Infomercial Tricks of the Trade: How to Avoid Getting ShamWow’ed
I’ll be honest. I am intrigued by the ShamWow.
Anything that can soak up that much liquid and have the capability of being used over and over and over again is okay by me. I never thought society would be able to top the paper towel. I stand corrected.
And the price can’t be beat either. When I first heard the price of the ShamWow being $29.95, I was thrilled. Less than 30 dollars for a life-changing product is a steal. But then the affable ShamWow spokesman dropped the price to $19.95. And then he added another ShamWow towel for free. Even better, he had operators standing by to take my call. How could I say no?
I didn’t, and now I have two ShamWows collecting dust in my garage, waiting for me to spill motor oil (not included). Those ShamWow people got me with their infomercial, and they got me good.
My ShamWow experience is probably like any number of infomercial tales of attraction, hasty decision, and regret. Infomercials have a strange, likable quality that gets the American consumer in the buying mood. But how do these interminable ads do it? It’s not like they are well-produced pieces of television art. It’s not like Mighty Putty keeps us alive. And it’s not like we have to sit there and watch the entire infomercial through to the end. We can change the channel. We just don’t.
The infomercial folks are doing something right because for every one person who guffaws at the audacity of hot dog bun warmer, there is another person out there dialing the phone. Whether it be a two-minute blurb on World War II DVDs or a 30-minute “Set it and forget it” marathon, infomercials have found a way into our hearts and our wallets. Here are some of their tricks of the trade.
I cannot tell you how many garden hose infomercials I could recite to you word-for-word. Infomercials have a way of seeping into our consciousness, burrowing a consciousness cave, and hibernating until our payday. We simply cannot get some of them out of our heads.
They accomplish this feat by airing constantly during the same program. On some stations or at certain times of the day, you can see the same commercial three or four times during a movie or sporting event. And when you magnify that commercial into a two-minute sales pitch, it becomes much more noticeable, annoying, and – oddly enough – memorable.
Plus, the way that infomercials work adds a sneaky subconscious quality to the equation. They are designed to stick in your head by repeating themselves over and over again (especially those hypnotic phone numbers). They are the antithesis of vague jean commercials; they prefer to drive home their point so that you’ll be sure to know what they’re selling. Don’t get down on yourself if you can’t seem to shake products like the Bejeweler. That’s the way the Bejeweler people wanted it.
If there is one thing that consumers like, it is getting a deal. It doesn’t matter if the product is a piece of junk or not; deal hunters are just happy to be saving a few bucks. Hence, Big Lots.
Infomercials take full advantage of this flaw in humanity by fire-selling their junk to a laughable degree. No matter the starting price at the beginning of the commercial, that price will be hacked and slashed to pieces by the end. Infomercials have sneaky ways of adding value, too. They split the big payment into tiny, baby payments. They double the offer or throw in more free junk. They add expediency to the issue by claiming a “limited time offer.”
And one of their favorite tricks is marking down prices until they get to that magical, mystical, hypnotic price of $19.95. What is it about that price that gets people scrambling for their cordless phones? You’d think the whole world was taught to “Act Now” whenever they hear those digits. In a sense, we were. Prices that end in odd numbers (like 99 cents, for instance) appear less expensive to us than do numbers ending in evens. Also, setting a price that is right below a commonly used currency, like the 20-dollar bill, helps us see exactly how feasible a purchase would be. We can’t help that we bought three backpack purses. It is in our nature.
Meeting a need
Every great infomercial aspires to create a need for the product. Well, almost every great infomercial. We’ve yet to figure out the need for the Obama coin.
Creating a need and selling a product that meets that need is the infomercial calling card. You might think that your skin care is taken care of before you watch that Proactiv commercial, but by the time Jessica Simpson breaks out the photo album of her breakouts, you’ll be throwing out the oxy pads and phoning in for a money-back guarantee Proactiv sample. Whether it is through personal testimony, visual aid, or real-world application, infomercials have their methods of convincing us that life isn’t complete without a little more junk in our lives.
One of their methods for doing so is in their marketing. The brains behind the infomercials know what works to get consumers to buy certain products. They write the correct dialogue and create the optimal graphics. They know when to take a humorous, light approach to a new-fangled gizmo and when to go the traditional, serious road with a fancy doodad. The writers of infomercial copy have a way of making the most useless product seem valuable. Well, except for the Obama coin.
With these infomercial strategies in mind, hopefully you’ll have a little more perspective next time the ShamWow commercial comes on TV, and maybe you’ll even be able to resist that urge to “Act Now” no matter how great the price looks. After all, aren’t two ShamWows enough?
Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 at 6:12 am