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Infomercials If you've got a product that lends itself to a live demonstration, you may want to think about infomercial advertising.

By Kathy J. Kobliski

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What It Is:
Half-hour TV commercials (also done sometimes on the radio) that are very similar in appearance to a news program, talk show or other non-advertising format and that provides consumers with in-depth information on a product or service

Appropriate For:
Any business with a product that's best sold with a demonstration or explanation--especially a new product that needs an introduction to consumers

Typical Cost:
$20,000 to $250,000 on average, depending on the length of the infomercial, talent involved, location, product size and complexity, and many other factors of production

How It Works:
First, let's all admit we've watched a few and move on. Maybe it was because we were too tired to change the channel or perhaps we were actually drawn in by the subject matter and didn't realize the program was really an infomercial. While they used to be relegated to airing overnight, usually between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., they now also run during the day on the weekends, where the channel guide reads "Paid Programming." A good clue that you're watching an infomercial is that the commercials within the program advertise the same product!

There's a lot to be said for being able to give a live demonstration of your product so that consumers can actually see how it works--how easy or difficult it is, how large or small, how sharp or dull, or how effective. This is a form of advertising you don't want to attempt yourself. Hire a professional to guide you through this multi-faceted process. Even television stations aren't set up to handle the making of an infomercial from beginning to end. They don't have the capability to provide the set design, scripts, show format, celebrity acquisition and testimonials, just to name a few of the elements that go into the process. They can shoot the footage in the beginning and edit the whole thing together at the end, but everything in-between is out of their realm.

Most advertising agencies can help you with the production of your infomercial. They can be responsible for such pre-production details as budgeting, scouting locations, promotion and public relations, research, any construction needed, and much more. One solution is to hire an advertising agency to create the "pieces," such as the testimonials, the set designs, the scripts and the talent, and then bring everything to the TV station to put it all together. Your television sales reps may also be able to recommend companies, such as Hawthorne Direct or Producers Direct in your vicinity that can handle your project from start to finish. To find a company in your area, run a Google search for "DRTV production companies."

Your infomercial will seldom be watched by anyone from beginning to end, so you must break up the half-hour show into separate, interesting segments with a "closer" or "call to action" at the end of each segment. While your toll-free phone number, website URL and/or P.O. box address should stay on the screen at all times, a "closing" segment should take place every ten minutes or so to encourage people to buy immediately or to offer a list of store locations where the product can be found. Then move right on to a new segment.

Keep your messages moving. For instance, a car dealership may showcase its used cars in one segment, then move on to its service department, then present its new cars, then show testimonials. The idea is to keep the audiences interested without boring them to death and to keep the half-hour fluid.

Businesses with products that don't change much over time can more easily recover the cost of making an infomercial because they can produce just one and use it for years. But the infomercials for some businesses have a much shorter shelf-life because the footage is constantly becoming outdated (the car dealership, for example). Owners of these type of businesses need to continually bear the cost of revising or creating entirely new productions year after year.

Infomercials take time to produce. For instance, if you want to include testimonials, you have to find the right people and, depending on the product, you may even have to travel to shoot footage of them. Multiply your travel costs by the number of testimonials you want to use in your infomercial, and you can see that just that portion can take a week or more. When all is said and done, you can probably add another week or more for selecting your music, editing the footage, and getting the copies (dubs) made for whatever stations you'll be running it on.

When it comes to televising your infomercials, you'll spend anywhere from $100 to $3,000 per spot, on average, to buy actual air time. Since most of these ads run overnight and on the weekends, the per-spot cost isn't quite as high as it would be during any other time of the day or evening. It all ads up--it's not territory for the faint of heart or the small of budget to explore. And because you won't know if your infomercial is a good one--meaning one that works--until it actually airs, it only makes sense that you start with professionals who know the ins and outs of creating infomercials to give yourself the best chance of success. And for this reason, you'll want to test your long commercial in a small market and not cast a wide net until you know if it's working for you!

Although the industry's reputation is improving, there are still infomercials that may make this form of advertising difficult to be associated with. Psychic readers, get-rich-quick schemes, and all those too-good-to-be-true infomercials where they say you can lose weight without any effort make it hard for others to be taken seriously. So be sure that if you use infomercials, you follow through with your fulfillment and return policies--and that your product or service lives up to what you promise your audience.

Kathy Kobliski is the founder of Silent Partner Advertisingin Syracuse, New York. She is also the author of Advertising Without an Agency Made Easy.

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