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The Ten Steps to Build a Infomercial Bomb that is!
By Tim O’Leary

Over the last decade I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of some of the biggest direct response television campaigns in history, and unfortunately, a few of the biggest bombs (can anyone say Dolly Parton Cosmetics?).  I am firmly convinced that while there are no sure-fire methods to predict or assure success in this business, there are certainly a number of mistakes you can make that virtually guarantee failure. If you want to be among the many marketers that create unsuccessful campaigns, just follow some of the following steps:

1.      Ignore the financials.  I am continually amazed at the number of projects that make it all the way to the production stage without an accurate financial model in place.  The direct response television business lives and breathes by the “media ratio” or “media allowable”.  No matter how much you love your project, if it takes a 3:1 media ratio to break-even, and direct sales are your primary sales channel, you are doomed to failure.  Ignorance of the financial realities of a campaign is the surest way to build a bomb.

2.      Love your product too much.  It is commendable that you have invested the last several years of your life (or an enormous portion of your company’s research and development budget) into creating your new product.  Developers’ drive and love for their project is crucial to most campaigns. But it’s equally important to be realistic.  Your Aunt Pearl’s shining recommendation of your new Seat Shaper does not necessarily guarantee that millions of people will share her enthusiasm for firmer buttocks by pulling out their credit cards.  Understand your target market before you invest in a campaign, and be prepared to make rational decisions before blowing a lot of money.  I’ve seen many marketers continue to lose huge sums due to their love of a product that the market didn’t share.

3.       Hire Aunt Pearl to produce, manage, and/or buy the media for your campaign.  Unless Aunt Pearl’s last name is Renker,  Lieberman or Kirby, it’s probably not a great idea to use her, your friends, or a next door neighbor to develop or manage your campaign.  This is a complicated business that requires experienced specialists.  One sure way to produce a bomb is to assemble a team of writers, producers, telemarketers, and media buyers that have no experience in direct response television.

4.      Micromanage the campaign after you’ve hired professionals.  Bombs are often created by marketers that hire the right people, then don’t let them do their jobs.  If you are not an experienced director, writer or on-camera talent, it’s probably not a good idea to launch your new creative career via your first infomercial.  Certainly your input is crucial, and there is nothing wrong with asserting yourself to see your vision of the campaign to fruition, but you hire professionals because they are better at their jobs than you would be.

5.       Don’t check references.  Believe it or not, there are people in this business that will misrepresent their backgrounds and prior involvement in the industry.  A few years ago, I met a producer who regaled me with a story about a very successful campaign he had produced. The only problem was, unbeknownst to him; I had actually produced the infomercial he described.   After I explained to him that he really had nothing to do with the project, he slumped away, most likely to find another sucker.  Make sure the people you are doing business with actually did the work they claim they did, otherwise, they might lead you right into the bomb factory. 

6.      Ignore the offer.  A good product aimed at a big target demographic is only one of the important components of a direct response campaign.  It’s also essential to craft the product into a compelling offer, test it, and also layer on the necessary “sweeteners” and “upsells” that compel consumers to buy and increase the profitability of the campaign.  I’ve seen potential hits reduced to bombs just because the offer wasn’t quite right.

7.      Minimize your marketing channels.  Just because your product didn’t work on DR television doesn’t mean that it isn’t a viable product for other direct mediums or retail distribution.  Multi-channel marketing greatly reduces bomb potential.

8.      Ignore creativity.  There is more to successful direct response than just pitching a product.  You first need to attract consumers to watch the pitch.  Most direct response television has a deserved reputation for lackluster creative.  Produce a boring show, and chances are you will produce a bomb.

9.      Minimize your test.  One of the best ways to create a bomb is to minimize the media test.  A good media test should test different markets, day parts, cable and broadcast, and offer configurations.  I’ve had many clients abandon their campaigns, deeming them bombs, before there was an adequate test to make that determination

10.   Abuse the customer.  Another sure method to build a bomb (and perhaps get a guest shot on 60 Minutes) is to abuse your customer.  To assure a big bomb, confuse customers with outlandish claims and convoluted telemarketing scripts.  Force them to listen to pitches for products other than the one they called for.  Don’t ship as promised, charge their credit cards weeks before you ship, send out defective merchandise when you do ship, and then ignore their customer service calls.  When they request refunds declare bankruptcy.

Of course, instead of following the above steps, you could bypass all the hassle of putting together the campaign, and just spend a couple hundred thousand at the racetrack.  Or better yet, ignore the above, sell a good product with compelling creative, manage the campaign professionally, take care of your customers, and make a lot of money.


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