Infomercials are big news in the US and Robert Dwek advises the UK to
ditch its snobbery to reap rewards
Infomercials, in the US at least, have been around for some years, their
growth mirroring the explosion in cable television and airtime. But it
is only in the 90s that they have acquired a sense of respectability.
An impressive array of blue-chip advertisers have now used infomercials,
recognising the power of the 30-minute slot to explain and entertain.
Infomercials used to be confined to the murky world of smudge-free
lipstick, pocket fishing rods and gimmicky kitchen gadgets, but they are
now just as likely to promote computer software and financial services,
cars, soft drinks, beer, big cosmetics brands and even oil companies.
The advantage of an infomercial is its ability to look like a serious
piece of programming, thus gaining credibility. It is also nicely in
tune with the shifting relationship between advertiser and consumer:
increasingly, the latter wants more information and less glamour.
This trend is now accelerating with the growth of the Internet, which is
being used by advertisers in an infomercial sort of way. But UK
advertisers are not rushing into it. One obvious reason is that there
aren’t as many opportunities over here as there are in the US, and
regulations are tighter.
Perhaps less excusable is the high-handed dismissiveness towards
infomercials from some traditionalists in the UK advertising fraternity.
Infomercials, even ones broadcast at uncivilised hours, have been shown
time and again to be highly effective.
Ad agencies have a window of opportunity to convince clients that they
are the right people for the job. The US experience shows there may be
big competition later on from self-styled infomercial specialists.
Ford ran a series of infomercials in 1993 and 1994, initially using the
below-the-line specialist, Imagination, together with its ad agency,
Ogilvy and Mather. Later on, however, it dropped Imagination and gave
sole responsibility to O&M.
In the UK, infomercials can be seen mostly on satellite channels, such
as UK Gold, UK Living, Eurosport, CNN, NBC SuperChannel and, of course,
the US-based QVC Home Shopping channel - although this last is a very
different animal, restricted to a presenter-led, pseudo-live format.
Terrestrial TV stations are gradually opening up to the concept and the
upcoming Channel 5 is expected to provide a major boost for infomercials
in the UK.
Vauxhall launched its new Vectra model last October with, among many
other marketing initiatives, a 12-minute infomercial on ITV.
Screened at the ungodly hour of 5am, it was, however, flagged in a
national press campaign and was recorded by many of Vauxhall’s dealers
to show to their customers.
Will infomercials replace commercials? Smith and Nephew, which has used
infomercials for its Simple skincare range - ‘The Simple Programme’ ran
twice a day for six months on UK Living last year and helped boost
market share to a 30-month high - thinks not.
‘Infomercials should not replace advertising but they are a very useful
part of the marketing mix,’ Amanda Stearn, an S&N marketing manager,
FACTS AND FIGURES
Companies that have used informercials in the UK include: Norwich Union,
Vauxhall, Ford, Smith and Nephew, Timex, Clerical Medical, Pilsbury
Companies that have used informercials in the US include: American
Airlines, Apple Computer, Microsoft, Sony, General Motors, Philips,
Coca-Cola, Sega, McDonald’s, Procter and Gamble.
European infomercial sales are estimated at more than pounds 125
million, compared with almost nothing five years ago. In the US,
infomercial sales were already passed dollars 1 billion in 1994 and have
been rising ever since.
The average US spend on infomercial production in 1994 was dollars
290,000, compared with dollars 268,000 for the average 30-second ad.
Most advertisers (67 per cent) use traditional agencies, although an
increasing number (47 per cent) are turning to specialist infomercial