Note: This is a 'pre-print' of an article I wrote for a general audience unfamiliar with the infomercial industry. Insiders will forgive the rudimentary suggestions and simplifications.
In 2003, I left a successful dot-com startup to enter the infomercial world. I thought I knew quite a bit about marketing. I quickly realized how little I really knew.
Infomercials are like controlled scientific experiments in marketing. Each one lives or dies by the direct sales it generates during an initial testing period. Leading “As Seen on TV” companies test as many as 100 commercials each year, so there is no sentimentality about the ones that fail. They die quickly, and it’s on to the next experiment.
What this teaches you is exactly which marketing techniques work, and which ones don’t. Since 2003, I’ve helped create 397 infomercials (and counting). I have also analyzed more than 2,056 infomercials that weren’t mine, dissecting them on a popular industry blog I started in 2007.
Below are five tried-and-true tricks I know are proven to increase sales.
1. Start with a problem.
Most products and services solve an important everyday problem, yet few marketers take the time to articulate that problem. That’s a mistake we infomercial marketers never make. We know from decades of measuring results that getting a prospect to relate to a problem is the best way to prepare them for your pitch. We actually take things one step further by dramatizing that problem, often in a comical way that also helps cut through the clutter and grab attention. You don’t have to get as cheesy as we do to use this technique. Any sequence that illustrates the “old way,” followed by a smart presentation of your new offering, will do. Speaking of presentation …
2. Demonstrate with flare.
The first rule of infomercial success is to feature a compelling visual demonstration. “It slices and dices” was certainly a catchy phrase, but what made Ron Popeil’s Veg-O-Matic a household name was its amazing demonstrations, performed right before our eyes. Sounds like a magic show, doesn’t it? Well, the best infomercial marketers do indeed take this idea to the next level by coming up with demos worthy of a Las Vegas showman. To demonstrate toughness, we’ve boiled products in oil, frozen them in blocks of ice and run over them with military vehicles. To demonstrate strength, we’ve used products to pull trucks and planes, or lift boats and buses. All of history’s greatest salesmen had a flare for the spectacular. Our successes prove there’s a reason for that.
3. Emphasize your value.
Few products enter a market with zero competition. One of our time-tested tricks for addressing this challenge is the so-called “value comparison.” It not only emphasizes cost savings but also reiterates a key point of difference. Consider the recent explosion of ceramic non-stick pans. You could pay as much as $100 for a regular nonstick pan, only to have it get scratched and eventually wear out. Our ceramic pans don’t scratch, are guaranteed for life and can be yours for just $19.99 if you act now! (That’s a value comparison.)
4. Sweeten the deal.
As direct-marketing legend Joseph Sugarman once put it, you “sell on emotion then justify with logic.” After that exciting magic show, prospects need a logical reason to help rationalize their purchase. The easiest one to supply is a special offer. In the “As Seen on TV” world, our favorite options are buy one, get one (BOGO) deals and premiums (i.e. bonus products). It’s easy to overlook the significance of this technique. Here’s something most marketers don’t know: Improving an offer is the only reliable way to double or even triple sales. The offer is the first variable we test when an infomercial needs a critical boost. What’s more, the offer doesn’t have to make a lot of sense. Take that BOGO deal. There are many situations where people don’t need more than one of a product, so you’d think they wouldn’t be moved when you offer to double their order. You’d be wrong. A BOGO deal beats a single offer every time, usually by a significant margin – and even though the second one usually costs a little extra.
5. End with urgency.
Infomercials are all about creating the impulse to “act now.” A simple way we do this is with scarcity language. Even clichés such as “supplies are limited” have the desired effect. (Ethical note: Mail-order inventory is always in short supply, so this isn’t a lie in our world.) Infomercial marketers have also come up with clever ways to use this technique within their special offers. That’s how we got “call within the next 10 minutes and you’ll also get” and “the first 500 callers will receive.” What’s critical is to create a sense of urgency right before the moment of truth – that is, right before you ask for the sale.
You do ask for the sale, right? Directly, as in “go to this Website now”? Then you make sure to create plenty of distraction-free time for them to write down how to order, including repeating key information three times – right? No? Well, you should pay more attention to infomercials then. These five tricks are just a few of the proven methods we used to create a $250 billion industry.