CREATING AN INFOMERCIAL

“There is no limit to what a person can do
if they don’t care who gets the credit”
— Anonymous

In order for an Infomercial to sell a product or service, it must harness all of the powerful selling messages and key selling elements, and organize them in such a way as to elicit a response from the primary target market.  The creative process used to achieve this desired result has evolved from a hit and miss, trial and error system to a real science and art.  Now, direct marketers, because of varying costs and associated risks, cannot afford to create anything but a winning Infomercial. 

THE 28:30 TIME CAPSULE

Think of it like this:  You have twenty-eight minutes and thirty seconds to sell your product.  That’s all.  So, if you were asked to make a presentation of your product in twenty-eight minutes and thirty seconds, what would you do, what would you say, what would you show?  That is precisely what an Infomercial is—in other words, an electronic selling presentation that offers a time capsule of the very best the product or service has to offer.

A good Infomercial features the benefits derived by ownership of the product or service.  It provides the most sincere and convincing testimonials.  It has the best selling messages embedded repetitively throughout the program.  And, it uses the best sales-closing techniques—words and phrases that sell, compelling copy. 

Think of the Infomercial as a “one-shot” opportunity to sell a customer.  It’s as if you were sending your best salesperson (electronic traveling salesperson) to someone’s home where they would sit down with the prospective buyer (one-to-one) and make a presentation directly to that prospective customer.  Imagine having only one opportunity to get the sale:  

  • First you must grab their attention. 
  • You must be able to somehow let them identify with the “common” problem and demonstrate (with emotional conviction) that this product provides the only solution. 
  • You have to overcome in advance any skepticism or objections the prospective customer might have to everything from price and value to the basic question: will the product really provide the benefits that are promised? 
  • You have to absolutely convince the customer that this is the product or service that they want and you have to make them act now.  
  • The beauty of the Infomercial is that as the salesperson, you are not alone—you get to include in your presentation anyone, anything and everything you think will help you make the sale. 
  • You get to determine who will do the talking and when. 
  • You choose every word that will be spoken or written for the viewer to hear or read. 
  • You get to choose the talent, the testimonials and endorsements. 
  • You get to create the exact style and format of the program that is most appropriate for your product or service.

STYLES, DESIGNS AND FORMATS

Each Infomercial has its own style or format, good or bad, it’s got one.  Which style or format is most appropriate for your Infomercial?  There are dozens to choose from, each with their own successes to boast about.  Would you like an audience participation ‘live to tape’ show like “Amazing Discoveries”, or “Psychic Friends”; a documentary/magazine approach like “Personal Power”, “SyberVision’s’ “Journey of Discovery” or “Hooked On Phonics”;  a dramatic story line approach like “SoloFlex” or “Gravity Edge”; the simple demonstration (pitchman approach) like “Miracle Blade” and “Wok of China”;    or a one person show like Susan Powter’s “Stop the Insanity”; a direct sale testimonial driven show like “Perfect Smile,” a news show, a talk show, a game show, a “live” seminar type show, a home shopping channel type show, or would you like a program style or format that includes a variety of the above elements? 

Although FMS Direct has produced an Infomercial in almost every style mentioned, I have found a combination of more than one of these “styles” to be most successful.  The most important thought one must always keep focused on is that an Infomercial is a commercial.  Naturally, it should be entertaining, but not to the exclusion of any sales.  Of course, it should be “comfortable” for the viewers to watch and listen to.  Of course, it should be pleasing to the eyes and ears.  However, no matter what the format or style selected for your Infomercial, the first step in developing that format or style is to again identify the essence of the selling presentation.  This is accomplished by listing the main benefits, the USP, the Key Selling Messages, Key Selling Elements, guidelines of the 21 basics of selling, and writing a “draft treatment” without regard to the format of the program.  Develop a powerful draft “ sales pitch” first.  Then you can go to the next step in the process.

MAKING IT ALL HAPPEN

At FMS DIRECT, our creative process is rather unique.  We have developed it over the years, and have had great success with it.  Let me share these “secrets” with you.  The first thing we do is to identify the “what” you’re selling and the “who” that you’re selling to.  Much of this is already done when you developed the comprehensive Marketing Plan which I think is absolutely essential to a successful direct marketing campaign.   During the process of developing the plan, strategic positioning statements for both the product and the company are identified.  This “image” is what you want the customer to think about when referring to the product or the company.  After that, we recommend that you identify in writing (list) as many Key Selling Messages or statements of benefits that you definitely want to have in the half-hour sales presentation. 

These Key Selling Messages are then translated into Power Statements that are inserted into the script.  I recommend you write at least 50 power statements using persuasive and compelling words.  These are affirmative statements or phrases that you imagine your product users might say, the talent might say, or what a professional salesperson would say.  These power statements should summarize and express succinctly the 50 most important statements that are to be used in the sales presentation.   For example, my client, EDGAR MORRIS, whose unique selling proposition was, The Ultimate Corrective Skin Care System For All People Of Color, used dozens of Power Statements to help sell the benefits of their products—ultimately the majority of these statements came from the testimonials of real customers.  Statements like, “Black is more beautiful with Edgar Morris”, or “This product was designed specifically for people of color, by an African American—who would know our skin better?”, or “I feel ten years younger”, “This product works, and I wouldn’t be here telling you if it didn’t.  It clears your skin.  You’re even toned, and as people of color, we have a tendency to be lighter in some places and darker in some places.  And the most wonderful thing about Edgar Morris is that he totally evens your skin out”, “It’s worth every dime.  I’d pay twice the price they charge me for it actually...because it works”, “It’s a great investment”, “These people are not paying me to say that Edgar Morris is number one. It is number one.  Unmistakably number one and it needs to be in your home, on your face today!”  Do you get the idea?  These are power statements! Power statements like these need to be embedded in the program itself and presented repetitively by everyone, from the talent, to the testimonials, to the voiceover announcer. 

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Whenever possible identify, analyze and review scripts and Infomercials for similar products.  By studying these successful Infomercials or commercials, you will immediately see the common key selling messages and selling elements, (and power statements).  Using the Key Selling Messages and the Power Statements, we then write an extended commercial draft, possibly four to eight minutes. This helps to establish the framework of the sales presentation and it helps to determine the questions you will be asking your testimonials, or the areas you will want your credentialized spokesperson to address. This first draft of a commercial can then be revised many times as the process continues.  Be sure to get feedback and input from successful DRTV copy writers.  The commercial copy will improve as the production marketing research process continues, as you will see. 

TESTIMONIALS SELL IT LIKE IT IS

Therefore, this lengthy “draft” commercial becomes the essence of the “selling presentation” of the Infomercial.  At this point in the process do not write the entire Infomercial to be delivered solely by the “talent”. I firmly believe Infomercials gain power and resulting sales when many people come together to build a compelling case for a product or service – this includes host, testimonials, credentialized endorsements all coming together to deliver a powerful and convincing message concerning a most remarkable product or service. 

PEOPLE BUY FROM PEOPLE

We recommend getting at least 50 testimonials, primarily from real customers, product users, plus “credentialized authorities” and celebrities, when available.   Our objective is to have these individual and actual product users and endorsers speak from their heart as they express all of the key selling messages and benefits that we have already identified.  These people are interviewed in such a way as to create a rapport, a resonance or an agreement with the primary target audience which then as I mentioned earlier, triggers what I call the “Nodding Effect” (people agreeing with the statements made by internally expressing “that’s true”). 

My position is this:  If one can take all of the selling messages or power statements that have been identified during the Marketing Plan and “creative brain-storming” stages, and have real people “deliver” the copy, one would automatically have a powerful sales presentation.  Why?  Because people buy from people—people that they can relate to and trust.  Testimonials should, whenever possible, be the primary “delivery system” or vehicle for the sales presentation.  Think of it as weaving a tapestry in which the testimonials represent the thread and most of the colorful materials that are woven together to make up a beautiful whole. 

The reason I suggest interviewing at least 50 customers for their testimonials is because each prospect from your primary target market will identify with more than one person.  You should use all types of real people representing a cross-section of your primary target market.  Men, women, children, young, old, overweight, thin, tall, short, blue collar, white collar, different ethnic backgrounds, married, single, etc.

Again, it is very important to interview as many testimonials is possible. Just  as is the case when producing a commercial, when you produce three to test, one will almost always be more effective than the others.  The more testimonials you interview, the stronger and stronger will be the final testimonials you select for your presentation. If you interview only 20 testimonials, you may not have the best.  If you do between 20 and thirty, you may find that number 25 is by far the best testimonial.  Between 30 and 40, you may find that the 32nd testimonial is absolutely better than the 25th and so on.  That’s why if you interview at least 50 testimonials, you are assured of several “bests.”  Believe me, the extra effort and expense involved in interviewing many testimonials, will pay great dividends in the long run.

TELL IT FROM THE HEART

Being clear in advance about the outcome you desire is vital to getting the best out of the people you will interview.  Therefore, prior to the actual interview, the interviewer or interviewers (I have found it best to have two or three people involved in this process) should carefully study the “selling messages” and “power statements” in order to be sure to capture all of the required messages.

I firmly believe that this interviewing process of testimonials, whether it is from a customer, a “real person”, or “credentialized authority” is crucial to eliciting the right emotional response from your audience—one that will trigger the decision to buy.  It is the testimonials that develop instant rapport with the primary target audience.  It is the testimonials that instill confidence in the product and company. Testimonials reinforce the need for the product.  The viewer will “see” themselves and accept the selling messages if they are delivered convincingly by “real people” or “credentialized authorities.” 

There are several things that we tell our testimonial people in advance.  First of all, you need to let them know to talk from their heart, speak from their own experiences.  I always make it clear that I do not want to put words in their mouth, and in fact, will not do so.  It has to sound the way they talk—it has to be natural to them.

I also always tell the interviewee that if the product really does help or benefit them in the ways that they describe, then they are helping other people. I remind them that they are actually providing a valuable service.  But it has to be real.  They have to really feel the conviction that they have about your product or service.  You want them to be sincere and passionate.  And you must let the interviewee know that you will only put something on the air that is true.  This challenges the person to feel their belief—their conviction.  I can’t stress enough the importance of creating in your viewer a sense of “I’m like that person”.  This, in turn, creates trust, and a belief that that person is telling the truth.  It is purely an emotional response and one which triggers the impulse buy in direct response television advertising.  The viewer is now convinced that this is a “real product with real benefits” and that he or she would like to try the product, believing it will work for them because it’s worked for others.  Remember, “People don’t by products or services; they buy how they imagine using them will make them feel.”

I also challenge the interviewees to help us as a marketing partner of the company. I let them know that they can contribute to its advertising and marketing efforts.  It’s been my experience that customers really like to be a part of the creative process that will sell the product.  Something they say might become a key ingredient that we will use in our advertising campaign for years to come.  Many times we’ve asked them, “What do you think of______?” and then we’ll list some marketing slogans and subheadings, etc. or the title of a particular marketing program.  The answers and opinions we receive often inspire a whole new creative approach—one that is well worth investigating.

By interviewing real people and offering them the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life by expressing their feelings about the product, and how the product makes them feel, we often get the most compelling and convincing testimonial “sound bites.”

THE PROCESS CONTINUES . . .

Once these testimonials are filmed or videotaped, window dubs of them are put on VHS or DVD with time-code indicators at the bottom of the screen.  Verbatim transcripts of the testimonials are then prepared.  Although these transcripts are in our hands as we watch the video or DVD, rather than referring to the transcript,  we prefer to listen carefully and watch for a statement or story that is so compelling that we stop the tape and note in the transcript that “this is a compelling testimonial we may want to strongly consider for the program.” 

Infomercials that we have produced with at least 50 testimonials have required as many as thirty hours of actual footage.  Therefore, the next part of the process is to edit those thirty hours down to two or three hours.  From those two or three hours of testimonials, we then identify and categorize the statements that we have selected in which the selling messages are present.  Usually these categories relate to specific benefits, power statements or key selling messages that we have already identified and want to include in our Infomercial.  The complete edited transcripts become our “natural ingredients” for our Infomercial recipe.  We edit these down to approximately 10 to 15 minutes and use the copy points (many times the actual words) received from our true believers (testimonials) to complete the script. 

A primary reason for doing the testimonials before writing the Infomercial script is that during the interview process, we are actually doing more market research.  After all, who knows more about how to sell this product to other consumers than those people who have already bought the product and love it? 

EXPECT A MIRACLE

When we ask existing customers to express their true feeling about a product, why they bought it, support it and why they would recommend it to others, something always happens that amazes me.  It’s what I call “magical moments”.  Words, phrases, emotions and ideas are often expressed in ways that are absolutely magical.  During the interview process, significant themes will emerge from the testimonials which become key selling messages of the half-hour Infomercial or other marketing vehicles. 

The testimonials will ultimately make up about 25 to 40 percent of the Infomercial (another reason not to script the program before doing the interviews), and so we put a great deal of time and energy into using people that our primary target audience can identify with and trust—making statements which people at home can relate to.  Because of the quantity of footage used for these interviews, the editing process can be a long and arduous one.  However, like all television or film productions, it comes together in the editing room.  By juxtaposing real people testimonials with credentialized authorities or the celebrity host, the sequences are stitched together to make a most glorious tapestry.  Hopefully, it will be a masterpiece that sells, sells, and sells.

THE ART OF EDITING

The post production phase—editing—is vital to the success of any commercial production.  Perhaps, even more so with Infomercials.  Why?  Because the decisions made in the editing room are, many times, “good after thoughts” that can actually increase the selling power of the Infomercial.  Until one actually edits two scenes together, or views an entire segment (after editing), it is difficult to get a sense of the timing, rhythm and feel for the production.  The juxtaposition of the testimonials with other selling segments can only be determined in the editing room.  It can be planned in advance, yes.  However, until it is a reality, in a linear viewing format, you don’t know how it will make you feel or react.  This is what I enjoy most about the sometimes tedious work in the editing room.  The moving of scenes around to see which syntax has the most power is time consuming, but very rewarding.  For when a particular scene or sequence works, there is usually unanimous consensus. 

If you interview enough people who really and truly love the product you are marketing, they will come up with words and feelings that not even a gifted writer would have thought of.  The spontaneity and genuineness that you discover when cutting down those hours of testimonials to just minutes is absolutely incredible.

Since the editing room is where it all comes together, it is here that the creative team (director, producer, editor and sometimes writer), must make sure all of the Key Selling Messages are reinforced every 7 to 10 minutes.  It is in the editing room that one creates the off-line versions (rough drafts to determine final on-line script and edit list).  We generally make several off-line versions 30 to 45 minutes in length.  We also make sure that we’ve met our objectives of expressing all of the 21 basics of selling, etc. 

It is not uncommon to identify a missing ingredient in your “tapestry” during this off-line process.  If this happens, more video or film elements (perhaps digital paint box computer graphics) are then shot, and re-edited into the off-line.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE WRITTEN WORD

Take advantage of all of the various methodologies to present your selling messages.  Use the written word in visual selling statements.  Words That Sell can be displayed on the screen to add value to the presentation.  Meaningful, attention-grabbing pictures and graphics must be prominent throughout your Infomercial. But words “say” exactly what you want your customer to know.  Words that are “printed” on the TV screen (through the use of Character Generators (CG)) can stimulate a variety of reactions from your audience.  They can change your customers’ attitudes. They can reinforce the selling presentation by making it more of a “whole brain—left brain, right brain approach”.   Printed words can stop the channel zappers and keeping your primary target market tuned to the program.  On one of the Infomercials I produced, I began with the words on the screen, “The following is a paid advertisement for Design Dye.  The audience participation was unrehearsed and spontaneous.  Testimonials were volunteered for free.”  I remember the first time we previewed the program to a focus group, several people expressed their amazement that the testimonials in the program were unpaid.  They were impressed by that.  But they wouldn’t have known the testimonials were not paid for unless they had seen the written announcement on the screen.  Virtually every Infomercial FMS Direct has produced, we include during the presentation the following: “stay tuned for an opportunity to test this product in your home - Risk-free.” These words written on the screen tell the viewer something I want them to know. Think of the statements you can make to help sell your audience and incorporate them in a visual context.  My philosophy is to bombard the senses with the selling messages from a variety of sources.  Words visually displayed on the screen provide a very powerful source of motivating information that moves viewers to act.  Use them often and you will be on your way to producing a successful Infomercial.  

ICONS, LOGOS AND TITLES

Another very important element that comes together in the editing process is the utilization of graphics.  Professional salespeople have known for years that a prospective buyer is more apt to listen, learn and know the good reasons for ownership of a product, if the salesperson can just get the prospective buyer to look at something.  This something can be anything from a chart, graph, benefits of ownership vs. not owning, list of other buyers, testimonials, etc.  The point is, graphics do show more than words can say.  Pictures show exactly what you want your customer to see.  

Much has been written in this book about the importance of focusing your message towards your primary target market.  A simple technique that I use to stop my target audience from switching channels, is to visually display a graphic, icon, logo or words on the television screen for at least 60 to 80 percent of the time.  Virtually every cable network is now doing this with their corporate logo, CBS, TNN, VH-1, FOX, CNBC, etc. Why do you suppose they identify themselves?  For the same reason, you want to have your product name, company name, program title or key selling messages on the screen—to help viewers identify with the program. 

Let me give you a couple of examples:  In our Infomercial, “Freedom From Pain”, we had a computer generated graphic of this title strategically placed in the bottom lower fourth of the screen for most of the program.  Now, let me ask you:  If you are flipping through the channels, and you see a television program entitled, “Freedom From Pain,” are you going to watch a bit of it?  Well, you probably wouldn’t if you didn’t have any pain.  If that were the case, you wouldn’t be our primary target audience, would you?  However, if you have pain, you would probably watch enough of the program to see exactly what it was about. Great.  The title/logo did its job.  It helped us identify the primary target audience.  (By the way, the title of the program is also a very powerful selling message for this program).  For the Edgar Morris Infomercials we alternated between the title of the program, “Your Face Is Your Passport”, and the company/product name, Edgar Morris, along with its subhead, The Ultimate Corrective Skin Care System For All People Of Color”.  By displaying the visual graphic and words, we not only developed identity with our target market, we helped create product recognition and brand name awareness.  Edgar Morris is a household name to African Americans thanks to its product recognition generated from the Infomercial.

A TEAM EFFORT

The creative process for producing a successful Infomercial is definitely a collaborative one.  It takes a team of highly skilled and trained professionals who truly desire to get the best possible results from the Infomercial.  The group needs to work together from conceptualization of the creative strategy to copywriting, directing, editing, and post production.  Successful Infomercials often require a dedication that goes beyond some television or movie productions.  The bottom line is results.  So the individual egos that often clutter up the small set on some “shoots” are usually not present during the production of the long-form commercial.  There’s a saying that has been hanging on FMS Direct’s wall ever since the Financial News Network was founded.  It reads,  “There Is No Limit To What A Man Can Do If He Doesn’t Care Who Gets The Credit”.  God knows, I couldn’t do half the things I do without the help of other talented people who support me, and do so without asking for credit.  I would venture to say that the same is probably true for all of us.  It might be better to say that the creative process for producing an Infomercial is really a Co-Creative Process.  It’s a cooperative, creative process that honors interdependence.  Not only does this kind of team spirit create win-win working relationships, it constructs an informative, educational, newsworthy, entertaining and powerful presentation that sells the product.  Isn’t that what you want?

“Call Now 1-800 -  How to Profit from Direct Response Television Advertising”  Copyright 2006  Rodney H. Buchser

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