Copy Writing and Infomercials: How to Tell a Better Story

We All Hate Infomercials

I used to hate infomercials. When I lamented that there’s “nothing on TV” infomercials were that “nothing”. They came on during the off-hours, and usually featured some annoyingly cheerful talking head. They had cheesy copy writing, and dubious products were shamelessly touted as “life changing”. Anything and everything could be yours for only “3 easy payments of $49.99!”

Well, times have changed. I’ve changed too!

The Importance of Copy Writing

When I first began to develop my passion for marketing, I avoided copy writing. I ignored it because … well, I just wasn’t very good at it. I’m a “technical” person, and so I thought that my time and effort would be better spent cultivating those marketing skills.

However, I couldn’t escape it. The importance of copy writing to marketing simply cannot be overstated. Advertising genius Albert Lasker said it best:

“If an agency can write copy that sells the product, nothing else is needed.”

And so I began to study. I read book after book and took a few courses; I wrote constantly: blogs, articles, emails, technical documentation, how-to guides, and even a book of my own!

As I learned, something in me began to change:

  1. I began to collect junk mail – not all junk mail. Just the good stuff.
  2. I love watching and studying commercials
  3. For the first time ever, really love infomercials

Infomercials Need Amazing Copy Writing

This morning I went to the gym. I did my weight-lifting and then I headed toward “my” treadmill to cool down. I set my speed, and got to walking.

There’s not much to do on a treadmill, and so I soon found myself watching the television screen posted up in front of me.  To my delight, what should be on, but an infomercial!

Here’s the fun thing about infomercials: the copy writing is almost always great.

Let me tell you about infomercials…

Did you know that the average 30-minute infomercial costs about $25,000 to produce and between $13 and $138 per second to air?

That’s between $50,000 and $275,000 for a 30-minute infomercial!

If you ask anyone if they watch infomercials, the answer is likely “No.”

Yet infomercials continue to get made and broadcast. Why? Because they work. Someone is watching them, and someone is purchasing their products!

If an infomercial is selling a product that costs $80 (“Four easy payments of$19.99!”) then they need to sell 3,438 products to recoup their investment.

How do they do that with an audience that is, at best, reluctant and ambivalent?

The Infomercial Copy Writing Formula

There are several tactics that infomercials employ that help them to be successful. I want to share a few of them with you, in the hopes that it might help you improve your advertising and copy writing

How Infomercials Sell Us a Story

The infomercial way of telling a story is pretty simple. It is most easily seen in the way they present their “testimonials”.  It’s a very simple 3-step process:

Step 1: Talk about a problem that you (or a client) have experienced, that the audience can relate to

This is where you relate to the audience. You say “I’m a person just like you!” It could look like this:

“At 280 lbs, I was the heaviest I’d ever been. Being a single mom, and overweight is … it’s hard. I just felt like I didn’t have a lot of energy, and my kids … you need energy to keep up with them, ya know? And I realized that my weight had really gotten out of control and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to take care of my children. It was scary to try to think about exercise. I didn’t feel like I had the time or the energy, but I knew that improving my health was something that I needed to do.”

Step 2: Talk about how you or your client was able to overcome the problem

Here you begin to focus on the solution – what it looks like, how it works, how it makes you feel.

“I was so excited when I got the workout program in the mail. It was low impact. It was something I could do. And it wasn’t just ‘workouts’. It was so much more. There’s a nutrition program and a community! I could connect with other women online, and encourage each other, and celebrate our wins together! That first workout I finished was huge. I immediately jumped online and shared my success, and there was just this huge out-flowing of love and support. I eventually lost a total of 97 lbs, and I have a body I haven’t had since High School!”

Step 3: Invite the audience to take action

This is where we jump back to the charismatic narrator who applauds the woman giving her testimony. The narrator will then give a clear call to action – not just to buy the product, but to join the community.

“Isn’t she amazing? This system, it just works! But now, it’s your turn. Text ‘Yes’ to 555-5555 to join our community, and I’m going to send you a
free starter kit that you’re not going to want to miss”!

And it works!

Can You Leverage this Copy Writing Tactic?

Absolutely!

A very simple way to do this is:

  • Talk about a problem that you, or a client, has had in the past
  • Talk about how your or your client was able to overcome the problem
  • Invite the audience to take action

Should You Do This All the Time?

PerhapsThe way that I’ve presented this has been as “sales copy”. Sometimes landing a sale isn’t your immediate goal, however. Sometimes you want to connect with, inform, or even entertain your audience.

In these instances you can use this format, but you’ll want to adapt it as appropriate – downplaying the call to action and emphasizing the problem-solution.

I hope that you find this information useful, and next time yo see an infomercial on TV or YouTube, don’t just change the channel or skip it. Watch and see how many of these steps they’re employing and how.

Learn to Love Copy Writing

The best way to get better at copy writing is to learn to recognize it and love it – whatever form it may take. Infomercials, junk mail, spam email, television commercials – they all tend to take a very sales-centric approach that makes them easy to recognize.

But copy writing is all around us. It’s on every website you visit and every newspaper you read; it’s in the stores you visit, the coupons you clip, and the apps you use. Rather than ignoring it (or worst, resenting it) lean into it. Read it eager to learn. See what works, what grabs your attention, and what doesn’t.

I don’t expect you to pop a bowl of popcorn and sit down to watch Emeril Lagasse try to sell you an air fryer … though I wouldn’t judge you if you did. Just try to get an idea of what tactics are being used, and how you might be able to adapt them into your own copy writing.

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