Should You Believe Every Word in an Infomercial? Essay Example
Should You Believe Every Word in an Infomercial?
Infomercials are not typically rooted strictly in fact. It is no surprise that the main goal is to sell a product, and any information or education offered is secondary. In actuality, while infomercials have the supposed purpose of informing or educating the viewer, this is almost always pretense; the facts presented are often scarce if present at all and biased positive opinions about the products take the main stage. There have long been major concerns from both consumers and the Federal Trade Commission alike that infomercials routinely participate in deceptive marketing tactics. The FTC is a government agency primarily focused on protecting consumers from a variety of transactional-related concerns, including deceptive marketing and illegal trade practices.
When infomercials first gained popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was less awareness about deceptive marketing tactics they might use and few laws and regulations to keep them in check. One major concern of the FTC in this era was that viewers of infomercials would mistakenly assume the demonstrations presented were accurate portrayals of how the product would perform in the consumer’s home (Lewis 853). In reality, such demonstrations are pre-determined to work out, given the best possible conditions, and do not represent accurately how well a product will work for the average consumer. Another major concern the FTC had at the onset of infomercial popularity was the presence of paid endorsements, often by trusted celebrities. Celebrity endorsements, or even the endorsements of unknown paid actors in the infomercial, can be mistakenly viewed by the consumer as objective and real-time experiences (Lewis 853-854). In reality, these endorsements are written by the company selling the product, not by the individual claiming to have had an organic experience with the product.
Some more modern viewers of infomercials may be more knowledgeable about the deceptive techniques used in infomercial marketing since they have been around for quite some time at this point and have garnered a negative reputation among some consumers. Many people have had an experience, or know someone who has, of purchasing a product to find that the claims in the infomercial were misleading or entirely untrue, that the quality of the product was different than what was purported, or that the product only works under very specific conditions. The more collective experience we have with infomercials and their products, the more general knowledge there is about the dubious nature of their claims.
There are still many consumers, however, that still believe that infomercials are a reputable source of information about the products since they believe that there are protections in place to stop outright deceptive marketing practices. One may assume that if an infomercial was airing untrue claims, they would be caught and shut down by the FTC or other regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, a 2001 study found that this isn’t necessarily the case. From a survey of 350 television stations, it was found that there was no standardized format or regulations in how a station decides if an infomercial is ethical and if they choose to air it (Wicks and Abernethy 46-47). Many stations were found to routinely accept ads that contain misinformation that could even harm consumers, especially when the products are within the health and wellness category (49). The authors suggest more policies be put in place to stop harm to consumers due to misleading and unethical infomercial claims.
Even if an infomercial’s claim is viewed skeptically by consumers, their tactics still work. This is why more regulations should be put in place to protect consumers. Creators of infomercials are willing to deceive consumers and continue to make infomercials that mislead viewers because the sales tactics do work. While the infomercial may make an outrageous claim, many consumers assume that the product still works to some degree, and believe the product can solve their problem (Dimofte and Yalch 295).
The success of many infomercial product sales may be driven by the idea that one can transform themselves with such products. One of the largest industries that frequently use infomercials is the personal care industry (Investor’s Business Daily 2001). These products include things like diet aids, beauty items, and personal grooming devices. Infomercials for personal care items use the promise of transformation to play on consumers’ emotions, enticing them with the belief that they can improve their appearance in a significant way (O’Donnell and Wardlow 175-176); a belief that some argue could be rooted in transformational makeovers presented to us in childhood through fairytales such as Cinderella (168-169).
Infomercials have three main persuasive techniques they tend to utilize in getting consumers to purchase a product: enhancing credibility, using logic and evidence, and using emotion (Firmansyah and Kuntjara 12-13). Tactics discussed earlier in this essay correspond to these three main persuasive techniques. A seller using celebrity endorsements or seemingly authentic testimonials is aiming to enhance their credibility. The presenter may walk through a problem step-by-step, with the ultimate goal being to show how the product can logically solve the consumer’s problem. However, such logic may be incomplete or ignore important factors that make the claims incorrect. The consumer, however, may not be able to detect when important factors in logical reasoning are missing or misinterpreted. The end result is that the presenter of an infomercial appears to have demonstrated that the product’s benefits are logical without that logic being meaningful or accurate. Finally, as with almost all advertising strategies, infomercials capitalize on consumers’ emotions. They exaggerate the emotional weight of a problem a consumer might have and then exaggerate the way they will feel once they own and use the product. These three factors contribute to understanding how even skeptical consumers may fall for the persuasions of infomercial advertising practices.
One should not blindly believe every word they hear or every action they see in an infomercial demonstration. As we’ve discussed, even with childhood priming and the belief in the power of a transformational makeover, many consumers are ready to believe that they can find almost magical results if only they find the right product. Creators of infomercials take advantage of this belief and can artificially increase their credibility with the consumer, manipulate their sense of logic, use misleading facts, and prey on our shared emotions surrounding problems we all experience. All of this is done to achieve the bottom line, more sales of their products. An informed consumer is the best defense. Consumers should understand the lack of regulatory protections for infomercials, beware of manipulative and dishonest marketing tactics, and research product claims on their own before falling for every claim made in an infomercial.
Dimofe, Claudiu V., and Richard F. Yalch. "Consumer responses to false information: Is believability necessary for persuasion?” Applying social cognition to consumer-focused strategy. Psychology Press, 2006. 293-308.
Firmansyah, Iqbal, and Esther, H. Kuntjara. "Persuasive strategies used by Agung Sedayu Group in the infomercial, Metro TV.” Kata Kita, vol. 4, issue 2, 2016, pp. 12-20.
Investor’s Business Daily (2001), "Industry Snapshot: Cosmetics”. Investor’s Business Daily, March 5, 2001.
Lewis, W. H. Ramsay. "Infomercials, deceptive advertising, and the federal trade commission." Fordham Urb. LJ, vol. 19, 1991, pp. 853-873.
O’Donnell, Kathleen A., and Daniel L. Wardlow. "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you: Women’s transformational myths in an infomercial.” ACR Gender and Consumer Behavior (2002).
Wicks, Jan LeBlanc, and Avery M. Abernethy. "Effective consumer protection or benign neglect? A model of television infomercial clearance.” Journal of Advertising, vol. 30, issue 1, 2001, pp. 41-54.