Every day is an opportunity to learn something new.  In a most unexpected chain of events, I’ve recently found myself exploring the nuances of infomercials.  I share a few fun facts that came as wonderful surprises to me and hopefully prove both interesting and one day value-add to you:

First, background via Wikipedia for non-insomniacs:

An infomercial is a form of television commercial, which generally includes a phone number or website. Most often used as a form of direct response television (DRTV), long-form infomercials are typically 28:30 or 58:30 minutes in length.[1][2][3] Infomercials are also known as paid programming (or teleshopping in Europe). This phenomenon started in the United States, where infomercials were typically shown overnight (usually 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.), outside of peak prime time hours for commercial broadcasters. Some television stations chose to air infomercials as an alternative to the former practice of signing off. By 2009, most infomercial spending in the U.S. occurred during the early morning, daytime and evening hours. Stations in most countries around the world have instituted similar media structures. The infomercial industry is worth over $200 billion.[4]

The final sentence, with added underlining, is astounding.

The Economics of Infomercials (courtesy of Priceonomics.com, tagline: “In Data We Trust”) relates a similar statistic and a broader context, again with emphasis added:

These products certainly put the “fringe” in Post Late Fringe. It boggles the mind that anyone would want to buy them. But they’re serious business. Collectively, the U.S. market for infomercial products stood at $170 billion in 2009 and could exceed $250 billion by 2015. In fact, with the worth of the entire U.S. network and cable industry estimated at $97 billion as of 2013, DRTV is much bigger than TV itself.

If nobody’s watching TV during the Fringe/Graveyard shift, who’s buying $200-250 billion worth of product? To put that into perspective: $250 billion will represent at least an entire percentage point of the U.S. GDP in 2015. Infomercials may be uniquely American, but how can they account for such a giant slice of America?

Going a few steps deeper, this excerpt from Why Infomercials Work is a great latticework (…as in latticework of mental models) to understand this massive, yet invisible, industry:

…did you ever stop to think how in 28 minutes and 30 seconds they can take you from not knowing of their product to picking up the phone and placing an order? (That’s the part that is truly amazing.)

So how do they do it? How can I go from ShamWhat(?) to ShamWOW and actually be excited to buy one in such short time? It’s all about mastering the customer buying process – and there is no better example of it than an infomercial.

Here are the steps of the customer buying process and thus the steps an infomercial takes you through:

1. Create Awareness

  • First all infomercials must introduce you to their product. They make no assumption that you have ever heard of the product before. They outline all the features of the product in high detail showing you the in’s and out’s of everything about it.

2. Create Need

  • Next after you are aware of the features of their product, they walk you through all the benefits. How their product will save you time, or money, or hassle, or all three. Typically they solve a problem you didn’t realize you had until they point it out to you – and all that creates need.

3. Create Urgency

  • Next, infomercials are masters at creating urgency. Have you ever seen an infomercial that had a timer going in the corner of the screen? “Call in the next 30 minutes and pay just 3 payments instead of 4!” They force you to believe that now’s the time to act on this need.

4. Evaluate Choices

  • Once the viewer actually needs a product like this and is looking to buy one, they typically compare themselves to other options. Other products can’t possibly do it better, or faster than their product. Comparing other options that a buyer may be considering and showing what is better about their product removes these other options from consideration.

5. Resolve Final Risk

  • Lastly, there is always no risk. “If you are not 100% satisfied, just return it for a full refund. What do you have to lose?” They know if you try it, there is little chance of you returning it, so “what do they have to lose” by making an offer like that?

But wait, there’s more!