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The IMS Top 50 Infomercials and Short-Form Spots of 2008

1 Dec, 2008 By: Response Contributor Response

Will Obama's Infomercials Lead to an Evolution in Political Direct Response?

The evolution of the infomercial is not that much unlike the evolution of man. You have a product or service to sell. You have 28 minutes and 30 seconds allotted to pitching the product to the public, and a toll-free number or Web address that directly links the buyer to said merchandise. With limited and ever more costly media time making every second of a given show count, applying the key evolution lesson — survival of the fittest — to the cutthroat world of infomercials is obvious.

There are marketing directors and media buyers learning the ideal channels in correlation with the product and its targeted audience. There are hosts and voiceover artists reading scripts rich in proven and successful tag lines that draw buyers to their phones. And there are operators on the other line offering upsells that are too good to refuse. Add adaptation to the environment to the equation and you find that there are times when infomercials must shed their primitive skin and find their niche in new markets.

On August 10, politics became such a market, with the initial airing of the "Obama for America" infomercial on Ion Media Networks outlets around the nation. Television viewers are more than familiar with the political mudslinging that pollutes the airwaves right up until Election Day. And it's not just limited to TV. It's on the radio, the Internet, personal E-mails between friends and family, newspapers, magazines, signs in people's yards.

The incessant finger pointing, the ritualistic blame game, and the unceasing he-said/she-said bickering reaches a point where educated, grown men seem no better than two kids in a school yard sticking their tongues out at each other. Where is the integrity?

Perhaps a right step was taken with the production of "Obama for America." It was an opportunity to introduce now-President-elect Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. It was also a chance for the public to get to know him on a quasi-personal level, to gain perspective regarding his quality of character and to learn about his political career. What America got was a 30-minute education on a presidential hopeful, rather than a personal attack on the opposing party's candidate.

On October 29, less than a week until Election Day, Obama aired his second infomercial on seven national broadcast and cable networks. In this show, he introduced America to several people who shared their stories of struggle in tough economic times yet remained hopeful for a lasting change. He also offered explanations of how he would bring about such change. It was a second attempt at reaching the public, and speaking strategically, he couldn't have picked a better time. Not only because it was a mere six days before the election, but also because the media buy on Fox network would reach millions of viewers in swing-states Pennsylvania and Florida waiting for the resumption of the rain-delayed Game 5 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.

In looking at Obama's DR strategy, it's hard not to consider John McCain's candidacy. If McCain had used long-form DRTV as such a major part of his campaign, would he have fared better? Could similar infomercials have helped American voters see McCain and his vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, in a new light?

Is paid programming capable of having a lasting place in the political arena? Why not? For years, infomercials have influenced TV viewers to shop from the comfort of their own homes, so it doesn't seem unreasonable to think that the power of the infomercial could help sway voters.

When used in the same high-level and well-produced manner as Obama's infomercials, it's difficult to see how using long-form DRTV could harm a politician's image. It would actually be refreshing to watch 30-minute infomercials that offer a positive look at a presidential nominee's candidacy, rather than the incessant smear campaign spots that leave viewers questioning whether the negativity was indirectly redirected onto the candidate who approved the commercial.

It seems that the potential for infomercials in new markets is limitless. After all, in his evolution, man learned that part of his survival was adaptation, and part of adaptation is learning new skills and how to use tools that are compatible with new surroundings. Obama rallied voters with his message of change. Perhaps we can also change the face of paid and political advertisements one infomercial at a time.

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