The Psychology of the Infomercial

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Infomercials are a multi-billion dollar business ($150 billion in 2009) and a world wide phenomenon. The first infomercials ran strictly between the hours of 2-6am overnight. However, with the emergence of 24/7 cable t and dedicated shopping and infomercial channels, they’ve begin to become ingrained in the popular culture.

They’ve made instant stars out of their most visible and charismatic “pitchmen” such as Ron Popeil, Billy Mays, Anthony Sullivan, Mrs Cleo, Mike Levey and numerous others. Even television and movie stars are re-invigorating their careers by sitting in as pitchmen.

To understand the psychology that drives the production of the infomercials we see today, the ones that have an uncanny means of mesmerizing and luring you into the pitch after only a few seconds, we have to think in terms of human psychology, and particularly the stimulus-response reaction that regulates dopamine levels in the brain:

Infomercials are designed and scripted to increase dopamine levels in your brain.

Infomercials take you on a thrill ride aimed right at your need to have the smartest solutions to common problems – They inform you about a problem you never had (or never really considered much of a problem), follow that by laying out an incredibly clever solution, and a flow of ever more fantastic product benefits, bonuses, and giveaways, all leading to the thrilling climactic reveal of an unbelievable low price. And they try their best to get you “buy in the next few minutes” because it only take 5 to 6 minutes for your dopamine levels to drop. It’s all about the psychology of selling.

Slick production and hype on the level of the Hollywood blockbuster all in 30 minutes or less – the folks who produce infomercials can make a so-so product look simply Amazing! Actually about half of the infomercial products that are marketed on television deliver on their promise, 30 percent still deliver but are too expensive, and the rest are practically useless or junk.

The infomercial is here to stay. The economic numbers are just too great to ignore. For example, the ShamWow spot was produced on a mere $20k budget, but has garnered millions in sales as a result of the infomercial’s appeal, and the charismatic delivery of its now infamous pitchman, Vince Offer.

The infomercial represents the extreme manifestation of capitalism, instant gratification for $19.95 (plus a small shipping and handling charge).

You gotta love it.


write by Adrianne Bartrum

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