Straight Talk: Steven Dworman Rings in Two Decades of DRTV
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the infomercial, industry expert Steven Dworman has come out with a new tell-all book, "$12 Billion of Inside Marketing Secrets Discovered Through Direct Response Television Sales" ($34.95, www.drtvsecrets.com). Dworman has consulted such companies as Procter & Gamble, Mattel, Avon and Microsoft. He also served as president and founder of the Digital Media Marketing Organization (DMMO). He now pauses to reflect on 20 years of direct response television (DRTV), the best and brightest infomercials and everyone's favorite lean, mean grilling
PB: What has been your most memorable moment in the infomercial business?
SD: The moment that stands out to me is when I created my own product and produced, wrote and directed my own infomercial in 1994 for Curiosity Perfume. No one thought you could sell women's perfume through television without women being able to smell it. We proved that you could. With a limited personal media budget, the show grossed over $6 million. Believe it or not, 10 years later I received a phone call from a customer who wanted to purchase the last amount of product we had.
PB: What has been the single greatest innovation in the medium of DRTV?
SD: The discovery that DRTV drives retail sales. Prior to 1992 this was not known. Most major retailers wanted nothing to do with direct response products. They believed that since the manufacturer was selling directly to the public, they were competing with them. It wasn't until the Juiceman hit nationally and juicers were flying off retailer's shelves, regardless of brand name, that this breakthrough occurred. Within a very short time, major retail chains such as Wal-Mart were asking to see media reports to determine the number of units to order. Many successful campaigns could not have survived had it not been for retail sales. The George Foreman Grill is a prime example.
PB: Which infomercials have been groundbreaking?
SD: My top five infomercials are:
*Soloflexlate 1980s. These shows were all gorgeous. Soloflex heroes were emotional, beautiful and compelling.
*Personal PowerNo one had used a documentary-style infomercial before to showcase an extraordinary talent like Tony Robbins.
*Victoria Jackson Cosmetics1989. No one had ever before used celebrities of the caliber of [actress and vocalist] Lisa Hartman and [actress] Ali MacGraw in an infomercial. If you're a woman, you're compelled to buy. This show launched a $100 million a year business.
*Amazing Discoveries1989 to 1995. [The late] Mike Levey, host and creator, was a genius. He was the first to come up with an ongoing infomercial show format that worked day and night for years. ... He mixed just the right amount of entertainment and sales. No one I have ever met could come up with a really fantastic offer off the top of his head like Mike. I miss him.
*HealthRider1992. This infomercial grossed over $140 million in one year. Creator Eric Stilson launched a sensation by integrating musical promotion numbers in the show. If you were scanning the dial, you were compelled to stop and see what these women were doing on this exercise equipment. It was extraordinary. Nothing like it has been seen since.
PB: In today's media-saturated environment, what kind of consumer is shopping via DRTV? Is the demographic aging?
SD: Demographics are not really an issue. In 1990, most people over age 50 would not order off an 800 number. They certainly wouldn't order off a Web site. All of us who have grown up on [DRTV] think nothing of pulling out our credit cards to purchase from home. So, if anything, the demographic audience has expanded.
When the industry began in 1984, there were eight channels on most television sets. Cable was in its infancy. Today there are 100 to 200 channels on the average TV set; it takes a tremendous amount of air-time to reach a saturation level where people are talking about your product. You combine that with the high media rates and it's no wonder so many companies are in financial trouble.
PB: What was the last infomercial you responded to?
SD: The new Tony Robbins infomercial. I really wanted to experience the new technology that enabled Tony to take his 30-day program and turn it into a seven-day program.