there is in fact, a cost to shipping and you are picking it up. This makes you a nicer company. Figuring this out was the key that unlocked the Amazon.com marketing beast. It truly was the game changer for them. Living in Seattle we get good inside scoop from time to time! Dropping a payment has become expected for the consumer as well. If you plan on selling for three payments of 39.95, start out at four. Back everything you sell with at least a thirty-day guarantee. Why? Because it is so fully practiced and accepted you should expect not to sell a single unit if you do not.

Your CTA will end with a 20-30 second TAG, which is the offer read outloud in brevity, the 1-800 and website read. The Tag is uniquely read to every station dub that is sent out. Every version typically has a unique 1-800 phone number for the purpose of tracking call volume and sales attributable to an airing.

Other Elements of the Long Form


TESTIMONIALS

Testimonials form real world participants are essential. You should expect to have four to ten sprinkled throughout your show with sound bites to boot in the tease and CTA. Earlier we discussed P-90X and the power of its reality testimonials. As true as that holds it does not mean that all of your testimonials need be photographed in a self-shot style. Testimonials should always be cultivated from real user groups, they should never be paid, they should never be actors. Don’t cut corners. How do you get testimonials for a new product? Be patient. Create a small website, or advertise your product on a small scale and let people purchase it. When they do collect their data and give them about four weeks before you follow up with a customer service call to inquire on your products performance. Our new and favorite place to find actual consumers is the web. We often will look at web reviews, call consumers that have submitted letters of praise and ask if they are willing to share their testimony on camera. It is unethical to solicit testimonials with payment, gifts, trips or inducements. For entrepreneurial projects, long after the show has rolled out we have sent thank you notes, sometimes with a gift card or second product. Again the testimonial participant cannot be aware of this even if it your intention. No promises for endorsements!

If a product requires long-term usage, such as a weight loss product it is perfectly ok to monitor the participants progress but again the experience they are having must duplicate the consumer experience. No special coaching, they must purchase the product and use as any “normal” participant does. This is not legal advice, just good advice.

Professional Endorsements.

Yes they matter. Doctors, physical therapists, construction managers, chefs, beauty professionals and the like have appeared in every successful infomercial over the past twenty-five years. Experts are essential for the viewer to know someone with some actual experience and credibility says you are telling the truth. If you have paid a professional testimonial for their time you must divulge it with a clear disclaimer under their image. If they are materially connected to the company, title it prominently. All testimonials should sign a usage waiver that clearly states that they are giving you their testimony in its full truthful context. Always edit testimonials to reflect the true context. A good product will always have people that want to support it and are willing to be on television.


Animation

At BBA we have learned through the use of dial testing and other measurement tools that animation is probably the single most compelling sales tool you have in your arsenal to close a consumer. Do not underestimate it and learn how to use animation as much and as frequently as possible. Here’s what we think we know about it.

If you take a look at the first place you come into contact with animation in America, it is your childhood. We all watched and loved cartoons, al the way back to Steam Boat Willy in our grandparents day. I know we grew up with Hannah Barbara and Looney Tunes and the like. The thing about cartoons it they truly show the impossible and come across as believable, or at the very least allow us to suspend disbelief like nothing else. The advent of video games has only increased the effect for younger generations. Image is reality, for many people.


Animation allows us to show consumers the ins and outs of your product in a way they could never experience it in the real world. It provides the “incredible journey” into the inner workings and “facts’ of your product. The irony of it is that animation is literally the most made-up, manufactured element of any show. Consumers often see it as the opposite. Now I am not suggesting that you manufacture false information in the course of executing a good animation but you should take full advantage of the medium.


In a good air purification show at some point you will see the air purifier in an animation. You will “shrink down” to the microscopic world and take a tour that feels like a cross between Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Inner Space Ride at Disney. Animation will take the unbelievable and put it right the consumers mind.


Here’s a current example of animations power with the consumer. In our “BackJoy” campaign we are selling a pain relieving orthotic for the back, you sit on. There are two inherent problems with this product from a demonstration angle. First, when you sit on the product, it disappears. Second the structural change of a back orthotic happens primarily on the inside of the human body. You simply cannot easily see what the product does if you don’t know what to look for. We overcame that problem with an animation. Before the host demonstrates the usage of the product for the first time in the beginning of the show he walks the viewer through and explanation via an animation. You get to see a before and after of the device complete with its external and internal effect on the human body. When we come out of the animation you see the product used in the real world for the first time and because the expectation and learning is planted in your mind you can clearly see the effect.


In Summary, if you were to have a basic generic map for a show flow of a long form infomercial it would look something like this.

TEASE- (2 Minute) set-up and explanation of USP

ACT ONE

Host (2 Minutes) sets up problem, reveals solution-USP (possible demo)

Animation (1 minute) (Host voice, Announcer Voice or expert voice)

Host (1 Minute) deeper info (possible demo)

Testimonial (2 minutes)

Expert Testimonial (1 Minute)

Host Throw to CTA 1 (30 seconds)

CTA 1 (2-5 minutes) Problem- Solution- Value Build- Offer- Tag.

ACT TWO

Host (2 minutes) Re-sets problem and solution USP (possible demo)

Expert (or founder) Testimonial (1 minute)

Testimonial (1 minute)

Host (demo)

Host Throw to CTA 2

CTA 2 (2-5 minutes) Problem- Solution- Value Build- Offer- Tag.

ACT THREE

Host (2 minutes) Possible demo

Recap of offer by host with urge to call.

Short CTA or TAG with consumer testimonials.


That’s all the parts and pieces of a basic infomercial. It looks fairly simple and easy to create but accept the fair warning…it’s a little like me telling you the parts and pieces of an airplane. There’s no guarantee that because you can identify the parts and pieces you’ll build one in your garage that will fly! Remember we started our careers in direct response advertising when the market was a whole lot more forgiving. The consumer is looking at your program like a critical producer. Flaws and moments of phoniness stand out like a sore thumb.


OFFER IS KING

We have been around this industry since the beginning, we know just about everybody. Internally it is a surprisingly friendly industry where most of the players know each other, golf together at industry events and sit elbow to elbow at dinners a few times a year. We applaud success for everyone because sooner or later everyone gets to hit one out of the park. In almost every senior creative persons office somewhere there will be a plaque a sign or a moniker of some sort that says “Offer Is King”.

Offer is the single most malleable driver of calls and sales volume you will have at your disposal when you create a long form show. You must be prepared to have a number of offers to test. If you are a corporate marketing person, if you are an inventor, do this…

Get out your scissors and cut out the bold sentence below. Just like it is a fortune cookie, tape it to your computer monitor. You will read it and instantly have resistance but you must, must believe me when I write this. WHEN YOU TEST A LONG-FORM SHOW ALWAYS MAKE THE MOST CONSUMER FRIENDLY OFFER YOU CAN IN YOUR FIRST TEST. Read it again…One more time. You will always have the temptation to initially test an offer that makes you the most money up front. That temptation is driven by ego, and ego that says “If I have made a great show people will beat a path to cough up the full cash price, NOW!” That’s frankly not smart and not accurate. We create many shows. In fact, I’d say at times we’ve really specialized in high-ticket products and services. We’ve never had a show work on that high-ticket price. A payment scheme is always required. Then, once the phone rings, about 15% of your total orders will convert to a single payment at the full price. Coincidentally, this is statistically a good approximation of the sample audience that is the wealthiest of consumers. High rollers will pay up front to get the biggest discount you will offer.

Having the most consumer friendly offer allows you to test the creative of the show. A successful test will give the entire marketing team an emotional lift and let you know that you have proof of concept on a scale-able rate. Once you have done that go back and fine tune the financial mechanics to optimize your business model with further offer testing that improves your profit.

Now let me tell a quick story as to where I learned this lesson. We worked with a company that manufactured a product that was in the exercise category. It was a machine. The company had worked very hard to get the cogs down to about 70 dollars landed U.S.. They created a show where everyone agreed they just could not afford to be in business unless the device sold for at least 200 dollars.

They created photography that was awesome, had great fit models. The product looked great, substantial and valuable. It was tested at 3 payments of 79 dollars plus shipping. It failed to make break even. The decision was to go back out at 6 payments of 39 dollars to account for what seemed to be a 1st payment barrier to entry. The second test performed worse. We were all depressed, defeated and demoralized. Then one of our lower level folks, I’m pretty sure it was an art department assistant said, “I just don’t get it, this thing looks as good as a Bowflex or a Soloflex and those cost about $800 to $1000 bucks.” Assume you know nothing!

The next test was for a trial payment of $14.95 for the first 30 days. The call center used the increased call volume this generated and discovered that the device would easily support the volume to roll out a campaign at $400 dollars. The next week they tested $500, then $600, then $700, and finally $800 dollars. Seven hundred settled in as the winner. Here the client had developed a marketing argument that looked and felt so good, when you arrived at the price of $200 there was a huge disconnect. The consumer it was actually a let down. They believed that at the low price the quality and workmanship had to be garbage. It wasn’t. It was very good quality in a design that happened to be very cost effective to build.

Everybody on the project would have given up on this product had we not reacted to that assistant’s visceral response from looking at the device. The lesson here is get the phone to ring with an offer that gives you consumers to interact with then test, test, test. Now go back and cut that bold sentence out and put it on your computer. After all, you’ve already read the page!


WHY IS EVERYTHING $19.95 and $39.95?

It sure seems that every infomercial and offer feels the same. Either it’s 19.95 for short form or $39.95 for long form. This is actually not true, but we understand it sure feels that way.

The IMS or Infomercial Monitoring Service along with Jordan Whitney keeps tabs on the infomercial industry as a whole. Would you be surprised to find out that of the top 20 short form spots airing in America last week, only 1 was $19.95. It’s true. The number one most common short-form offer has become a driver to a website that converts to purchase of a product or service. In second place is the typical widget offer of a 9.95 product. This offer often “doubles” the unit volume for a second s & p representing a small 20% of the top 20. After that, there are a variety of offers that start at free trial offer to $14.95 paid trials for fitness equipment that actually costs hundreds. The introduction of so many offers at 19.95 and 39.95 and the many years of dominance of these price points is probably the mechanism that cements it in our minds but is there “something” to these numbers. We believe there is.


Our hours and hours spent in focus groups have been insightful in many ways. Price can be a very difficult thing to quantify and get right in the context of a group. We frankly do not trust what consumers say in a focus group about specific price points as the conversation usually digress to a point where the group agrees that they should be offered to try every product in the world for free. That is not how they behave in the real world however, consumer routinely pay good real money for products. What is insightful is not what they think but “how’ they think. Categorically, We feel confident in reporting that consumers think in incremental dollar values. The first being twenty dollar bills.

Consumers seem to readily think about the amount of money they are spending in increments of twenties. $19.95. $39.95. $59.95. $79.95. These are the prices that are powerful in direct response. We are certainly aware that other prices work but we are talking broad brush strokes here.

Somewhere in the middle of 2004 we were involved in a comfort product, a pillow that we tested at 29.95, 39.95, 49.95 and 59.95. Identical versions of the show, we were simply testing call volume and pricing. The call volumes for the 29 dollar version and 39 dollar version were identical. The call volume for the 49 dollar version and the 59 dollar version was lower than the cheaper versions but again identical to each other. The consumer saw no difference between 29 and 39. The customer saw no difference between 49 and 59. They think about parting with heir money in twenty-dollar increments. If you test and succeed for $29, odds are you may have left $10 on the table. Extrapolate that out over a million units sold and you’ll have real heartburn and your CFO will want you dead.


Current inflation may make the $100 bill the new $20.


Above and beyond the total price of one hundred dollars and up to five-hundred dollars consumers typically are willing to see payment schemes that are also in the 20 dollar increments from 19.95 to 39.95, 59.95 and finally 79.95 for the most expensive products. Six payments total is often the best financial scheme for a business selling a devise, appliance or Intellectual property. If you as a company extend the payments beyond that you will begin to see your bad debt increase as consumers credit cards expire. Subscription and consumable products like websites and ingestible tend to survive these cycles particularly if the consumer has truly adopted the product. If they have not, they have already called and discontinued in month three or four.


Direct marketers do not exclusively sell widgets and devices alone. As you’ve seen by nom, our industry represents computers, cars, vacations, home remodeling, health clubs, construction products, pools, roofs and a whole realm of high-end goods. There are price points for products that far exceed one thousand dollars and the payment schemes for those products tend to follow the more accepted payment schemes that are industry specific. The offer expressed for these types of goods is the all-important “DVD”. Don’t miss the chance to get a clean solid lead generated plus get the chance to send them a seventy-cent brochure in the form of a DVD as you capture their data. You’ll even get to repurpose all that great infomercial content that you were forced to leave on the editing bay floor!

If you have a consumer product that costs over $10,000, has an audience that you can identify in a media channel and are not using direct response to find new business, you are missing sales. It’s an absolute fact.


HOW DO LONG FORM AND SHORT FORM WORK TOGETHER?

Operating under the assumption that you have a product that is complex enough to require a long form show to build awareness and sales to fund your growth, your long form launch will also help identify the new category you want to establish. Getting the business up and functioning with actual sales and cash flow is the basic reason to start in long form with a breakthrough product that needs explanation. So assuming you have successfully done this… when do you move to short form, and do you run both at the same time? Yes and yes! Here’s the basic mechanics of how you will make that decision. Let’s use the George Foreman grill as the example.

When we introduced the grill it was unheard of, remember Salton had invented the perfect taco meat maker. We had morphed it into the lean mean fat reducing grilling machine. Heck, that almost takes forty-five seconds to say. We had to have a long form to explain all the features, benefits and share all the dozens of types of meals you could make proving you would use it every day. The first product retailed at $39.95.

Once the grill was successful on television retailers wanted it, so Salton initiated distribution and we started making a show for the larger grill, it fit 6 burgers instead of 4. The retailer loved this because the new machine still drove retail on the smaller device. The next step was to create a short form that sold the smaller device at $39.95 and still helped push retail. Now the question is why did we push the small grill instead of the large? The answer is so obvious it’s almost silly…offer and time.

The short form four burger grill was established and understood by the consumer. The offer was easily expressible at 2 payments of $19.95, which still worked in short form at the time but the most important aspect was time. That is, available airtime.

Long form airtime is only available when it’s available, I’m sure you’ve noticed this is most frequently early mornings, in the middle of the night, and weekend days. Generally, long forms run when the stations and networks have available holes in their programming schedules. This basic challenge does limit viewership to a degree. Short form time does not suffer this limitation.

Short form direct response inventory is the saving grace of many television networks and the few individual broadcast stations that exist regionally. The short form direct response advertiser offers financial flexibility to sell advertising slots that are not taken by brand advertisers that purchase well in advance. The advantage this provides you is the ability to place advertising within a “window” of programming on any network, even locally and regionally to find your audience.


What’s a “window”? It can be as long as two or three days or as short as three or four hours, depending on the individual network policy. An example would be purchasing a flight of media, let’s say 20 total airings of a campaign divided by a two-minute version, a one-minute version and a 30-second spot. Consider you have paid $2000 for this bundle and put it on your local ABC affiliate in Phoenix. As it plays out the station runs the 2 minute 4 times, the 1 minute 12 times, and the 30 second 8 more times. You have paid for 20 airings, the station has thrown in some extra airings for free, which is common, so you end up with 24 airings at an average of $83 per airing. The station has placed it where they choose and you can bet if you negotiated for the 3-7 p.m. time slot, every day you ended up around some local news and evening magazine show. That means you are very close to the national ABC nightly News feed for that market as well. That’s good time.

Again, assuming these were accurate approximations for station rates during the George Foreman era, we would need to sell and average of 4 grills per airing in the general Phoenix area to be just above break even. That means you are essentially advertising for free to a new audience and in a time frame that further legitimizes the brand. As discussed earlier for every units we sell on television, multiple units are being sold at retail. Then your long form is busy building demand for yet another new product and offer.

This is the brand building power of direct response in its’ truest form. As more short form ran for George Forman Grills and new products were added to the long form schedule we were able to create a rotation of marketing that forced retailers to widen devoted shelf space for the grills based on consumer demand. A typical George Forman retail customer might walk into Macy’s and say “Hey, I see you carry the George Forman Grill for 39.95 but I saw the large outdoor grill that cooks a dozen burgers on television this morning for $129. Do you have that?” Needless to say, Macy’s called and wanted it too. This is the formula for building brand, getting shelf space and creating a powerful exit strategy.


This is a formula you as an entrepreneur, you as a marketing director or you as a CEO with the right desire and knowledge can follow.


If you are too overwhelmed? Call me.




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Tommy Lentsch
Tommy Lentsch
Apr 30, 2023


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