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July 8, 2009 > "But Wait... There's More!"

"But Wait... There's More!"

By Remy Stern

It's quarter to two o'dark. You've made like a rotisserie for the last forty-five minutes and it's time to acknowledge your insomnia. You get out of bed, thinking that a few minutes of TV might do the sleepy-trick. Channel 15 has on that guy with the exercise machine. Channel 7 is showing some juicer program. The woman on channel 51 is displaying some fancy make-up. Doesn't anybody sleep?

Not if they have a chance to sell you something. In the new book "But Wait...There's More!" by Remy Stern, you'll see why those infomercials are on late, why they work, and why you're watching them when you should be sleeping.

Radio, believe it or not, was around awhile before someone thought of adding ads. The first radio commercial (for an apartment complex in Queens, New York) aired in 1922. Television would later employ similar advertising methods, but infomercials weren't widely used until the Reagan Administration's deregulation.

Today, over 300,000 infomercials air each month in the U.S. and Canada. There are two kinds of infomercials: the short-form (90- or 120-second "commercials") and the 30-minute "paid program".

Short-form spots are novelty-driven; longer programs offer more information and some entertainment, just to catch your eye and keep you hooked.

Then there are the hosts. Creating a show around the wild antics or unique personality of a former-unknown is easy, says Stern, but paying real celebs is always possible. Still, infomercial hosts often become celebrities.

One of the first - and indubitably the most famous info-personalities is Ron Popeil. In the 1950's, Popeil honed his pitching skills from a table in front of a dime store in Chicago, quickly discovering several methods of keeping the lunchtime crowd with their wallets open. Many of his methods are still in use.

So why do infomercials work so well? Stern says we buy from infomercials because it's easy and it feeds our impulses. The products solve a problem (or a perceived problem). Perhaps most of all, we buy because we want to have thighs like Suzanne Somers or muscles like that exercise guy.

So will an infomercial work for your product? Stern doesn't exactly say, but he hints that it's going to cost you to find out. Infomercials can be big bucks to produce, and for every product that succeeds, fifty fail.

I liked this book a lot because it's a pop-culture trip down Memory Lane and a peek inside a business that is lampooned and sneered at, but is more successful that you'd imagine. Author Remy Stern had access to most of the major players in the world of infomercials, and he used it to dig a little. While he's respectful of the industry, he's not afraid to find the dark side of paid programs and their products.

If you've ever grabbed your phone to CALL NOW, or if you wonder how you can get an infomercial for yourself, look for "But Wait... There's More". While it doesn't slice, dice, or give you great abs, it's a pretty good book.

"But Wait... There's More!"
By Remy Stern
c.2009, Collins Business
$24.99 / $32.99 Canada
255 pages, includes notes

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