Worth Repeating: 8 Lessons we can learn from Infomercials

I posted this originally back in 2009. I used to watch the show Pitchmen on television. Unfortunately one of the two main characters — infomercial star extraordinaire Billy Mays — passed away suddenly that year. The show lasted one more season but I don’t think it’s on TV any more. Regardless, it was an interesting show while it lasted and after watching a number of episodes there were clearly some lessons for product success that we can all learn (or remember 🙂 ).


You know you’re a Products Geek, when you find a show like Pitchmen appealing.

pitchmenPitchmen, on the Discovery Channel, is a behind the scenes docudrama about infomerical marketers and how they identify products to promote, develop the pitch and then take the products to market.

The show stars the late Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan, two very successful and well known television direct marketers.

While it’s very easy to brush these guys off as selling gimmicky items to uninformed consumers, there are lessons to be learned from watching these guys operate.

And that’s what I like about the show. It presents some of the discipline and process they follow for the products they market and sell. Here’s a list of some of the behind the scenes work they do.

1. They look for problems that a lot of people have.

    • Stain or smell remover: Yes
    • An acoustic shark repellent: No

2. They test out the products and validate they actually live up to their claims.

    • Can the odor remover get rid of foul smells from hockey equipment?
    • Can a vertical grill actually cook as well as a traditional horizontal grill?

3. They listen to others carefully, getting feedback from potential users of the product.

    • For a self-rotating pool side lounge chair, aimed at removing the need to manually rotate a chair to get optimal exposure of the sun, they enlisted some swimsuit models to test them out.
    • After the trial, they not only asked what they thought of the product, but asked how could the chair be improved. One of the testers suggested cup holders. Not a bad suggestion.

4. The benefits of the product have to be clearly demonstrable with a number of use cases.

    • For a food grater, they grate garlic, chocolate, cheese, citrus zest and other foods. The objective is to present a broad number of real use cases to show utility and value.
    • This is clearly an area where technology companies need to improve when thinking about how they demo their own products.

5. They always try to find at least one “Wow!” aspect for each product.

    • For a shoe insert product that claims to eliminate impact from running or other sports, they put their hand under a pad made of the same material as the insert, and then hit the pad with a hammer.
    • Then they took their hand out and wiggled all their fingers to show they were undamaged. Can you say “Wow!”?

6. They craft the messaging and the pitch, being very particular to the words they choose.

    • Whether via rhymes or alliterations or carefully crafted wording, the right word at the right time can make a big difference in how a product is perceived.
    • For example, with a product for grating food, the lines “grate cheese with ease” and “for zest it’s the best” are used. Don’t think these stick in people’s memories? Remember that line from the OJ Simpson trial? “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must…”

7. They ensure price points that will be appealing for their audience.

    • With a vertical grill product (think of a big single slice toaster that grills burgers, steaks etc. vertically) they went to one of their partner companies who tried to source a manufacturing partner that could build product cost-effectively enough that they could sell it for $50.
    • The partner couldn’t bring the price point low enough and so they said “No” to the product, even though it met all their other criteria.

8. They are data driven business people.

    • While they may come across as shady marketers, they are clearly rather sophisticated (and successful) in what they do. They test out their pitches in local markets, measure the results, adjust their pitch, and test again.
    • When they go national, they are very confident that they have something with mass appeal that people will buy.
    • This is probably the most important lesson that Product Managers should remember. They definitely follow the “Nail it, then scale it” mantra.

Overall, I find Pitchmen to be a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’ve got it scheduled for recording on my PVR. Even so, it is educational and every episode reminds me of basic marketing principles that have broad applicability and value.


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21 thoughts on “Worth Repeating: 8 Lessons we can learn from Infomercials

  1. Courtney Reply

    I’m never going to look at infomercials the same again. These are definitely some very important tips that we can all learn from – thanks for sharing.

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