There’s nothing quite as powerful as seeing an everyday Joe or Jane appearing onscreen praising the virtues of a product based on his or her own experience with it. Phrases such as “It helped me lose 100 pounds,” “It saves me hours each week,” or “It worked so well, I threw out all my other kitchen appliances,” are key to grabbing the attention of channel-switching viewers for more than just a few seconds.
While they can be a driving force behind the success of many products, however, testimonials can be risky propositions for some infomercial marketers. On the one hand, they lend credence to the product’s claims, but on the other, they have to be vetted to be completely legitimate, or the marketer can be subject to FTC actions.
Ed Gaut, founder of Infomercial Testimonial Group (ITG) in Costa Mesa, Calif., as well as Detuag, Inc., and Opinion Tester focus groups, says that what makes a testimonial effective is a believable visual result, and a genuine, honest articulation of the user’s experience—one that creates a connection with the viewing consumer.
“The effective ‘real person’ testimonial connects with the viewer and creates the‘Hey, that could be me’ effect.”
—Ed Gaut, ITG
“The effective ‘real person’ testimonial connects with the viewer and creates the ‘Hey, that could be me; that testimonial reminds me of my story; if they did it, I can too, and maybe it will work like that for me’ effect,” Gaut says. “Noticeable, yet believable, honest results from real users that ultimately connect with the viewer—that’s what makes the money. If it’s genuine, the viewing consumer will pick up on that, and if it’s scripted or forced, they will pick up on that, as well.”
Marketers get the most mileage out of televised testimonials, but they can also be effective on the Internet, in print, on billboards, and even at events such as trade shows—basically anywhere one wants to generate attention for a product, program, or system.
Gaut says that a true testimonial study can be a cost-effective and fast way to generate material for an investor’s promotional reel, prequalify claims for production, and generate advertising content that sells itself. If done properly, testimonials should answer the “What’s in it for me?” question that customers are asking.
Peter C. Marinello, director of the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) and vice president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc., agrees that what makes the consumer testimonial particularly effective is that the representation of performance comes from the mouth of a satisfied consumer, not the advertiser.
“While consumers may be wary about believing the performance claims of someone with an obvious material connection to the product (i.e., the advertiser itself), a statement about the effectiveness of a product from someone who has actually purchased the product is more persuasive to a fellow consumer,” Marinello says. The optimal time to use a consumer testimonial is “any time a marketer is focusing on product results or product performance.”