01 December 2005

Infomercials and Baby Boomers

I think the statute of limitations has expired on this piece I penned for Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. It ran in May 2005 and was available only by subscription:

Don't Talk So Fast to Baby Boomers

Chuck Nyren -- Broadcasting & Cable

Infomercials. That ugly word conjures up half-hours of tacky, humdrum hucksterism. But it's the content that's clumsy, not the concept.

Throughout most of the last century, print was king, even during the age of radio and the early years of TV. Jingles, slogans, crisp copy, animation and clever visuals were still poor cousins of privileged print.

Beginning in the middle 1960s, dazzling cinema-like spots mixed with the succinct wit of print became the pinnacle of advertising mastery. An effective television campaign often did it all: customer awareness, imprinting, positioning, branding and messaging.

Not so today, at least for baby boomers. And it isn't simply because we're not being targeted. The real reason is that our attention spans are longer. We want to know more. We need to know more for a product or service to be imprinted. A 30-second salvo will miss us by a mile. We will subconsciously (oftentimes consciously) dismiss it.

If television advertising was once the poor cousin to print, nowadays, infomercials are the bedraggled outcasts of both. While there are exceptions, infomercials are shoddy also-rans in the advertising world.

But there is hope. Some marketers are taking advantage of the Internet and cable TV. “On-demand” advertising is the new catch phrase.

The question is how to reach baby boomers. “You can impart a pretty cool image in 30 seconds, especially with digital effects,” says Ron Koliha, a creative director and copywriter for stereo-components manufacturer Harmon-Kardon. “But when it comes to hard goods—especially high-tech hard goods—the product is the brand. Ignore the product, and the brand just becomes a symbol. Most of us baby boomers have spent 40+ years digesting information and deciding what we want. The advertiser who is willing to tell us the story of a product has the advantage.”

The cliché “thinking outside the box” applies here, but with a twist: Think outside the television box. If you are targeting baby boomers and you severely storyboard an infomercial (especially by committee), it will end up DOA. With the longform infomercial, a genuine relationship between your product or service and target market is vital, and you have plenty of time to develop one.

There are many talented baby boomer film writers/directors, editors and cinematographers who haven't gotten their hands dirty in ages. Some are now producers. Some work in television. Some are sitting around doing nothing. Find them and hire them. And trust them.

At some point in the '60s, someone convinced somebody that one-minute commercials could be exciting, absorbing, mini-masterpieces and do their jobs. If you want to reach baby boomers, now is the time to persuade agencies and clients that this is likewise true for 5 to 30-minute infomercials.

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