What Is an Infomercial?

An infomercial is a longer-form video or television advertisement that acts as a stand-alone program to pitch a good or service with a call to action. Infomercials are different than regular commercials because they last longer and have no breaks in the program. As a result, infomercials are able to present more details about a product or service. The purpose of infomercials is to prompt the viewer to call a toll-free number or visit a website to make a purchase.

Advantages of infomercials for companies include there's more time to showcase a product, demonstrate how it works, and present a persuasive call to action (CTA). The term infomercial is a combination of the words "information" and "commercial." However, in Europe, they're referred to as "paid programming" or "teleshopping." 

Key Takeaways

  • An infomercial is a longer-form video or television advertisement that acts as a stand-alone program to pitch a good or service with a call to action. 
  • Infomercials are different than regular commercials because they last longer and have no breaks in the program.
  • Infomercials usually appear on television during off-peak hours and can run from a half-hour to nearly one-hour long.

Understanding Infomercials

Infomercials typically include a lengthy attempt to sell a product or service by appealing to the viewpoints or interests of the viewer. Infomercials usually show a toll-free phone number and implore the viewer to "call now," and that "operators are waiting" for what is described as a "limited-time offer." Infomercials can run as a video online or during a television time slot. In any format, an infomercial will contain a call to action, such as an incentive to act immediately.

How Long do Infomercials Last?

Infomercials may be run in short or long segments. Shorter infomercials typically are two to four minutes in length and tend to be structured as several back-to-back independent commercials for the same product or service. Longer-form infomercials may take up a half-hour or hour-long time slots (28:30 or 58:30 in length) and tend to be aired during late-night programming slots between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Infomercials occupy what was previously dead air time when television stations would typically sign off.

When Times are Infomercials on T.V.?

Infomercials are famed for appearing on television during off-peak hours, typically late at night or early in the morning. Advertising rates for these hours are lower than during the day, allowing companies selling their products to buy up more time than they would be able to if advertising on a popular television show. Also, T.V. stations earn revenue from infomercials, which help to offset the lack of advertising revenue that's typical from shows during off-peak hours.

How Infomercials Got Their Start

Infomercials came to prominence during the 1980s in the United States after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relaxed rules that limited the amount of commercial content that could be shown on television.

According to the FTC, any infomercial that runs longer than 15 minutes must tell viewers that it is a paid advertisement. Infomercials are seen by many as employing sensationalism, half-truths, and exaggeration. Over the years, claims made by some products sold by infomercials, such as weight-loss and penile enlargement, have been found to be fraudulent

Examples of Infomercials

Infomercials are commonly used to sell a variety of products ("As Seen On T.V."). Some examples of popular infomercials include:

  • Proactiv acne system has featured celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Jessica Simpson.
  • P90x Workout videos and DVDs were highly successful and started by Tony Horton.
  • Total Gym exercise system featured Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley.
  • The George Foreman Grill sold approximately 100 million units and was endorsed by former boxing champion, George Foreman.

Other popular infomercial products included Ginsu knives, ShamWow towels, and the Flowbee vacuum haircutting tool. 

Infomercials are also commonly used to sell dietary and sexual health supplements, memory improvement aids, personal fitness equipment, and more. Such advertising may also be used by religious figures or politicians that are seeking donations.