Infomercial Junkie: How She Got Hooked...Are You Next?

A Seattle mom has spent thousands buying more than 50 infomercial products.

May 13, 2011 — -- Don't call her an addict: Marisa Woolsey prefers the term "junkie" -- "infomercial junkie," that is.

Woolsey, a Seattle mom, has spent thousands of dollars buying more than 50 infomercial products in the last year alone. Her stash includes the Ninja Blender, the Magic Bullet -- also a blender-style product -- the George Foreman Grill and the Han Steam Sanitizing Mop. Under every sink in her home, you'll find ShamWow towels.

And what infomercial junkie's collection would be complete without that famous blanket with sleeves, The Snuggie?

Watch this FRIDAY, May 20, when "20/20" teams up with Consumer Reports for a one-hour special, "Infomercial Nation."

When her purchases arrive, "it's like Christmas," Woolsey said. "I just rip it open and just go crazy." After trying them out, she writes about her experiences on Facebook and in her new blog, Confessions of an Infomercial Junkie.

Woolsey's infomercial infatuation began when she was working the overnight shift as a home care aide. Watching infomercials -- hundreds of them -- helped her stay awake, she said.

The infomercials had a particular allure: They promised a better and easier life. Trapped in a tough job, Woolsey was hungry to buy in to that dream.

"I'm always wondering. Does that work? I really just have to know. And it drives me crazy," she said.

Why are Woolsey and so many of us susceptible to the infomercial pitch? When a hot new product seduces us, researchers believe we're excited with anticipation as our brain is flushed with the addictive pleasure chemical dopamine.

The ads work by playing to our basic emotions, said Ben Popken, editor of Consumer Reports' The Consumerist blog.

"There's not a whole lot of higher level cognitive thinking going on that infomercials are targeting," he said. "Fear, need, greed and sex. That's what they're going after."

Kevin Harrington, one of the stars of ABC's Shark Tank, has launched over 500 infomercial products that have raked in more than four billion dollars. What makes an ad tick, he says, is a "tease, please and seize" strategy.

The "tease," he said, is usually an opening scene where viewers are presented with a problem -- a problem perhaps, you may not realize you had. You might often hear an announcer say, "Has this ever happened to you?"

It's followed by the "please," in which viewers are informed how to solve that problem with a demonstration that showcases the product being sold. Testimonials from satisfied users can also help make the case.

The clincher is the "seize." "You may be on the fence, so to get you over the fence ... (they) offer something else," Harrington said.

That something else may well be a free additional product. The word "free," said psychology and marketing expert Robert Cialdini -- the author of the book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," -- has "enormously positive associations in our mind."

If you're still resisting, infomercials pull out a trump card. "Buy now," they warn, "or the offer will disappear."

"That spurs people out of their chairs...because they don't want to miss this scarce opportunity," Cialdini said.

But buying later instead of buying now doesn't necessarily mean you miss out on those so-called limited time offers.

"We say, 'Order now,' but in almost all cases it generally is available at a later time also," Harrington said.

The sales tactic that often ensnares Marisa Woolsey is what's called the "upsell," when extra products are pitched to consumers after they call or go online to buy.

Those extras, along with steep shipping and handling charges, are big profit makers for marketers. But all the buying is a strain on the Woolsey family budget, so Marisa Woolsey took a second job to support her habit.

Woolsey said she believes she could quit her buying, but she's not 100 percent certain.

"There's no guarantees," she said, "if I see something that I think I might need."

Watch this FRIDAY, May 20, when "20/20" teams up with Consumer Reports for a one-hour special, "Infomercial Nation."