November 2005 -Sequel Success

If the third movie in the American Pie series can make money, why should a hit infomercial be a one-shot wonder? Her’s how a first-time marketer turned a campaign into a franchise.

By Jack Gordon

Conventional wisdom once held that the half-hour TV infomercial could be a great vehicle for selling a direct response product-but only during a limited window of opportunity. Direct response television (DRTV) marketers not only had to strike while the iron was hot, they had to know when to fold their tents and move on to the next product.

“There was a time in this industry when you’d run an infomercial until it died, and then you were done,” says Tony Kerry, senior vice president of Script to Screen Inc., a Santa Ana, Calif., production house for direct response television commercials. Since the productive lifespan of a long-form DRTV program is rarely much longer than a year, Kerry says, marketers assumed that a successful campaign had roughly 12 months to make all the money it was going to make. After that, sales wouldn’t recoup the cost of the media time.

Some industry veterans have since discovered that they can extend the life of a long-form campaign for years simply by launching new versions of an infomercial when consumer response to the previous program begins to flag. As examples, Kerry cites Guthy-Renker’s long-running campaign for Proactiv Solution acne treatment, Salton Inc.’s programs for the George Foreman Grill, Tilia Direct Inc.’s FoodSaver campaign and the Nautilus Group’s success with the Bowflex home gym.

While lasting wins are no longer startling among the DR industry’s cleverest and most experienced players, however, Kerry says it is highly unusual to see such a win from a newcomer, starting from scratch. That’s why he is so impressed by his client Infinite Mind, L.C. In 2002, the Salt Lake City start-up company aired its first infomercial for its first product, a speed-reading program called eyeQ. More than three years later, now in its third version, the eyeQ campaign is still going strong.

“This company really did it right,” Kerry says.”And they did it right the first time out.”

The eyeQ speed reading program was developed in Japan by Dr. Akihiro Kawamura.

Infinite Mind was founded in 1999 by entrepreneurs Steven Glick and Jeff Flamm, who had acquired the rights to a computer-based speed-reading program developed in Japan by Dr. Akihiro Kawamura.”When we got it, it was an archaic, black-and-white, DOS-based program on a floppy disk,” says Glick, CEO of Infinite Mind.”It looked kind of like the old video game ‘Pong,’ but with objects moving around and squares expanding.”

Odd-looking and technologically primitive though it was, the program had proven remarkably effective at increasing both the reading speed and the comprehension of Japanese school children, Glick says. The moving objects were designed as a series of short, seven-minute exercises that essentially retrained the eyes and brain to process information in chunks, rather than one word at a time. Users’ reading speeds commonly doubled or tripled and sometimes increased up to tenfold, he says.

After updating the program and transferring it to CD-ROM, Glick and Flamm began in 2001 to market eyeQ to school districts, colleges and corporate human resources departments.”But we weren’t having the success we wanted,” Glick says.”Corporations tend to look for softer management training products. For some reason, it was hard for them to understand the value in the workplace of doubling employees’ reading speeds.” As for school districts and universities, he says, budgetary constraints were a recurring problem. There had to be a better way.

Though they began with what seemed the most obvious target markets,”I always knew we had a consumer product,” Glick says.”TV was the best way to get it to the masses. We felt we had a product we could sell into almost any household with someone who could read.” When Infinite Mind went looking for infomercial production companies, he says, its main criteria was that the producer should have created long-form programs for products that did at least $100 million in sales. After meeting with four or five such companies and looking at demo reels, Infinite Mind settled on Script to Screen Inc., which had produced $100 million-plus programs for Hooked on Phonics, Oreck vacuums, Body by Jake and other clients.”Mainly we chose them because we liked the people,” Glick says.

In fact, recalls Kerry,”they found us by coming by our booth at the ERA show in Las Vegas in the fall of 2001. Is there value in exhibiting at that show? Yes.”

In May 2002, Infinite Mind, L.C., tested eyeQ’s first informercial, which was hosted by actress Pam Dawber

The first infomercial for eyeQ tested in May 2002. The hostess was actress Pam Dawber, best known for her role opposite Robin Williams in the TV series”Mork and Mindy.” Dawber signed onto the project after she and her seventh-grade son tried the eyeQ program with good results. Flamm, Infinite Mind co-founder, served as the company’s on-camera spokesman. Testimonial providers included Chicago police officer Julia Burney, head of a program called Cops ‘n Kids, in which Chicago cops help inner-city children improve their reading skills.

The eyeQ product (“the program that swept Japan!”) had taken the form of a vinyl case containing the CD-ROM, an introductory DVD, a novel to practice with and other support material. The single-user version now sells for $199.95 on TV and via the web site A deluxe edition for multiple users sells for $249.95.

Figuring out the right price points was part of the initial challenge, however. Glick says his objective for the campaign was to obtain a media efficiency ratio (MER) of 2.5 or better, meaning that sales would be at least 2.5 times the cost of the media time. But considering the low production costs of computer software, pricing for software products always is a wide-open issue.

Infinite Mind knew it wanted an infomercial that would perform as an independent profit center, says Kerry.”But they weren’t sure what the product should sell for. Testing helped them determine the right price.”

At Script to Screen’s urging, the original eyeQ infomercial tested with three different offers. One disclosed a total price. Another was a straight lead-generation offer, with no stated price. The third was a trial offer, again with no mention of the actual total price: Try eyeQ in your home for 30 days for $14.95, and get your money back if you aren’t satisfied.

The trial offer drew the largest response by far, which was no surprise to Kerry.”It’s always a challenge to sell a [roughly] $200 item on TV,” he says. And the $14.95 free trial gave viewers an inexpensive, yet concrete, reason to pick up the phone. This allowed for experimentation with different prices by operators at the call center, the InPu!se Response Group of Phoenix.

At the price Infinite Mind settled upon, Glick says, the test produced an MER of more than 3:1. He says he spent $15,000 to $20,000 a week to test the infomercial. The actual rollout began in June 2002, and media spending, handled by Mercury Media of Santa Monica, Calif., ramped up gradually to $300,000 a week.”Then we backed off,” Glick says,”because we found that our profit margin was better if we spent a little less. The sweet spot was about $150,000 to $200,000 a week, so that’s where we stayed. It took months to find [the sweet spot], but once we did, we knew where that mark was for the second and third versions of the show.”

The eyeQ product features a CD-ROM, an introductory DVD, a novel to practice with and support materials.

A year later, the first show still was performing strongly. Knowing that response eventually would flag, however, Infinite Mind and Script to Screen began production on a second version at the 14-month mark.”When the numbers on the original show began to drop,” Glick says,”we had Version 2 waiting.”

The second show launched in January 2004. Kerry says it was very similar to Version 1-deliberately so.”There is an interesting dynamic with infomercial sequels,” he says. The original show obviously was successful or there would be no question of a sequel in the first place.”So it isn’t necessary to change the show dramatically. In fact, we recommend against that. It’s more a matter of changing the wrapper than the content.”

The eyeQ product had an interesting story behind it, Kerry says, and the original show essentially told that story: How Glick and Flamm had discovered the program in Japan; how Pam Dawber came aboard after it boosted her son’s reading speed and comprehension; how easy it was to turn reading into a”full-brain activity” with exercises that lasted only seven minutes each; the dramatic improvements users achieved.

Version 2 did essentially the same thing, again using Dawber as the host. Glick says the main difference was that the first show”stressed the phenomenon of eyeQ and how unique it was. The second one put more emphasis on the experience people were having with it.”

Kerry says that a focus group played a key role in preventing Version 2 from changing too much. As the on-camera spokesman, Flamm was critical of his own performance in the first show.”He thought he wasn’t good,” Kerry says.”We sent the show to a focus group. They absolutely liked Jeff, liked his story, and liked the idea of a real person behind the product. They wanted to see more of Jeff, not less.”

Like the first show, the second performed well for more than a year. Again, however, planning and production of another version began well before the numbers started to drop. Version 3 of the eyeQ infomercial began to air in August 2005.

In the third iteration, Dawber was replaced as host by Pat Murphy-Stark, a lesser-known actress but a veteran infomercial spokesperson. And the nature of the testimonials from program users changed subtly. In the first two versions, Glick says, testimonials concentrated on the idea that eyeQ was fun and easy to use. In Version 3, the focus was more on the difference that faster reading was making in peopl’s lives.”All along,” Glick says,”about 65 percent of our buyers have been mothers aged 35 to 45 with kids in school. The rest of the market is mostly grandparents, businesspeople and college students. So we had people talk about getting better jobs, doing better in school, getting scholarships or spending less time helping children with their homework. We were hearing more of those stories, so we focused the third show on them.”

The results? Version 2 had produced a lift in MER compared with the average performance of Version 1, Glick says. As of one month after Version 3 launched in August,”there was no lift, but it’s performing at the same level as Version 2, which means MER is still up over Version 1.”

Glick won’t reveal actual revenue numbers, except to say that Infinite Mind now has more than $25 million in annual sales and expects to pass the $50 million mark within another year, partly by adding new products. But the MER estimate means the infomercial campaign, now into its fourth year, still brings in more than $3 for every dollar spent on media time. That is exceptional by industry standards.

Ironically, Glick says, Infinite Mind now gets a lot of calls from schools and corporate human resources departments-its original target markets.”Parents, teachers and administrators see the infomercial and want eyeQ for their schools. The infomercials work better for us in HR departments and school districts than knocking on their doors did,” he says.

When parents, teachers and administrators see the infomercial, they truly want eyeQ for their schools.

Though Infinite Mind now has branched out into one- and two-minute radio advertising and tried some two-minute television spots,”[long-form] DRTV is still, by far, the driving force behind our marketing,” Glick says.”It drives everything, including our success on the radio and pushing traffic to our web site.”

One reason, Glick says, is that a half-hour program”gives you a more ready buyer. We close 45 percent of the calls that come in from the infomercial. Our conversion rate on radio and short-form calls is about 30 percent. It’s a tougher sell at the call center with short form.”
Glick says he makes personal training trips to the Phoenix call center to talk to operators about”our vision, our expectations and how we want calls handled.” He finds that the personal attention pays off.”If I can get a 5- or 10-percent lift in conversions, I’ll take that any day.”

Infinite Mind is working as hard and as cleverly on other revenue streams as it has on its infomercials, making use of the best outside expertise it can find. Once the infomercial campaign was up and running, Glick reflects,”the challenge was to increase [revenue] through our web site, outbound marketing and other strategies. Do you just leave the leads in limbo or do you want to go after them?”

About 20 to 25 percent of the company’s revenue now comes from web sales, Glick says.”And we got a 100-percent lift in web traffic in the past six months when we started using Livemercial of Florida to handle our web advertising.” He explains that Livemercial Inc., with offices in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Valparaiso, Ind., helps with Web-marketing initiatives, he adds, including banner and pop-up ads, e-mail and search engine optimization.

“In retrospect, I wish I’d had the backend stuff together earlier,” Glick says.”But a lot of companies don’t ever do it, or don’t do a good job.”
Kerry observes that Infinite Mind is one company that needn’t worry whether it is doing a good job. It is unusual enough for a start-up firm to score a hit with its first infomercial. For a start-up to maintain and build upon its DR success for more than three years, he says, is extraordinary. Or, maybe he has that backwards. Perhaps what should be surprising, Kerry suggests, is that”so many companies are unwilling to reinvest some profit in next year’s success.”

Jack Gordon is editor at large for Electronic Retailer. We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, please point browser to


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