Why I Love Infomercials and You Should Too!



Who hasn’t ever watched Ronco rotisserie salesman Ron Popeil tell you to “set it and forget it” or marvel while someone shows how they created their perfectly chiseled body in a P90X class?

Ever since the FCC lifted advertising time restrictions on television in 1984, the airwaves have been chockablock with high-buzz pitches hawking everything imaginable. I love them. These infomercials represent some of the absolutely best examples of content marketing you’ll ever find. They’re clever, compelling and tell stories that resonate with people.

And they offer lessons that marketers ought to take to heart.

Lesson 1: They use storytelling to inspire emotions

Nearly all of us have watched one of those commercials for a few minutes, a half hour or many half hours. Infomercials tell wonderfully compelling stories about human beings that we all can relate to in some way. They may make us feel hopeful; they may make us feel more optimistic, they may make us feel more alive – the point is that they make us feel something. If you’ve ever watched an exercise infomercial, you can almost believe you’ve just completed a workout. (Hey, I’ve burned calories just watching them go through their paces!)

The best infomercials feature the smart use of visual images and personal testimonials to help convince any fence sitters watching that this would be a perfect fit for them. And they do wonderful jobs telling stories that get viewers emotionally involved.

Great marketers understand that it’s about how people feel, not about what they think. People may think based upon rational ideas but they act on feelings. We want to get them to act but we first need to get them to feel. What infomercials get right is the focus on the human element and what it means to people, not just what a product does. That’s the way to draw us in.

One company that gets this right is Patagonia, who used storytelling to turn their customers into activists. The company, which sells high-end outdoor goods, also has a mission to improve the environment. The company long relied on its owned media – both catalog and website – to foster its message of conserving the environment amidst its wares for sale. And through this consistent, cause-driven promotion, Patagonia fans remained loyal customers and believers in the company mission. Show your customers some love by making them feel like their voices are heard and that they’re a part of your greater cause—it will make a big difference.  

Lesson 2: They go hand in hand with attribution metrics

The smart strategy behind infomercials isn’t solely focused on the fact that they can influence viewers’ feelings. The marketers behind infomercials can be extremely disciplined about measuring the economic impact of their story telling.  Based on the phone number someone dials or website they hit, marketers have clear metrics about what is working—by ad, channel and time slot. They will pull multiple levers to find a mix that gets the outcome they really matters—a purchase.

We’ve all seen scattered, irrelevant marketing storytelling across the web.  Combine that with the cryptic attribution metrics that so many of marketers rely on every day.

Lesson 3: The narrative passes “The Two Drink” test

If marketers are ever going to better connect with people, they must frame their stories with the right lenses.  A marketing friend of mine has a great little trick when he gets stuck or just created some jargon-laden blather that doesn’t mean anything intellectually or emotionally.  He applies what he calls the `two beer’ test.

Imagine sitting down for a drink with a friend while you describe your product. What would you say? Would they smile and lean in, or start to check their phone?  If you really want to grab someone, you would serve up a few anecdotes as part of a fun story with colorful, compelling details. And after that first drink, you might loosen up even more and really get into the actual story. You wouldn’t focus on product specs; you’d talk about why your product really matters.

Next time you are passing across the channels and land on QVC, pause and check it out.  They have been connecting with viewers for 29 years. There’s no secret formula at work. QVC succeeds because they know that the path to people’s wallets is through their hearts, not their minds.

It’s a lesson that all content marketers would do well to take to heart.

PS—And yes, you now have a new excuse to watch that P90X commercial!

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