The infomercial has now been around for more than 25 years, pitching products of all shapes, sizes, prices, and purposes. But the hard sell favored in the early years is often what identified them, lending fodder for parody—or worse, skepticism. Do people still view DRTV campaigns and home-shopping networks as “those ads that run at 3:00 a.m.”? Or has the business of DRTV gained the respect that we all believe it deserves? Basically, is there still a stigma attached to DR marketing and the products sold this way?
The short answer is yes… and no. But before we explore the presence of a stigma and its persistence, let’s take a look back at the advent of the infomercial and how the stigma was born.
Birth of the Infomercial
“We call the birth date of the infomercial 1985,” says Jeff Meltzer, president and owner of Meltzer Media Productions in New York City, or six years before the National Infomercial Marketing Association (NIMA), the precursor to the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA), launched. “It was a wild, wild West. You could put anything you wanted anywhere you wanted. Nobody had any idea of what people were going to do, what kinds of things would sell. There were no rules, no regulations.”
“Bold and creative marketers dipped their toes into the water and discovered that DRTV provided a great way to introduce and demonstrate products.”
–Katie Williams, president, Ideal Living Direct
Meltzer would know, as he is credited with creating the first skincare infomercial. At the time, major cosmetic and skincare companies were selling only at retail; none of them sold direct to consumers until Chae Basics came on the market with the first skincare regime. “There was a day cream, a night cream, an exfoliator, a scrub, an eye cream,” Meltzer says. “That had never been packaged before, and it had never been sold in tandem under a brand—all at one time—direct to consumer.”
Linda Chae, who had been creating cosmetics and skincare formulations in her basement, became her brand’s spokesperson, and New York dermatologists were hired to put together the final products and specify packaging, Meltzer recalls. Then, the producers put together a klatsch of real users. “It was the first time that women on a couch talked about their problems and insecurities,” he says. The women ranged in age from 20 to 60 years old, “which was crazy. You would never do that these days, but we didn’t know.