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What is an Infomercial?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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Some products can be successfully pitched to the public through the usual 30 second commercials inserted into prime time programming. Others, however, may require a little more explanation or promotion in order to appeal to a niche market. Instead of producing a standard print ad or 30 second spot, some companies use a long form video format known as an infomercial. An infomercial is generally a combination of information about the product and a promotional commercial.

An infomercial can be scripted in a number of ways, depending on the nature of the product and the buying habits of its intended demographic. Some infomercials duplicate the format of a television talk show, with either a recognized television personality or a skilled actor portraying a host. The product is usually presented as the topic of an extended interview with the inventor or other "expert." Between interview segments, a more traditional television spot gives viewers more specifics on the product's price and ordering method.

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Sometimes an infomercial employs the services of a professional "pitchman," an actor who specializes in product promotion. The format of this type of infomercial generally follows the pitchman as he performs demonstrations or brings on other guests to put the product through a series of comparison tests. Audience members, many of whom are paid extras, may offer personal testimonials about the product or agree to take part in the demonstrations. Sometimes the pitchman is portrayed as a professional who would use the product regularly, while other times the pitchman is more of an enthusiastic amateur who strongly believes in the merits of the product.

Another common infomercial format, particularly with exercise products, uses high production values and techniques to produce a sampler of the product. Attractive models may demonstrate the equipment or participate in group exercises while a recognized fitness trainer or celebrity pitches the benefits of the program. Because an infomercial can last 30 minutes or more, the advertiser can use a mixture of personal testimony, expert opinion, animation and celebrity appeal to persuade viewers to order the product.

Because television advertising rates vary from hour to hour, many infomercials are broadcast during overnight hours or weekend afternoons when local stations have more openings in their programming. This often means the infomercial may not reach a substantial audience during a single showing, so the same infomercial may be broadcast several times a week in order to reach more potential customers. Many infomercials also employ eye-catching video or memorable catchphrases to create a lasting impression on viewers.

Although a number of modern infomercials have found mainstream acceptance, the infomercial format still has some challenges to face. The claims made about a product in an infomercial, for example, are not always examined as rigorously as claims made during a television news interview. The credentials of "experts" interviewed during an infomercial can be difficult to verify. The fact that most, if not all, audience members are paid performers also casts some shadows on the credibility of an infomercial. An infomercial can be an effective form of advertising, especially for niche market products, but claims about the product should be examined by the consumer before purchase.

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