The infomercial - the 15- to 30-minute TV commercial that launched everything from slicers and dicers to the Tae-Bo exercise video - is getting more respect. Automotive manufacturers are using infomercials to give information that can't be contained in a 30-second spot.
'It's really developing a long-format communication and taking it to another level,' said Sally McCullough, general manager of marketing services for Land Rover North America Inc.
'When people are channel surfing, they don't know your program is on; you have to capture them and complete it with an entire story,' McCullough said.
Infomercials look like TV programs with ads and call-to-action messages mixed in. They are placed primarily on local and national cable TV.
Production costs range from $225,000 to $1 million, with the average about $250,000, according to Jason Graves, vice president of new business for Hawthorne Direct, a Fairfield, Iowa, infomercial company. Hawthorne has worked with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan.
Media costs for a half-hour of programming range from $50 for a small regional broadcast in early morning to $500,000 for prime-time network. Average cost is $1,200.
'Infomercials can (cost) less than a 30-second television commercial, but it depends on the infomercial,' said Jay Kuhnie, director of Chrysler brand global communications.
'You can do a relatively inexpensive infomercial or a relatively expensive infomercial with `Star Wars' kinds of technology with a lot of digital overlays.'
Ads must entertain
Automakers that have produced infomercials include Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Chrysler, Nissan, Lexus and Ford Division. Their uses range from launching a new product such as Chrysler's PT Cruiser to selling used Mercedes-Benzes. The objective: entertain and inform the consumer, then prompt the consumer to get involved in the brand.
Peter Goodwin, corporate manager of marketing communication for Nissan North America Inc., prefers breaking the infomercial into smaller segments.
'The best way it works in that 30-minute format is to build three episodes, about eight minutes of story or information and a two-minute sequence with an offer - a test drive offer or a package on how to buy a car,' Goodwin said.
In 1994, Nissan targeted women with an infomercial about how to buy a car. It aired in Phoenix, Dallas and New York. The infomercial offered a free car-buying guide through an 800 number. Nissan ran companion print ads in local magazines in those cities, plus national publications such as People and Cosmopolitan.
'We did see a higher than expected response in those cities in which we ran the infomercial; in fact, half of the respondents were male,' Goodwin said.
Land Rover North America had a similar experience with two infomercials in 1999 and 2000. In those, former U.S. Olympic skier Andy Mill and off-road adventurers Tom Collins and Sally Eastwood talk about the Land Rover brand experience and tour a Land Rover Centre retail store.
'The Land Rover story is a complicated story,' McCullough said. 'Just a 30-second TV commercial or print ad doesn't give all the information about a Land Rover Centre experience or what it means to own a Land Rover.'
The 30-minute program aired nationally on cable outlets such as Discovery Channel, Travel Channel and CNBC. Local Land Rover dealers, who were able to insert ads, ran the ad on local cable stations. The company's 800 number response center saw a 600 percent increase in requests for information the first weekend the infomercial ran on national cable in 1999, a Land Rover spokesman said.
DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler brand has found many ways to use its infomercials. In fact, a 14-minute infomercial for the 300M, LHS and Concorde has been used for direct-response marketing and a five-minute version of the 300M program was used for United Airlines' in-flight TV.
'The cost of building the infomercial is relatively low because you know you're going to shoot footage for ads and public relations,' Kuhnie said. He said Chrysler received 12,000 phone requests for information from the Concorde/LHS/300M infomercial.
Kuhnie believes some channels are better for infomercials than others. For instance, Chrysler selected Comedy Central, E!, Lifetime, Speedvision and CNBC for its PT Cruiser infomercial in May 2000. Many airings were in early morning or late-night slots, with the exception of Speedvision, which gave Chrysler evening time.
While many infomercials run on less expensive, off-peak time slots, one expert believes that a channel dedicated to automotive infomercials is not far away.
'As we move into the digital environment and the 500-channel universe, you could have a strictly automotive channel,' said Jon Shaver, COO of Product Informa-tion Network, an infomercial producer in Denver.
'It's possible to have a commercial on demand on an all-automotive channel with the technology that's being developed. Consumers crave information. I think an automotive advertising channel is 10 years away.'