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How Infomercials Persuade

In response to But Wait … There’s More, a kind reader passed along a link to a wonderful interview between Andrew Warner and Tim Hawthorne (a producer of infomercials).

On how to orchestrate an immediate response:

..In order to do that, I think there are definitely certain products that fall into a category of generating immediate response. That’s why we say in direct response television that product is king. It would be difficult for us to sell, for example, an automobile with one click. Where by having someone call an 800 number, if you can get somebody to call a 800 number or to click for more information about a considered purchase, like an automobile, a washer/dryer, something of that sort. In order to get somebody to respond immediately, it has to fall into some categories that we would consider to be appropriate for immediate response. That’s why we say product is king. These particular categories tend to fall, in direct response television, I think there’s some similarities on the Internet, into categories such as fitness, beauty, diet, business opportunities, kitchen and home appliances, and things of this sort which are easily demonstrable and within a price range where an immediate response is very possible. Priced anywhere from $9.95 to let’s say $495. This is the price category and these are the product categories that seem to appeal mostly to people to make that immediate response, which is what we’re looking for in direct marketing.

Along with that, you’re looking at products that do appeal to certain key parts of needs of human beings. Among those are a need for love, a need for security, a need for acquisition or wealth, a need for pleasure. We can also take a look at products and see how they might be in terms of appealing to solving fears that people have or satisfying greed which is again acquisition or wealth. Also, products that somehow tap into guilt or exclusivity, the one-of-a-kind type of thing and those that build ego. When it comes to a product, people in direct response television, they can take a look at a product. They can see if it’s simple, if it solves a common problem, if it appeals to one of these very instrumental aspects of human nature. If it doesn’t, then it’s not going to be something that we would recommend anybody try in direct response television, and it’s probably not going to work on the Internet either.

Creating urgency

…Well, I think the first and foremost way to do it is to really define what we call “the big promise.” The big promise is, essentially, one line that you’re going to be putting out as your headline, somewhere, if it’s a video, somewhere within the first 5 to 60 seconds, as to what your product ultimately can do for an individual. The big promise and how it’s crafted is probably the most important thing you need to do creatively in putting together your commercial or your ad.

I’ll give you an example. We did a product for a client a number of years ago, which was a patterned, multi or dual roller, painting device. It was alike a roller paint device except it had a pattern and there were two different rollers on a stem so that you could actually create these patterns on a wall like faux painting, as they called it. It was called Wall Magic. What we determined was that this particular product was going to be excellent for people that really wanted to have a different look on their walls other than a flat painted wall and people that found it dreary and drudgery to paint any wall. We came up with what we thought was a big promise that would be effective. Here’s the big promise. Transform anyone’s home or apartment from ordinary to extraordinary in just minutes. What we tried to do here was to move beyond just the fact that you can paint something that’s pretty on your walls quickly and create a line that was going to appeal to people and their dreams of creating a home that’s much more beautiful than they’ve ever had in the past. They aren’t going to have spend a lot time and sweat about it. Transform anyone’s home or apartment from ordinary to extraordinary in just minutes. The big promise. That could be a headline. That could be a subject line of an e-mail. The big promise in crafting exactly what your product can do, the ultimate benefit that provides, is probably the most important thing in terms of creating an urgency to buy.

On talent

…I think that after the product, and if you’re doing a television commercial, after the product, the talent becomes actually the next most important factor of success. By talent, I’m talking about the presenter or the celebrity. You really don’t have that equivalence, I think, certainly in display advertising or any kind of text advertising on the Internet. In video, talent becomes really critical to the success, and we can talk a little bit more about that later.

On generating an immediate reponse:

…Creating an irresistible offer comes down to actually understanding some of the basic needs of an individual. Among those needs are, is that everybody wants a deal. Everybody wants to get something with dollars off. Everybody wants to get it quickly. Everybody likes to get more and more. These are some of the basic aspects of human nature. So, we try to appeal to individuals by structuring an offer that’s actually going to hone in on these aspects. Among those aspects is we’re going to be trying to add bonuses and premiums and discounts and coupons. Let me give you some examples of successful direct response television offers and many of these you’ve seen. You’ve seen not only in direct response but in print advertisings. In print advertisements, you have seen them on the Internet.

Here’s some of the basics. Buy one get one free, or get the second one at half price. So you’re getting an immediate discount. Buy one and get a second one super size, so you’re actually doubling or tripling the order. Buy one and the second is actually going to be double the size. Drop a payment. Let’s say that your offer is three payments of $19.95, that’s your initial offer. But wait, if you call now, if you order now, we’ll actually make one payment for you. So it’s only two payments of $19.95. So that’s drop a payment.

The $9.95 trial offer is something that’s worked very well for people in direct response for the last 10 or 15 years. That is for a product that’s going to be much more expensive than $9.95. Maybe $49.95, $99.95, $199.95, but you can try it now for only $9.95 or for the cost of shipping and handling. In that particular case, vendors obviously taking a risk. You’re only collecting $9.95, and you’re shipping the product to the individual. They are essentially required to return the product to you within 30 days or you will hit their credit card for the full price. Of course, they understand this when they call in or when they actually go to the website and actually affect the order. They understand that if they don’t return the product within 30 days they’ll be paying the full amount or they’ll be paying multiple payments after that 30 days. But a $9.95 trial offer, what a superb way to get people to just try your product for less than $10.

…Dollars off, you can say that it’s $99.95, but for the next 30 days 30% off or $30 off. Discounting immediately becomes very powerful too. Those are some examples of how to create an irresistible offer. One note that I should make here is that if you’re doing something in video and the process that you’re taking people through is linear in time, you actually build the offer over a period of one, two, three minutes. You provide the initial offer. Perhaps it’s $99.95 and you’re going to get A, B, and C. A minute later you say but if you call now we’re also going to give you premiums D and E. Oh, by the way, if you use your credit card, we’re also going to give you free shipping and at the very end, we’re also going to give you a free gift, which if you return the product, the gift is yours to keep. Just our saying thanks for you trying the product. You can see that over the period of two to three minutes we can actually build this offer with a number of different levels, providing the core offer with the high price, then additional bonuses, then potentially reducing the price instead of three pay of $33.33, it’s now going to be two pay of $33.33. Adding more bonuses, giving free shipping. So going through a process of actually building what we call a Christmas tree offer. By adding more and more that a person’s going to get makes it very enticing and irresistible, I think, as you can see

On the magical transformation

I’ll give you kind of a classic example of what we mean by magical transformation, and that’s in a diet show. Everybody’s familiar with, Nutrisystem, I guess. It could be long form or it could be short form. The before and after is somebody before they lost the weight and after they lost the weight. You will always see those images side by side eventually. It might be a full screen image, initially of the person before they lost the weight, squeeze it back, bring up the image of the person after they’ve lost the weight. They’ve lost 30 pounds. They’ve lost 50, 60 pounds. That’s a before and that’s an after. That’s what we call the magical transformation. Magical transformation is in essence how to showcase what your product can do for somebody. In other words, how is your product going to transform my life? Of course, if it’s a diet product, it’s going to transform me magically from being an overweight person to being a fit person. If it’s an exercise product, it’s is going to be the same way.

…Virtually in every infomercial, every direct response commercial you see, you look for the magical transformation and how it’s executed because it’s probably, it’s the thing that grabs people the most emotionally. How is the product going to transform my life?

For example, going back to vacuum cleaners which are very basic, it’s throwing a lot of stuff on the floor. You have a dirty floor, take your vacuum, one swipe across the floor and everything is cleaned up. Where that vacuum swiped, everything else is still dirty.

Magical Phrases

… One of the ways to do that is to first be aware of some of the words that are very powerful in direct marketing. I’ll give you a list of some of these. As I mentioned, “free” is still, I think, and will always be considered the most powerful word in selling. After that we would probably think of words such as now, you or your, easy, easily, guarantee, break-through, revolutionary, fast, quick, instant, magic, new, special, exclusive, limited time, risk free, only, save, money back, money back guarantee, call now, and in terms of a classic phrase, “but wait, there’s more.

Everybody kinds of kicks around that particular phrase and it’s used often. One of the reasons it’s used so often is that it’s so effective. … So here are some additional phrases. “This offer couldn’t possibly get better, or could it?” “But hold on, we’re not done yet.” “We know you’ll love.” “Call or log on now.” “You’re going to love this.” “And that’s not all.” “Call right now and you’ll also receive an additional free bonus.” “But hold on, I’m just getting warmed up.” “What could you possibly be waiting for?” Let’s see what else I can find here. “This is an unbeatable price.” “You don’t want to miss out on this one.” “What are you waiting for?” “This is an absolutely incredible deal, and you won’t find it anywhere else.” “If you aren’t completely satisfied, just return it for a complete refund. No questions asked.” Which is a classic phrase in direct response television, asking no questions is really critical. You don’t want to confront somebody when they’re returning something.

The real classic, I think, also is, “If you don’t like it, we’ll buy it back.”

The hard sell

The fact is, is that if you want to sell directly and you want to sell immediately, the hard sell always works best. There is no doubt in any direct marketer’s mind. As much as we would love to be selling soft, because nobody likes to be sold the hard sell which is telling people what you’re going to get, telling them what the product is going to do for you and telling it to them directly, there’s nothing that’s going to make the phone ring or people click and order more than the hard sell.

Is there anything else that you think is important?

I think that there are a lot of different things that are necessary, I think, to understand about great selling. There are some books which I probably would recommend …Books that people should buy to understand the basics of strong direct marketing and how to really sell on the Internet or on television.

Tim reccommends the following books:

Winning Direct Response Advertising, by Joan Throckmorton

Television Secrets for Marketing Success, by Joseph Sugarman

The Salesman of the Century, by Ron Popeil

The Wisdom of Ginsu, by Barry Becher & Edward Valenti

Or Your Money Back, by Alvin Eicoff

As Seen On TV, by Lou Harry and Sam Stall

But, Wait! There’s More!, by Timothy Samuelson

Triggers – 30 Sales Tools You Can Use to Control the Mind of Your Prospect, by Joseph Sugarman

Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, by Joseph Sugarman

How to Say It to Sell it, by Sue Hershkowitz-Coore

The Advertised Mind, by Erik Du Plessis

Advertising That Sells, by Miner Raymond

Whatever It Takes, by Avi Sivan

Winking at Life, by Wink Martindale

How To Win Customers & Keep Them for Life, by Michael LeBoeuf, Ph.D

Being Direct, by Lester Wunderman

All Marketers Are Liars, by Seth Godin

But Wait … There’s More!, by Remy Stern

Conceptual Selling, by Robert B. Miller & Stephen E. Heiman

How to Say It to Sell it, by Rosalie Maggio

Phrases That Sell, by Edward Werz & Sally Germain

Words That Sell, by Richard Bayan

More Words That Sell, by Richard Bayan

The Copywriter’s Handbook, by Robert W. Bly

Act Now! How I Turn Ideas Into Million-Dollar Products, by Kevin Harrington

How to Write Advertising That Sells, by Clyde Bedell