Editorial

Infomercials evolveDon't look now, but the lowly infomercial appears poised to leap into the mainstream of Canadian advertising. While infomercials have been much maligned in the past, and continue to have their detractors, advertisers have shown themselves to be increasingly curious...

Infomercials evolve

Don’t look now, but the lowly infomercial appears poised to leap into the mainstream of Canadian advertising. While infomercials have been much maligned in the past, and continue to have their detractors, advertisers have shown themselves to be increasingly curious about the bottom-line potential of long-format tv advertising.

In recent weeks, two leading Canadian advertisers, Ford of Canada and Midas Canada, both passed the talking stage and actually launched full-motion infomercials. Many ad agencies, including Young & Rubicam, which, together with Edwards Sterling & Pierce created the Ford infomercial, and Ogilvy & Mather, which created the Midas infomercial, have been actively exploring the format.

And as is reported in this issue of Strategy, a Toronto production company, Damast Gordon & Associates, has seized the moment and set about establishing an infomercial production division.

No one ought to be surprised at this turn of events.

As a form of direct response advertising, infomercials offer immediate results to a client community under tremendous pressure to account for the effectiveness of every media dollar spent. Anyone wishing to get a handle on where infomercials are heading need only look south of the border, where long-format spots are a regular fixture on daytime and evening tv. Many employ on-air celebrities and are quite entertaining. Lately, the trend seems to be towards giving infomercials the look and feel of regular tv programming by incorporating three-dimensional characters and well-developed plot lines.

Of course, broadcasters and cable operators in the u.s. can run full-motion infomercials at any time of the day or night, so it is little wonder the industry there is gaining prominence and growing creatively. Here in Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Canada’s broadcast regulator, has, for many years, stunted the evolution of the format through restrictive regulations that limit broadcasters to running a maximum of 12 minutes of advertising per hour. At the same time, it has not permitted the existence of channels that run infomercials exclusively.

The crtc imposed the regulations largely in response to the concerns of broadcasters that infomercial channels would siphon away revenues from traditional broadcasters and, conseqently, prove detrimental to the industry as a whole. Perhaps that argument was sufficient to sway the federal regulator at one time, but it is hard to believe it would today. Quite simply, the tv environment has been irrevocably altered by new technologies bringing about such wonders as the 500-channel universe and interactive tv.

In December, the crtc issued a public notice that it was considering exempting infomercial and home shopping channels from its broadcast regulations. Stakeholders were given until Feb. 8 to reply and now the crtc is in the process of considering the submissions. Canadian clients and their agencies can only hope it eventually rules in favor of an open marketplace.

Various estimates suggest Canadian consumers buy from $70 to $100 million worth of goods a year from u.s. companies beaming infomercials into Canada.

That’s business Canadian companies can ill afford to lose.