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Infomercial Primer: Advertising's Long-Form Produces Results for the Right Healthcare Organization

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

televisionHow to know if the 30-minute format should be part of your marketing mix...and get it done right

An "infomercial" is probably not what you think it is.

Put aside any image of a rapid-fire, late-night TV demo of a Japanese knife set and let me tell you how this long–form of direct response has matured as a respectable and effective media tool for some–but not all-professional healthcare organization.

My first experience with Direct Response TV (DRTV) was back in 1988 when I worked with leading national advertising agency J Walter Thompson, and we created a 30-minute show with popular singer/entertainer Cher. Oddly, many of the rules of the DRTV game are still the same today, but some changes in the broadcast industry have reduced some of the cost factors–bringing this option into reach for some practices. These days, DRTV can be more cost-effective than ever and might belong in your marketing plan media mix.

Infomercial: many names, one mission

If this is new territory for you, be aware that the label "infomercial" is well-established and is nearly interchangeable with other terms you may hear, including: "DRTV," "long-form advertising," "documercials," "paid programming," or in Europe, "teleshopping."

My ad agency roots connect me with "infomercial," so that's what we'll call it here. And here's the definition that I like: INFOMERCIAL: a video commercial, typically 30-minutes in program length, which is designed to generate quantifiable direct response. The advertiser pays for broadcast or cable time for the infomercial to air, usually outside of peak viewer hours where time is affordable.

The primary purpose of an infomercial is to inspire the viewer to take action, to call for an appointment (an in-person opportunity to purchase) or for more information (a qualified lead). You'll need a local or toll-free phone number that's answered by a live person who is well prepared to handle the call. (Your program will not always run during regular office hours, so you'll want a reliable, professional service that is rehearsed and prepared to represent your organization.)

Who's it for and why?

Why do it? Properly done, an infomercial can produce prospective patients (and revenue). Those services which have a wide appeal or can be shown as problem solving for many people tend to do well in this format, especially for high-value, high-involvement services like dental implants, LASIK or cosmetic surgery, and when the case size is significant.

The long-form provides time to showcase, explain and illustrate the patient benefits that you can deliver. The typical half-hour format can be a relaxed opportunity to provide plenty of information (the 'info' part of infomercial), and begin to establish rapport. And if the production is done well, it spotlights you as a recognized authority, your personality comes through, and it's a chance to be seen as a player.

No time for your nephew's camcorder

The production costs to put your 30-minute mini-movie into final form can be a challenge. There are ways to keep the costs down and the production value up, but this is no place to try to do it on the cheap. A friend of mine does those late night record collection series, and he spends $500K on each. Good planning and the right resources can keep your budget closer to $100K.

The good news in this is that a professional production has multiple uses; first in producing results and new business for the practice as an infomercial...plus, there's extra mileage as short clips (sometimes longer) that become a brief video on your website or as an education/information DVD for patients. This is an investment in you, the practice and/or hospital so don't skimp and plan carefully.

"Professional" is the key word here...as in a quality, first-class platform about how your services deliver patient benefits. So, don't even think about asking your kid nephew to take the camcorder and shoot you and a patient outside by the old oak tree. As tempting as that might seem in your imagination, it's more likely to turn out to be an amateur production. You could wind up looking silly, or worse, damaging your reputation.

If we haven't lost you...let's continue

Surprisingly, the media cost is not as much of a problem. It can be as affordable as a couple hundred dollars per show on cable. The challenge here is getting enough suitable inventory (available slots of airtime) from the cable station. This is where you'll want help from someone with experience–someone who knows this highly specific medium–to negotiate for you...spreading your media dollars and maximizing your exposure and potential return-on-investment.

The script is everything

Everything begins with a script. This is the written plan that defines not just the words, but the visuals, the pace, and all the million other details that become the final presentation. For many practices, we'll use a talk show format, incorporating segments that break off to patient testimonials. The program will have an educational feel when the doctor is being interviewed by a host, with "commercial breaks" in between.

Here are some of the fine points that are carefully woven into the program's fabric (via the script) and make things work smoothly:

  • Problems and Solutions – what does your audience need or want (that you can deliver)?
  • Great Results – that you can visually demonstrate with quality before and after images.
  • Enthusiastic Testimonials – from people who represent the target audience.
  • Energy and Excitement – from the host, guests, audience (but not necessarily the doctor).
  • New, Urgent, Special – elements that grab attention and hold interest.
  • Attractive Graphics – that communicate a high-tech, high-touch image.
  • Trackable 800-Number – use a call tracking system to document who called and when.
  • Present Phone Numbers Often – make it easy and obvious for people to respond.
  • Call to Action – let the viewers know (often) what they should do (call; call now).
  • Excellent Production – the quality of the presentation affects audience response.

Do the math...carefully

It's important to do a feasibility analysis before you begin. You'll need to make cost assumptions and sample media rates. Exactly how many cases will it take to at least break even? Even the pros that do the slicer-dicer shows can make costly mistakes. On the other hand, industry studies say that over 60 percent of Americans watch some form of Direct Response TV–and nearly 30 percent of us have purchased something. But if your case size is high and you are a serious and savvy "advanced marketer," the infomercial format may be an opportunity for you.

Next: straight talk

If an infomercial isn't right for you or your practice we'll let you know. And if you'd like our help, our company can work with you to come up with a script, and then help you find the right production company.   We can introduce you to the best and most experienced people on the planet. Or, if you are on a tight budget, we even have a young, ultra-talented producer who can work with you at about half the going rate, so you might be able to get your production done with an ultra-lean budget.

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