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Guest Opinion: Gone in 30 Seconds

5 Mar, 2010 By: Doug Garnett Response

Lessons brand advertisers should learn from infomercials.

Infomercials are the only TV advertising that consumers choose to watch. After all, when consumers see traditional TV spots, the choice they’ve made is to watch a program — not the spots.

Of course, if no one watched infomercials, it wouldn’t matter. But, consumers stop to watch infomercials in massive numbers.

So how do infomercials achieve this level of success? And what lessons should brands advertisers take from those of us who have achieved infomercial success?

  1. Consumers respond to advertising that helps them make smart purchase decisions. In research, consumers complain about the lack of information at retail stores. They laugh at the idea that traditional advertising helps them make purchasing decisions. And, while the Web offers a wealth of information, it doesn’t offer effective demonstrations of how a product impacts their lives. Infomercials succeed by offering consumers communication and demonstration that make products meaningful.
  2. Effective communication is a process. Traditional advertising usually limits itself to a single “big idea” or mere “lifestyle” messages. By contrast, infomercials persuade consumers through a communication process — moving them from initial awareness to purchase. A long-form show does this by layering a set of core messages so that each uncovers a deeper understanding of the product.
  3. Product understanding generates far more value than brand. The Drill Doctor infomercial spent years on-air and drove nearly 3 million unit sales. And the campaign built so much price support consumers willingly paid $100 for a product that sharpens $0.25 drill bits. By contrast, traditional brand ads rarely generate dramatic price support. Why? Consumers pay more for meaningful products than for mere brand. (And they pay the most for a meaningful product with a good brand.)
  4. The creative idea cannot become more important than the communication. DRTV only succeeds when consumers pick up the phone. And by counting phone calls, we’ve learned that humorous DRTV spots generally don’t work. We’ve learned that DRTV messages must be carefully oriented around the product and not simply a lifestyle. We’ve learned that storymercials generally fail, because they don’t bring meaningful communication to consumers.
  5. Consumers only need about 15 seconds of concept. When agencies stretch 30-second spots into 30-minute shows, they fail. Why? Traditional advertising is based around big conceptual statements that are important, but quickly absorbed. And once interested by the concept, consumers want to know more. Successful infomercials offer much more — resolving objections that might stand between consumer interest and purchase.
  6. Positive messages are most powerful. Overall, infomercials are a generally positive art form. Products promise clear results. DRTV spots rarely spend more than 10-20 percent of a commercial defining the problem. Advertising delivers higher impact when it communicates positive messages.
  7. Don’t just “do” research — listen to it. Infomercial agencies succeed much more often when they are skilled at listening to research and executing it. This means that focus groups can’t be about verbatim transcriptions or tallying up “how many said what.” Research must focus on how messages change consumer perception of a product.
  8. Ask people to take action. Traditional advertising rarely asks consumers to take action. But infomercials always ask consumers to take action — often purchasing the product. Experience proves that with the right understanding of a product and the right offer, consumers will take that action.
  9. Don’t take a campaign off the air too soon. Phones tell us when an infomercial stops working. By counting calls, we find that strong campaigns produce the same phone results for years. Brand advertisers should resist the temptation to change strategies just because they want something fresh.

Traditional advertisers need to overcome their prejudices and listen to the lessons of DRTV. Then consumers might even begin to watch traditional advertising. n

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