The Business of Infomercials: Taking Cues from Late Night Sales

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

How do infomercials still work, and what lessons can we learn from the cheesiest product pitches out there?

If you enjoy watching late-night television, you’ve no doubt seen sales-heavy infomercials. Even if you’ve mocked their cheesy scripts, you’ve probably felt the temptation to pick up the phone and shell out your credit card info for that snazzy new vegetable chopper. That’s because infomercials are actually more effective than you think.

Direct Response Television, a.k.a infomercials, is forecasted to rake in a collective $250 billion dollars by the end of 2015. That number seems surprisingly monstrous at first. Who the hell could be buying that many Snuggies and Bowflex workout machines? The answer is a lot. Those sleeved-blankets earn $400 million dollars worth of product each year and George’s grills garner $202 million. Other products like Proactiv, the cure to acne, brings in $1 billion annually, while Showtime Rotisserie’s has banked a total of $1.2 bill since they first used DRTV.

So how do they do it, and what can you learn from their selling tactics?

Related Article: Is Your Sales Pitch More Like Apple or the US Army?

Have a backstory

Almost every infomercial asks the viewer, "Are you tired of…" or "Do you wish…" They do this to establish a need. Whether you’ve actually ever experienced difficulties using a blanket without sleeves is irrelevant; the point is to bring the annoyance to your attention.

Effective salesmen identify a shortcoming in the current market of related products, and then provide the only possible solution: their own product. Whether you sell face-to-face, via email, or through other marketing channels, make sure you define and clarify the need you’re filling.

Show your product in action

Identifying a hole in the marketplace isn’t enough. Customers want to know how your product will work. And they want to understand visually. Use images or videos on your website and marketing channels to show the product in action.

Do you have a revolutionary kitchen utensil? Post a video of someone preparing a meal. Do you sell Chia pets? Reveal the magic behind the Ch-ch-ch-ch-chia seeds in the form of photos.

Use testimonials  (preferably from celebrities)

According to WebDAM, customer testimonials have the highest rate of effectiveness for all types of content marketing, coming in at 89 percent. ProActiv banks on customer testimonials, using before and after shots of pre and post product-using clients. This proves the effectiveness of their product. Then they hit a home run by asking beautiful celebrities like Katy Perry and Jessica Simpson what they think about ProActiv.

Having a well-know spokesperson might be costly, but it could also be worthwhile in the end. George Foreman made $200 million off his grill, which he neither created nor manufactured. The real product innovators couldn’t even land a deal with a manufacturing company until they signed with Foreman.

Related Article: Lessons from Business School: You Can’t Spell “Sales” without Four Ps

Use scarcity tactics

Consumers need a reason to act now, not later. And one way to persuade customers into buying immediately is using a scarcity tactic. Infomercials are infamous for the one-liner “only for a limited time”. But there are more subtle ways to employ the principle of scarcity. For example, Lily Pulitzer’s website entices consumers to take action by displaying a countdown until a sale ends.

Consumers need a reason to act now, not later. And one way to persuade customers into buying immediately is using a scarcity tactic.

(Source: Shopify)  

Use infomercials

Infomercials work. But what about investing in a late-night/early-morning spot for your own business? Is it worth it? It can be, but you have to think bigger than targeting insomniacs. Many brands aim at the goal of acquiring the “As Seen on TV” logo that will attract major retailers like Walmart or Bed, Bath, & Beyond. In fact, 90% of TELEbrand’s revenue in 2007 came from retail sales rather than from late-night viewers.

Image via Kickstarter.

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