Infomercials have long been associated with late night television and, over time, were integrated into the daytime hours as well. Who hasn’t seen them? Many have achieved fame while others quietly went away only to be buried and never remembered.

In the 1980s it seemed like television infomercials were everywhere. Over the years infomercials have evolved into its own segment of advertising.

Known today as direct response television, or DRTV, it is now a staple in television advertising. But are these long-form ads dying out in an Internet age? How well does this selling technique work in 2016?

Credit: Jason Rogers via Flickr/CC by 2.0

History of the Infomercial

The first infomercial, created by the Vita-Mix Corp., aired on live television back in 1949, suggesting early adoption of this form of advertising. However, it really didn't take off until the 1980s.

In the early 1980s then President Ronald Reagan had deregulated the television industry through the Cable Communications Policy Act, allowing broadcasters to sell larger blocks of time to advertisers. New cable television networks were also moving forward at full steam during this era so it was a good marriage for service providers and advertisers.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s infomercial production companies experienced a lot of success. This drove more entrepreneurs and businesses to promote products during those late-night hours. Business was booming and marketers looked for new ways to attract the public's attention. One of those strategies was to hire celebrities to tout their products.

Celebrity Endorsements as a Selling Technique

Celebrities are a strong selling technique for infomercials because they garner a lot of interest and the public typically likes to hear what they have to say. Many an infomercial production company has hired celebrities to stand up and smile as they sponsor products they swear by. How many of us are familiar with "The George Foreman Grill" or vividly recall Suzanne Somers' promotion of the "Thighmaster"? How about Richard Simmons and his promotion of  exercise regimens? Then of course there was Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network.

All of these now famous products are examples of infomercial merchandise over the years. The strategy of bringing celebrities into the mix to attract attention to the merchandise became a winning formula.

In 1999, a study found that marketers who placed celebrities in DRTV spots could typically find a 20 percent increase in response rates. In December 2013 it was said Proactiv, who has aired many celebrity endorsements, was pulling in more than 1.7 billion a year in revenue. 3

Will the TV Infomercial Survive in an Internet Age?

Fast forward to 2016. Although the infomercial experienced a long run of success, from time to time questions of its long-term viability emerged. Earlier in the year Slate published an interesting piece on May 4 that posed the question, "Is the infomercial dead?" Apparently, it is not. Many infomercials continue to keep up a strong television presence and gain wide brand recognition from it. 1

Advertising blocks of time are cheaper and television networks can fill up the space without having to worry about actually producing anything. According to a March 2015 estimate by PayScout, a provider of merchant banking services, the infomercial industry was anticipated to reach $250 billion by year’s end. 2 According to the report, that’s two and a half times the size of the broadcast television industry.

While some infomercial programming takes place during the daytime hours, the advertisements are still primarily run between the 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. hours. – the “graveyard” slots. Not a bad deal considering late-night infomercials are far cheaper to run than 30-second daytime commercials. These TV spots are basically used to test the proverbial waters to see if consumers like the products. Doesn’t sound like an industry that’s suffering. In fact it doesn't sound like an industry that is impacted much by e-commerce at all.

Credit: moleshko/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Real Deals, Scams or Inferior Products?

It has long been speculated if many of the infomercial products are scams, and some of them are fraudulent, but others are definitely not. Without all the glitz and glamour of the framework that traditional commercials have to make a statement in a short allotted period of time, the longer, but simpler infomercials are repetitive and can go more in-depth about the product.

Their long-time stigma of being a lowly way to advertise has evolved into a profitable channel and marketers have demonstrated the ability to sell through DRTV due to its prolonged existence. If infomercials weren't successful in their durability, companies wouldn't continue to invest and pour valuable advertising money into producing them.

Whether the products are always worthy is a different story. Like any marketing claim, consumers need to do their homework. Some products appear to fare quite well with no problems, but others have experienced legal difficulties. For instance, one very popular hair care maker has found itself in court as of December 2015 after several consumers complained the formula was making them go bald. 4 Then there is Kevin Trudeau, the man convicted of running several scams and lying in his infomercials for decades with claims of miracle diets and natural cancer cures. 5

But even though there are a few bad eggs, for the most part, many products sell well and find their way into larger markets.

A Winning Formula

Advertisers design infomercials in hopes consumers are attracted to the presentation of the product and the appealing price that goes with it. When an infomercial production company creates an eye-catching campaign with a fabulous price, there's a good chance it will gain success in luring some viewers in to watch it. After people see the same infomercial repeatedly, they begin to recognize the brand and the product becomes embedded in their memories.  

Infomercial production companies seem to have come up with an effective idea in marketing products and, over time, developed a winning formula. Even if people don't buy the promotion products outright from the infomercial itself, it's usually only a matter of time before those same products arrive on the shelves of stores.

If you take a gander around many malls across the United States, you're bound to run across a few kiosks that sell "just like on TV" products, and they carry all the merchandise you've seen for years on various infomercials. Even some department, drug and discount stores carry more than a few of the products that initially made their debut on an infomercials.

As seen on TV
Credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr/CC by 2.0

And that’s the ultimate goal to bring in the real profits. Gain brand recognition and then be picked up by Walmart and the other giants.

Infomercials have enjoyed decades of longevity and it doesn't look as if they have become obsolete yet. With a good marketing strategy and a convincing dialog, it seems the sky is the limit.

[ Related Reading: Radio Advertising: Still Worth Considering? ]

Original 1949 Vitamix Infomercial - Papa Barnard