Mark Williams Entertainment
Mark Williams Entertainment

February 8, 1999
Infomercials Must Not Just Sell, But Also Entertain
by Mark Williams

Infomercial programs need to be more entertaining to capture the attention of an audience increasingly pressed for time.  Consider the state of mind of an average man or woman who has been working all day either in the home or office.  They have been subjected to such indignities as road rage, downsizing, bosses, screaming kids, credit card debt, a volatile stock market and a multitude of other stressful events.  They slump into the living room couch, turn on the television to get some relief and ... a DRTV marketer wants to sell them something.

Give us a break.  There's definitely something wrong with this picture.  When people really want to purchase something, don't they go to a store or watch a shopping channel?  When they turn on the TV, people are looking for entertainment, visually or otherwise.

Entertainment and sales have a long history together.  Look back to the last century, for example, when a horse drawn wagon would pull into town featuring exotic dancers, musicians, comedians, singers, actors, or magicians.  They would entertain until a crowd gathered.  Then and only then did the sales pitch begin for the magic elixir or some other kind of snake oil.  Strange as it seemed, the product became a character in the show.

Looking back at the humble beginnings of the broadcast industry, David Sarnoff, the former chairman of RCA, was a pioneer in developing commercial radio.  A product would pay for the presentation of an entertaining 30 or 60 minute program.  Those shows were great - music, drama, comedy news - and all for the sole purpose of selling products.  Those of us who were privileged to listen to these shows were smitten and we associated the products with the shows.  Lux Soap presented Hollywood, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer brought us Eddie Cantor, Lava Soap brought us the stories of the FBI, to name a few examples.  We did exactly what the advertisers wanted us to do.

With the advent of television, the David Sarnoff genius proceeded to create commercial television.  Texaco presented Milton Berle, Philip Morris gave us "I Love Lucy", Lipton Soup brought us Arthur Godfrey. Those beginnings led to today and, in a sense, to us!

Remember, infomercials do not compete for attention with other infomercials.  They compete with the audiences' daily lives and with other types of shows.  Look at the rash of 30 and 60 second spot commercials today that are thematically captivating, but don't reveal what product is being sold until the very end.  This works.

Shows can be driven in the following ways: product-driven, concept-driven, character-driven, celebrity-driven and price-driven.  Using common sense and recognizing the theory of compromise, it's possible to couple these principles with entertainment and emotion. 

In the most basic example which we experience every day, people dress to attract our attention and often entertain us prior to telling us their story.  And, after all, what is seduction anyway?

When I did my first infomercial in 1983, I brought in one of America's most distinguished and authoritative personalities, E.G. Marshall, and we did a show called, "How To Be Successful in America Today."  It was an entertaining, informative documentary-style hour selling Lowry Seminars.  The show was enormously successful.  We broke the existing rules in providing entertainment and emotion, compromising and harmonizing with the product.  We showed the product as part of the show's character and the audiences accepted it that way.  Mark Twain once said, "The difference between a fool and a hero is timing."  It was guesswork on my part, but my timing was right.

When I produced infomercials starring business opportunity pitchman Dave Del Dotto, timing was right again.  I merely used these entertainment principles and coupled them with Dave's magnetism in all of the programming.  When Dave first came on the air, both he and the infomercial concept were virtually unknown.  He wore a white suit, I decorated the set in burgundy, white and gold, brought in an audience of 2,000 people, a band and two singers.  It worked as a financial "Tonight Show" and was a huge, innovative success.

A subsequent show took place in Hawaii and included contests, more bands, more singers, more music, dancers and testimonials that didn't talk numbers but told success stories.  We also included celebrity appearances from Monty Hall, William Shatner, and John Davidson to add to the show's entertainment value.

Entertainment can be delivered in many ways.  The obvious method is performance, but such elements as music, visuals, emotions and characters can all be designed, in a sense, as entertainment.  Audiences not only love it, they need it.  It's an idea that is demonstrated in all of my shows: always think entertainment!

Mark Williams Entertainment Organization, L.L.C.
375 East Warm Springs Road, Suite #102
Las Vegas, Nevada 89119

Personal Contact: Honolulu, Hawaii (808) 223-1974 

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