Speaking Directly: Infomercials now part of daily routine

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.In the...

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.

In the small mountain of material that I receive each week, two separate items that relate to the same subject – ‘infomercials’ – caught my eye.

The first, a news release from the Canadian Direct Marketing Association, applauding the recent decision by the crtc that exempts ‘teleshopping services’ from the need to obtain a licence from the crtc (provided they meet certain criteria) and which allows them to use full-motion video in their programming.

This, coupled with an earlier decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which allows infomercials to be broadcast during the regular broadcast day, essentially puts ‘made-in-Canada’ teleshopping services at parity vis-a-vis their u.s.-based counterparts.

As cdma President John Gustavson says: ‘Not only will [these decisions] create new business and job opportunities in direct response marketing, but [they] will also create jobs in the production of Canadian infomercials and teleshopping.’

The second item, a study of 6,000 ‘regular tv shoppers’ by Deloitte & Touche in Washington, d.c. and reported in Interactive Marketing News, portrays the tv shopper as being extremely similar to the ‘market average.’

For instance, the study says 26% of tv shoppers are ages 25-34, compared with 24% in the general population; 17% have a cellular telephone (compared with 11%), 76% have a vcr (74%), and 29% have a home computer (28%).

While tv shoppers do spend more time watching television (207 minutes a day vs. 170 minutes), they exercise or play sports at almost the same rate as the general population (40% vs. 43%), and are slightly more likely to attend sporting events (33% vs. 31%.)

Might it just be that this slice of mainstream society just finds shopping via their tv set more convenient than a trip to the mall?

The same issue of Interactive Marketing News referred to a Yankelovich Partners study (date unspecified) which indicated that 62% of retail shoppers ‘had decided to buy something in a store but gave up and left because sales clerks weren’t available.’

Also, this study noted consumer concerns as to the safety and security of visiting the local mall.

The long-overdue decisions by the crtc which give infomercials the full benefits of the medium, and the Deloitte & Touche study demonstrate this form of selling has become part of the daily lives (and purchasing decisions) of people in the mainstream of society.

More important, ‘paid programming’ available in sound, motion and color, day or night, will vastly increase the number of potential individuals and organizations anxious to profit from it.

The early indication is that many businesses – including ‘blue chip’ firms – will incorporate infomercials into their media mix, further legitimizing the medium.

Several leading firms have already tested the idea, and the clear indication is that more companies are anxious to get involved.

Expect to see banks selling car insurance in this way (as a supplement to direct mail), power retailers reinforcing their strategy with direct response tv, and travel wholesalers luring us with getaway vacations that are as close as the phone. (These three examples are obvious, what of those less so?)

In the context of business-to-business marketing, the driving force is a multi-channel sales strategy. Regular retail can, and should, co-exist with direct response.

Direct response can include several media, including mail, special events and shows, interactive voice, fax-on-demand, the Internet and infomercials on tv.

Take, for instance, Intuit, makers of Quicken, the market-leading personal finance software program.

Not only is Quicken found in virtually every computer retail store as well as office products stores, department stores, power retailers and direct sale catalogues, the company actively direct markets new versions of the software to its existing customer database.

Is this multifaceted sales approach negatively having an impact on Quicken’s business? I don’t think so.

At worst, these direct sale approaches provide end-user exposure to support the brand’s retail presence and, at best, they generate sufficient income so as to be worthwhile endeavors in their own right.

David Foley is a marketing consultant and an instructor in database marketing at York University in Toronto. He may be reached at (905) 940-8784; fax (905) 940-4785.