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 from 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.

An advantage of infomercials for companies is an increased amount of 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 from 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.
  • The cost of an infomercial is significantly cheaper than that of a commercial, particularly for the length of time that each airs.
  • Viewers have come to regard infomercials with skepticism as sometimes the exaggerated claims do not live up to expectations.

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 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 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 helps to offset the lack of advertising revenue that's typical from shows during off-peak hours.

History of Infomercials

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 Federal Trade Commission (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.

Infomercials vs. Commercials

Both infomercials and commercials have the same objective: to sell a product or service. The way in which they go about it, however, differs significantly. Commercials are short and snappy, just a few seconds long, traditionally 30 seconds. Infomercials, on the other hand, range anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour.

Commercials can have an artistic focus, usually feature a voice-over or narration, and are placed during popular television viewing hours. Infomercials are typically a full demonstration of a product. The infomercial identifies a need and proceeds to demonstrate in detail how the specific product can resolve that need and urges the consumer to take swift action to purchase the product right away.

An infomercial will show all the advantages of the product, do away with any negative concerns, and feature testimonials.

Commercials are expensive because they run during times when a large part of the population is watching television. Infomercials are usually shown late at night and the costs are significantly less than that of a commercial.

Global television ad revenue is predicted to exceed $177 billion by 2023.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Infomercials

Most Americans watch television as their primary means of entertainment as opposed to listening to the radio. An infomercial will thus be more impactful in raising brand awareness because it will reach more people. Infomercials are also a form of entertainment because they last for a long time and feature demonstrations and testimonials. This works as a form of engaging content that draws the viewer in, rather than a commercial an individual would rather avoid.

A commercial is short and can only do so much in conveying what the advertised product or service does. An infomercial, on the other hand, has a lot of time to show exactly what a product does and how it can benefit the consumer. Infomercials are also a cheaper form of advertising than some other traditional routes, such as large national commercials and advertising campaigns.

Despite these advantages, infomercials do come with a certain stigma, often in the form of exaggerated claims. As such, infomercials are often considered not believable, preventing viewers from making a purchase.

Another disadvantage is that not all products will sell using an infomercial format. Products that are easy to demonstrate with clear benefits do better in infomercials compared with products that are complex or require detailed explanations.

Pros
  • Lower cost when compared to regular commercials

  • Entertaining and engaging for the viewer

  • Ability to demonstrate the product in full

Cons
  • Exaggerated claims leading viewers to doubt the effectiveness of the product

  • Shown late at night when television viewership is low

  • Products that are difficult to demonstrate don't do well in infomercials

How Do You Make an Infomercial?

To make an infomercial you will need to identify a problem that challenges your viewer. Then you mention the most common solution to that problem, the one that the majority of people turn to. The next step is to then point out why that is wrong by demonstrating why it is more difficult or not as effective. Then you introduce your product, discuss its value proposition, and then demonstrate why it is better than the common solution. You then cap off your infomercial with a special offer that draws the viewer in to make a purchase.

How Do You Become an Infomercial Actor?

The best way to become an infomercial actor is to first start out by taking acting classes. Then start applying to commercial listings that are available online or in newspapers. The best way is to make it to castings and try for the role. Once you get a few jobs and experience under your belt, from there it'll be easier to get more jobs.

What Was the Most Popular Item Sold in a U.S. Infomercial?

There have been many popular items sold through infomercials. These include Proactiv, the George Foreman Grill, Bowflex, and P90x.

The Bottom Line

Infomercials are a form of video advertising that lasts for a long period of time, usually from 30 minutes to an hour. They provide an in-depth demonstration of a product and urge the viewer through a call to action to buy the product. Infomercials have been characterized as sensational and viewers regard certain products with skepticism as they can fail to live up to the exaggerated claims. Regardless, infomercials are less costly to make than regular commercials and can be part of a marketing strategy for businesses to reach consumers and increase sales.