Magazine article Insight on the News

Now That's Infotainment!

Magazine article Insight on the News

Now That's Infotainment!

Article excerpt

No longer just a novelty, infomercials are big business -- even the Republicans plan to package their San Diego convention as one.

What do Ron Popeil, Volvo and the GOP have in common? All three understand the selling power of television.

Popeil made a fortune using the tube to shill gadgets and gewgaws from the "Amazing Vegomatic" to the "Pocket Fisherman." Volvo used a series of infomercials to strengthen brand loyalty among consumers. Now, with the GOP convention scheduled for August, Republicans have announced they will broadcast their own coverage of the convention live from San Diego -- the better to convey their message directly into the homes of millions of Americans.

Infomercials, once the providence of hucksters hawking spray-on hair to insomniacs, have developed into a $4 billion industry that comprises extended programs and dedicated television shopping channels. Viewers still can catch Suzanne Somers squeezing every nickel out of the "Thigh Master" which, along with "The Abdomenizer" and "Soloflex," is a legend in infomercial marketing. But the audience for infomercials is expanding. "I think that Ross Perot has got to be credited for really expanding the notion of what can be done using infomercials through what he did during the 1992 election," says Chris Ourand, a spokesman for the National Infomercial Marketing Association, or NIMA.

And the types of products or services being offered are changing. "When Bill Gates wanted to launch `Windows 95; he used infomercials to do it," says Ourand. "We're finding that there's a new market out there for products that may be too complicated to sell through regular, 30-second TV spots, but long-format advertising can be used to inform the consumer who will then go to the store and purchase the product."

Created in 1984 when the Federal Communications Commission deregulated television advertising, infomercials came into their own with the expansion of cable TV. …

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