Fine-Tune the Engine


There was a time when infomercials were considered a self-contained sales tool capable of engaging the consumer and closing the sale in one broadcast’s fell swoop. But in today’s fragmented, view-on-demand environment, it isn’t likely that many consumers are sitting still to watch an entire 28:30 paid program. Nielsen reports that 76 percent of consumers who own tablets use them while watching television, and 63 percent of smartphone owners do the same. In light of these statistics, the implications for how an infomercial should be structured are profound.


Historically, infomercials have been formatted into pods, with each pod capped by a call-to-action (CTA) where the marketer lays out the offer in detail and asks viewers to order. Most infomercials follow a two- or three-pod format, along with many other conventions that viewers have no doubt grown accustomed to over the nearly 30-year period since deregulation first ushered in program-length advertising. One could argue that these conventions create a kind of shorthand wherein viewers can quickly identify that they are watching a paid advertisement, and moreover, that they know what to anticipate if they are engaged in the messaging (e.g., the CTA is coming up).


However, given that direct advertisers now commonly report that as much as 70 to 80 percent of all direct orders are coming in via the Web, there is unequivocal proof that second-screen users have their interest piqued by the infomercial, then go online to obtain more information and make their decision on whether to purchase while there. The conclusion: Infomercials are now more of an awareness engine, instead of a one-stop mechanism for generating sales.


Second-screen users have their interest piqued by the infomercial, then go online to obtain more information.


“Much of our business has migrated to pure drive-to-Web campaigns,” says Peter Koeppel, president of DR media specialist Koeppel Direct. “This phenomenon is a direct response-to-consumer behavior, whereby the advertiser is inviting the viewer to explicitly engage with them online—which clearly, audiences are already doing.”


Given this fundamental shift in consumer behavior and the likelihood that audiences are watching shorter chunks of an infomercial, U.S.-based advertisers might be wise to take a page out of the global playbook, where shorter lengths and repetitious ads are a regular feature of television broadcasts. “Markets from South Africa to South Korea often run five- and 10-minute adverts,” says Nicole Andani, vice president, International for worldwide distribution powerhouse Northern Response. In Europe and other markets, she explains, 7:30 shows loop to fill 15-minute blocks of paid advertising. Such formats help save on production costs, too, because 28:30 of content, while preferred, is no longer a fundamental requirement for broadcast.


While the use of shorter lengths is sometimes driven by regulations, it ironically may have helped pave the way for formats that are more in-tune with what consumers ultimately want: succinct messages that allow them to make a decision about whether they are interested in a product or service quickly and easily. And that brings us back to the domestic market: What is there to say that two 14:00 blocks of advertising—whether looped to pitch the same product twice or showing two separate ads for different products—wouldn’t work in a world of distracted, dual-screen consumers? Why hasn’t the 5:00 format become more ubiquitous? And what are the implications for marketers in terms of how they organize their video assets online, given that this is where the preponderance of consumers end up? Isn’t it time that the industry’s marketers evolve beyond simply streaming a CTA on their landing pages, and start organizing their video assets to address prospective buyers’ questions and objections?


As anyone who has ever sat through an infomercial focus group can attest, consumers loathe redundancy. Yet repetition has always been a staple of the genre, driven by a belief that channel-surfing viewers enter and leave paid programs at will. Without a solid foundation of research that would help pinpoint data such as how long the average consumer watches an infomercial, the industry has been forced to rely on the anecdotal.


One example comes from Kristofer Johnson, vice president of business development at Delivery Agent, a company committed to turning the television into a commerce engine. “Based upon how we see orders coming in, it is apparent that after watching for a few minutes, many consumers leave,” he says. “But those who stay will almost always go online or even buy within 10 minutes.”



Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at and @thepetrydish on Twitter.