5 Selling Techniques to Steal from Infomercials (Without Trashing Your Reputation)

image of patent medicine advertisement

There’s an interesting fitness guy I follow on Facebook.

He’s very smart about health. Every day he posts quite long, thoughtful discussions about avoiding health fads. (Actually, I wish he’d read our post about making your content more reader-friendly. A few subheads and line breaks wouldn’t kill you, man.)

He’s sane. He’s calm. He’s kinda spiritual, even.

And when he’s doing a product launch, he turns into PSYCHO HIGHLIGHTER SIX PACK ABS SALES PAGE DUDE.

Which takes all that thoughtful, careful content he shares the other 340 days a year and, to some degree, tosses it in the trash.

The first time I saw it, I literally thought his account had been hacked. The same guy counseling against listening to hypey, “magic bullet” gurus had turned himself into a hypey magic bullet guru. Why? Because, I’m sure, he’s been told, “Well that’s what works.”

A truly authoritative, thoughtful online presence takes time to build.

But you can tarnish it in no time at all.

Today, let’s talk about how you can do better — how you can use the copywriting techniques that are effective, without turning into a lame informercial version of yourself.

Let’s talk about infomercials

When most of us think of the infomercial, we think of overly aggressive, high-hype sales messages.

Why? Because infomercials are a classic, distilled harpoon sales environment.

Infomercials are expensive to produce and to air. So they need to make as many sales as they can with a single “shot.”

That means they trot out every conversion technique in the book, and they press them hard.

Most of the time, there’s no real reputation to protect. No one minds if their ShamWow was sold with hype that would have made P.T. Barnum proud. If it does a good job cleaning up spills, then no harm is done.

A typical infomercial is a pure sales message, with the only goal being to sell enough widgets to make a good profit.

You don’t live in that world

Infomercials aren’t bad. It’s a bad thing if they sell a defective or dangerous product, but in and of themselves there’s nothing “wrong” or “right” about them.

But they do call on some of the sharpest minds in direct response copywriting. The traditional “harpoon” copywriters are very much in demand, with the best getting a royalty on how much product is sold. It’s a terribly difficult style to master … get it even slightly wrong, and the audience simply flicks their attention elsewhere.

Undiluted selling also paints a business with a certain reputation. We don’t use the word “ShamWow” to mean a very effective or popular product. We use it to mean a pitchfest.

When you combine this level of aggression with the thoughtful, steady material that makes for a good content marketing program, you set up a Jekyll-and-Hyde feeling. It’s a bit like when an acquaintance becomes suddenly very friendly and invites you to a party at his home — that turns out to be a MLM event. All of the overtures of friendship become suspect, and your trust is entirely compromised.

Yes, you can sell without having a split personality

The key to using effective persuasion techniques (like the ones they use on infomercials) is to make sure they’re in alignment with your marketing communication as a whole.

Your tone and message need to feel consistent across all of your channels. So if you’re breezy and laid back in your daily content, don’t get intense and overly dramatic (which will read as hype) in your sales material.

If you’re positioning yourself against “quick fix” gurus in your daily content … don’t use words like “instant” or “immediate” in your sales copy.

A strong content marketing program begins by defining who you are, what you stand for, and whom you serve. Once you’ve spent the time to think that through (and write it down), you’ll be much less tempted to go off the rails just because it’s time to close the deal.

When you know yourself, you can use these five “informercial selling principles” in a way that’s completely integrated with your core message, instead of fighting it.

1. Testimonials and case studies

These are the cornerstone of a great informercial for one reason: It’s much more convincing to show a prospect that “this can work for someone like me” than to just tell them.

Testimonials and case studies let the prospect envision what life would be like if she used your product or service. And they can be used to overcome objections and illustrate benefits and features — in a story-focused way that hooks the prospect in like little else can.

For more specifics about what goes into a great testimonial, check out Sean d’Souza’s 6 Questions to Ask for Powerful Testimonials.

To stay out of Cheeseland: Keep most of your testimonials firmly within the realm of what normal, real customers experience. We all want to highlight that one customer who went insanely above and beyond what anyone could have expected. It’s cool to have that person, but be sure you represent plenty of your more “typical results” as well.

Not only is this more ethical (and better for avoiding legal problems), it’s actually more convincing. If all the testimonials I see are from superstars, I’m going to think that I need to be a superstar to use your product or service.

2. Agitate the problem

The time-honored copywriting principle of “Problem – Agitate – Solve” can be used to great effect.

If your business solves a serious problem for your prospects, don’t be afraid to dig into that problem. Really uncover where the problem leads if it’s not resolved. Ideally, you’ll have some testimonials that show people with an advanced case of your customer problem.

Fully exploring your prospect pain gives you the opportunity to empathize, to relate, and ultimately … to solve their problem and get them back where they want to be.

To stay out of Cheeseland: Don’t take it this far.

3. Repetition

One thing informercials aren’t afraid to do is hammer the message home with repetition.

Too many content marketers, who devote so much time and attention to our content, imagine that our audiences are glued to our every word.

Alas, no.

Don’t be afraid to repeat your key messages, both in your daily content and your sales material. If it’s important enough to say once, it’s important enough to repeat.

To stay out of Cheeseland: Some repetition is important, because people have other things to do besides reading your marketing content. But that doesn’t mean that if a little is good, a lot is better. Respect people’s time.

The best way to repeat yourself is to re-frame your message from a different angle. You can repeat the same themes over and over, as long as you come up with a new analogy, story, or metaphor to do it with.

4. Legitimate scarcity

You could have a product that granted immortality, robust health, unlimited wealth, and a lifetime of great hair … and people would still put off adding it to their carts.

No matter how excellent your product or service, there needs to be a serious reason for prospects to buy it today, rather than tomorrow or the next day. Scarcity is the persuasion principle of limiting what you have to offer — either limiting the total number of items available, the time that prospects have to act, or both.

Of course, respect your audience’s intelligence. One legendary marketing teacher offered a “scratch and dent” sale on damaged CD and video packages, but also extended it to ebooks. Because he was known for his chutzpah and dry sense of humor, he got away with it. Without those elements of his overall message, the promotion wouldn’t fly.

To stay out of Cheeseland: Don’t lie about scarcity. If you’re only offering 500 spots, don’t keep “finding” more available spaces. Fake scarcity shows that you don’t respect your own word. It also lets people know that they can pick up your “killer offer” whenever they feel like it — which usually will translate to “never.”

5. Clear call to action

This is the one that will make you feel like you’re an infomercial when you’re doing it, but to your audience it will seem entirely natural and normal.

When you want your audience to take a particular action (like calling you, signing up for your list, or clicking the Add to Cart button), tell them exactly what to do.

It’s worth paying attention to how infomercials handle this. Normally the message is “Call 1-800-CHEESE-ME” which is emphasized with repetition (see above). You’ll often find that at the end of the infomercial, you can repeat the phone number yourself by heart, it’s been so clearly and frequently re-stated.

Subtlety is a lousy quality in a call to action. Make it unmistakably clear, make it prominent, and don’t be scared to repeat it.

To stay out of Cheeseland: Don’t. The call to action is an easy place to wimp out and start selling from your heels.

If you’re not a natural salesperson, it might feel a little awkward or even pushy, but this is the place to exercise your courage. If the rest of your marketing message is respectful, consistent, and resonates with your audience, a clear call to action won’t bother them a bit.

Next, do this

If you want much more comprehensive advice about how to use copywriting and persuasion techniques without being utterly lame, join us inside MyCopyblogger. We have a comprehensive content marketing library for you, as well as an extended course by email on how to master internet marketing the smart way. It’s all free, so drop your email address here and we can get started.

How about you?

Ever see a technique on an infomercial that you wished you could snag, but it just seemed too cheesy? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see if we can de-cheese that for you.

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Reader Comments (22)

  1. says

    Hi Sonia,

    I love the pain point mention! Think of any classic infomercial; how does the presentation start? Almost all commercials lead off with…”Are you (insert suffering from some nasty situation question here)”…lol…..we buy to cure. We buy to heal. We buy to solve.

    Informercials might be the most effective selling strategy because this pain point is drilled into our minds and bingo, the all powerful testimonial follow up. Good reason why many of these products become ridiculously popular and the folks selling them become rich.

    People buy to feel better. Once you know how crappy you feel with a nice introductory pain point lol, you need to buy, to feel better, like….(Insert glowing testimonial here) 😉

    Brilliant post Sonia, thanks!


    • says

      Infomercials are brilliant to study for copywriting points, you just have to execute them in a way that’s a little less frenzied. :) But that’s the great advantage of content — you have enough time to make your point without shouting.

  2. says

    Ahh, the glorious infomercials! It can be easy to get caught up in the “shamwow” stile of pitching a product. I like how you said:

    “A truly authoritative, thoughtful online presence takes time to build. But you can tarnish it in no time at all.”

    Thanks for this awesome insight, definitely bookmarking now :)

  3. says

    It’s funny, I’ve seen this too. If you’re trying to sell (products, services, whatever) I think the goal should be for your audience to not like you, but love you, so they come back for more, tell their friends and might even give you a testimonial or two 😉

    You don’t want to do the above, then pull a switcheroo on them, turning into product hawker extraordinaire (ShamWow dude or Ron Popeil). That’s looks a bit like deception and nobody likes that.

    • says

      It works fine if that’s who you always are. But when you do one for your daily content and another for your sales process, you’re not going to get where you want to go. :)

  4. earl veale says

    Thank you for the reminder about being brave during the “call to action”. I don’t think you can repeat this reminder too many times.

  5. says

    Well, since you asked, Sonia.

    I’ve always wanted to know how I could get Suzanne Somers to hype my music services. Can you help me out there?

    This post was easily worth $19.99 + shipping and handling.

    • says

      I think the first step for that one is to offer her vast amounts of money. :)

      But wait, if you order today, you get 7 years of Copyblogger archives ABSOLUTELY FREE.

  6. says

    Your tip on avoiding cheeseland when it comes to scarcity brings to mind a particular flooring supplier/installer. They constantly advertise that their ‘blow out sale’ will only last until x date but, sure enough, come x date there’s a new promotion written somewhat differently but for the exact same things. Because they advertise limited time offers on a constant basis I know I never have to race to use them because there will always be a new promo. And you’re right, I’ve never used them nor do I plan to.

    Great post!

  7. says

    I think one of the main differences between selling a product to a blog audience and to the infomercial audience is that the blog audience is used to a certain voice or tone, and when that tone suddenly snaps and changes in an effort to sell a product then the audience is turned off thanks to cognitive dissonance.

    It is very important to maintain a consistent tone when writing your content – so why not do so with your sales page if you’re pitching to exactly the same audience?

    Running an informercial type sales pitch will only turn away those who have already bought into your idea.

    An informercial HAS to take the hard sell approach because their time is very limited and they have to pump potential buyers emotions in order to make a purchase as quickly as possible, thus meaning that they HAVE to throw out a wide net and employ all persuasion tactics available.

    If you’re used to presenting a certain image to customers, then it is critical to maintain that image, or else you risk losing customers.

  8. says

    The one informercial that I can’t get out of my head is P90X. It’s insane, like an infomercial on steroids. The people you see got results; they’re pumped up (literally). But… I read about a guy who ended up in the hospital after using the product for a few days. When you sell, you have to be prepared for the not-so-good results.

    Thanks for this great blog post!

  9. says

    Hi Sonia.

    There is another reason the infomercial folks repeat the CTA throughout the spot. Viewers will see the commercial, and have every intention to call, but get distracted or just haven’t gotten around to it. When they see the spot again it reminds them to call and you don’t want them to wait to the end to get the number.

    Landing pages are the same. If conversion is your goal, don’t make it hard to find the CTA. Is it above the fold, is it repeated, and as you said, is it clear what they need to do. You’d think this is obvious, but we see design after design with the CTA buried or obfuscated in some way.


  10. says

    I think you said it all when you said’ “A strong content marketing program begins by defining who you are, what you stand for, and whom you serve”

    This can be an easy thing to overlook sometimes. Thanks for keeping things in perspective.

  11. says

    Okay, I sorta have this guilty pleasure of watching infomercials when there’s nothing to do. It’s a source of entertainment for me. I’d like to question (in my mind) every word that the guys say. “Oh really?” “Yeah sure.” But admittedly, with every single time I see the infomercial, it makes me believe more and more and eventually, it gets me thinking “Maybe, I could give it a try,” but I never got around to it.

    Your post has opened my eyes greatly today. There’s a reason why I watch infomercials, just like millions of people out there too. We want to believe in what they have to say, we want these magical solutions to everyday problems and admit or not, we want them to say “BUT wait, there’s more.”

    The points you have tackled are right on the dot. Infomercials are popular and overly played because we watch them. They make money so it means they are doing something right. It’s about time internet marketers learn from them.

  12. says

    Sonia, have you read this book:

    “But Wait … There’s More!: Tighten Your Abs, Make Millions, and Learn How the $100 Billion Infomercial Industry Sold Us Everything But the Kitchen Sink”

    Turns out the first radio ads were a half hour long and would look a lot like infomercials to modern ears.

    Apple tried to run an infomercial, as have many other mainstream brands.

    Some products have crossed over from infomercial to mainstream, like Bowflex and Foreman Grills. Which goes to show that infomercials are not a complete reputation killer. They can build a positive brand.

  13. says

    Great ideas for writing effective sales copy without the cheese! Totally agree with the final point: you need to tell your prospects exactly what you want them to do. So often I see marketing material or websites that are well-written, persuasive, and then… nothing.

  14. says

    I’ve always been a bit afraid to use ‘repetition’. Especially when I’m writing for parents. I felt they could get bored and scroll down / turn the page. usually I’d just recap at the end of the article. But I will give this a go and see what happens.

  15. says

    Hi, Sonia.
    Loved the article. You’re right on as usual.

    I watch a LOT of late night infomercials. Probably too much. But at 3:00 am, that’s all that’s one.

    It’s always interesting to watch how different companies promote similar products. What they do the same and what they do differently. Two infrared, induction type countertop ovens come to mind.

    Another thing that interesting, pertaining to these two ovens in particular, it their choice for pitchmen. One has a young, but somewhat overweight, excitable pitchman, drooling at every dish while proclaiming, “Ooh, how healthy!” The other uses an older, calmer spokesman who looks to be rather physically fit.

    To me it appears, in line with your idea of consistency in your personal tone for both content and ad copy, that the tone of the pitch should also be in line with the product as well.

    As Hashim said, many products have crossed over into mainstream, retail and discount store status. However, I’ve noticed a few that only made it to the “As Seen On TV” end cap. Saw an induction cooktop at Walmart the other day on the ASOT shelf. Never thought I’d see that one there so soon.

    Thanks again, great stuff to make us all think, once again.

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