Why Some New Products Are Getting Adopted Quickly: A Lesson From Infomercials

Sometimes a company develops a product that is so innovative that it defines a new category. A current example is augmented reality glasses. Some time ago it was e-books.

If you are responsible for marketing the new product, you can start watching TV late into the night. Pay special attention to the informants: they will teach you what it takes to get your new product off the ground faster.

Consider this classic late night infomercial:

The car is brand new. You can see the lights from the recording studio reflecting off its shiny body. No dents, no scratches, nothing but perfection. But wait: the man standing next to the car is starting to squirt gasoline over the hood! Hey, what is he doing with this match?

A firefighter stands next to the car, completely disguised and ready to put out anything that could get out of hand. He has an ax and a professional fire extinguisher. He is very confident.

The moderator, the man who is standing next to the car with the match, lights the match. The audience watches in horror.

You can see that the audience has sunk into the drama when the camera pans quickly.

The burning match hits the car and the vehicle goes up in flames. The audience is going crazy now.

The loyal firefighter sprays fire retardants on the car, and soon the flames are gone. The audience sighs in relief. But the car looks broken.

“No problem,” says the moderator and shows the audience the product. He takes a cloth out of his pocket, sprays the product on the car and starts polishing. What’s this?! The soot and scars from the flames will disappear and the original finish and shine will reappear. The audience goes wild.

Now comes the pitch: you can buy the product for as little as $ 29.95 (payable in 2 payments if you want), and if you trade now (this product is so popular its few are left), toss one additional bottle in! The audience applauds enthusiastically. They are obviously just as impressed with the offer as they were when the polish made the car look like new again.

But wait … there is more! Buy now and get a special bottle of window cleaner (worth $ 15.99) for FREE! That’s right – but only if you call now. The audience almost faints with joy.

Does the offer still sound a little risky? No problem; there is a money back guarantee. Phone numbers are displayed on the screen, along with various credit cards accepted (virtually any card is accepted).

The camera goes back and the audience applauds. The entire presentation took no more than a few minutes.

The formula for success for product marketing

The infomercial described is an example of formula marketing, and each infomercial works essentially the same way. Products may differ (though even that is debatable), but the way the story unfolds is something any marketer can learn from.

This is how it works.

First, show the audience that what they are buying is way better than what the competition is and what they are already using. This is called relative advantage, or the better mousetrap. Everyone knows the technology; It is the most basic idea in business why a product is accepted. You know, my product is better than yours, my service is cheaper, etc.

Infomercials often have demonstrations that allow one to observe the benefits of the product. This is Observability. Think about what you are selling and ask yourself, “Are the benefits I am trying to convey easily apparent?”

Note that all informants focus on how easy it is to use their product. You will hardly need a manual because it is not complex. Just wax the polish like any other or take the pill like any other pill.

Can you try the product without paying for it? Naturally! This means Trialability. Sometimes you can get a free sample. Before you make a big commitment, you can see if it works for yourself.

After all, the product is compatible with your social context (the way people did things in the past and their social environment).

Compatibility is important because it is subtle, but it plays an important role. Here’s an example: In 2000, I wrote a weekly column for a major technology magazine website. E-books had just hit the market, and I said it would take them a long time to overtake printed book sales, mainly because e-books weren’t compatible with the way people used to hold and appreciate books.

I received hate mail saying I was behind the times and had no vision of the future. Note that I didn’t say that e-books would never be accepted; I said it was a slow process.

Have e-book sales overtaken physical books? Not after research and articles examining the numbers.

Don’t underestimate the compatibility.

What marketers can learn

The guiding principles cited above crop up in every infomercial: show the audience a relative advantage of your product, make its benefits observable, make it compatible in all senses, make it easy without paying, and just close it to use.

Are these strong ideas? You bet. A lot of academic research has been done that has shown that very few new business ideas survive if they don’t contain all of these basic elements.

So take a look at your product or service and see if your actions align with the ideas presented in this article about what makes products successful (e.g. easily identifiable benefits, etc.) If not, don’t expect your listing to sell as fast as those on these big bucketful infomercials.

Additional resources for introducing new products

Can you make sure your launch isn’t a dud? Yes, quick market tests can do that

Recovering the lost art of product marketing

What convinces buyers to try new B2B technology providers and products?

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