It Slices, It Dices, It Sells: The Infomercial

ByABC News
November 19, 2002, 10:48 AM

N E W  Y O R K, Nov. 20 -- How much would you pay for the thousands of products sold through infomercials?

Before you answer, consider that nearly two-thirds of all Americans report seeing infomercials and that there are more than 1,000 products a year sold that way.

Consider the numbers: In an average month, 300,000 infomercial spots appear on 36 national cable stations and 1,800 broadcast stations, according to Elissa Myers, president of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA), the industry trade group. To watch them all would take you roughly 1,027 years and it might seem longer. Direct response television advertisers spend more than $800 million annually on media, according to Response, a trade publication based in Santa Ana, Calif.

Now how much would you pay?

If you're the American consumer, the answer is $14 billion; that's the annual amount of products marketed via infomercials, Myers estimates. This is more than Americans spend on movie tickets.

Shopping as Entertainment

The infomercial has long been the object of ridicule. That comes with the territory. But attention must be paid, for the signs are everywhere that long-form advertising, as it is known, is not just liked, it is well-liked.

Nearly 63 percent of all Americans aged 16 and over "have experienced" at least one form of infomercial, the ERA says. More than one in four Americans have responded to the ads by dialing up and buying. Characters in movies are forever shown watching the spots and they have long been fodder for late-night comedians, perennially satirizing the hucksters pitching vegomatics and Ginsu knives.

But the king of late-night comedians, at least, has joined forces with the subject of his satire. Over the last three years, Carson Productions has partnered with Respond2, an infomercial advertising agency based in Portland, Ore. They have sold 2.5 million videos and DVDs that mine the Tonight Show archives, which is comparable to the DVD/video sales for a hit Hollywood movie.