Do you watch infomercials?

If you said no, you probably are the 1% of the population who are actually too busy working, then resting to be charged for the next day.

If so, give yourself a nice pat on the head for being a class A personality super achiever… followed by a big smack across your face.

Why? Because you can learn a LOT from infomercials.

How effective are these insanely cheesy late night ads? (src)

Collectively, the U.S. market for infomercial products stood at $170 billion in 2009 and could exceed $250 billion by 2015. In fact, with the worth of the entire U.S. network and cable industry estimated at $97 billion as of 2013, direct response TV is much bigger than TV itself.

To put that into perspective: $250 billion will represent at least an entire percentage point of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2015.

I used to watch infomercials ALL the time (I even bought Don Lapre‘s 1-900 get rich quick scheme in college) because of the way the information was presented was so fascinating.


Sidenote: Lapre killed himself after the officials were after him with 41 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, promotional money laundering, and transactional money laundering. .. which is why I always say, don’t do shady marketing. It will eventually find its way back to bite your ass. And if you really want to know what’s involved – I personally have been burned on few – stories here, here, and here. Remember, I warned you.

I still watch them because the way my imagination gets rolling as I watch is completely different: I am on the producer’s side instead of the consumer’s side. So I look for things like

– what, what, and how they say things
– how they structure the offer
– how they employe weapons of persuasion
– how the offer runs in other media channels (online, radio, TV, etc.)

Of course, what are all these tactics for ?

Simple: Influence.

The marketer is trying to influence you to part with your cash in exchange for his product or service.

Of course, these “weapons” of influence aren’t random: they’re based on scientific and time tested principals on what works in direct response marketing.

If you ever read “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, he outlines 6 principals that “influences” others to say yes to you.

1) Social Proof – “You should do this because others are too”

The most obvious use case of social proof is testimonials.

You should buy this because peers like you are buying this.

But sometimes, just pointing out a fact or case studies can be just as effective. (src)

A study done in Beijing used a restaurant menu as the vehicle to analyze human tendencies. When the menu listed certain items as most popular, those items became 13 percent more popular than they had been. If our friends or colleagues are raving about something, we have a tendency to give it a try. That can include anything from food to the latest technological advance. And if the item or concept is something we don’t have time or desire to study, it’s almost as if those pushing ithave done the research for us.

A clear example is a pricing table that “infers” this:


Another good example?

How online review sites (albeit some review sites are quite evil) has star system where people are “trained” to give their dollars to a business with most stars.

2) (Subtle) Scarcity

Sometimes as marketers, we try to be as blunt as possible about what our customers would miss out on if they didn’t act NOW.

Understandable, but sometimes subtle can be way more effective.

Robert Cialdini talks about Colleen Szot who changed 3 words that exponentially increased conversions of the fitness machine NordicTrack: (src)

Szot changed three words to a standard infomercial line that caused a huge increase in the number of people who purchased her product. Even more remarkable, these three words made it clear to potential customers that the process of ordering the product might well prove somewhat of a hassle. What were those three words, and how did they cause sales to skyrocket?

Szot changed the all-too-familiar call-to-action line, “Operators are waiting, please call now,” to, “If operators are busy, please call again.” On the face of it, the change appears foolhardy. After all, the message seems to convey that potential customers might have to waste their time dialing and redialing the toll-free number until they finally reach a sales representative.

Yet, that surface view underestimates the power of the principle of social proof: When people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look outside themselves and to other people around them to guide their decisions and actions. In the Colleen Szot example, consider the kind of mental image likely to be generated when you hear “operators are waiting”: scores of bored phone representatives filing their nails, clipping their coupons, or twiddling their thumbs while they wait by their silent telephones — an image indicative of low demand and poor sales.

Now consider how your perception of the popularity of the product would change when you heard the phrase “if operators are busy, please call again.” Instead of those bored, inactive representatives, you’re probably imagining operators going from phone call to phone call without a break.

In the case of the modified “if operators are busy, please call again” line, home viewers followed their perceptions of others’ actions, even though those others were completely anonymous. After all, “if the phone lines are busy, then other people like me who are also watching this infomercial are calling, too.”

3) Repeat Messages

Remember, unless your customer is LOOKING for your stuff, most likely you are in demand GENERATION mode, not demand fulfillment mode.

It takes on the average minimum 6 to 8 repetitions for anyone to “get” the message you are trying to convey, which is why informercial marketers are always trying to come up with some catchy names, slogans, jingles, and catchphrases. (a.k.a. effective frequency)

In fact, repeating messages is so effective that it has been used by the military.

Here’s an excerpt from ‘Psychological Operations Is My Specialty’ Confessions Of A Covert Agent’: (src)

What it all boils down to is the exposure rate. You take a simple message and you repeat it over and over, such as mentioning Saddam and 9/11. You don’t have to say Saddam was involved in 9/11, because that is not true. You just have to mention Saddam and 9/11 in the same simple repetitive message thousands of times and people will support an attack on a country that didn’t have anything to do with 9/11 because they’ve been psychologically conditioned to link the two.

With enough repetition of a good enough story, you can pretty much make anyone believe anything, even if it may not be true.

Yes, story telling with repetition is powerful (and which is why you should master storytelling in the first place)

Although I hate using the word “compliance” (sounds like some Nazi growth hacking techniques), here’s a fascinating video on psychological experiments on compliance: