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By Jim McNamara
Reprinted from Response Magazine

You’ve heard it a million times: 
“There are no rules for making great advertising.”
Oh yeah?

In this article, I’ve assembled 72 of the most important principles that smart marketers follow to create great TV spots and infomercials. 

I’ve tried to cover everything from the basics all the way to creativity, CTAs, offers and fixes, plus give you tips and comments from some of the most experienced people in the business.



1) TV products must be unique and special.

Even with the changing retail market, it’s still easier, cheaper, faster and just makes more sense for most people to buy at a store. So if you want them to buy from you, you have to have something really special.

2) The visual appeal of the product is vital.

TV is one big show and tell. Your product has to look great. If it lends itself to an amazing demonstration, so much the better. On TV, people are buying mainly on the basis of what they see and hear.

3) You must have an irresistible deal.

There are many obstacles to a TV purchase. To name just a few, if people buy from you, they have to:  1) talk to a stranger, 2) give him their credit card number, 3) pay shipping & handling, 4) wait 4 to 6 weeks for delivery, and 5) commit to a product they’ve never seen. If you expect to get over these hurdles, you’d better have one heck of an offer.

4) Passion sells.

Energy and excitement sell. Center your show around an Anthony Robbins, Susan Powter or Victoria Jackson who really, really believes in your product.

5) You need 5x markup.

You need a healthy markup to pay for media. If you’re going to sell for $19.95, your cost-of-goods should be about $4.

6) DRTV :120 spot products should be priced at $19.95.

OK, there are exceptions. Some products are doing very well above that point. “The Back Pleaser by Homedics has been very successful at 4 payments of $24.95,” says Collette Liantonio, president of Concepts Video Productions Inc. in Montville, New Jersey.

7) Infomercial products should be priced at $39 or more.

That higher margin is necessary because your media time will probably cost more than a spot.

8) It’s harder to close a sale than create a lead.

Yep, it’s harder when you have to ask for the money. But don’t let that stop you, because...

9) It’s better to make a sale than create a lead.

However, don’t underestimate lead generation. Guess what was one of the very first hits for American Telecast’s founders Steve Scott and Bob Marsh? A lead generating campaign for life insurance.

10) Plan for the upsell.

“Try different offers, incentives, prices and packages,” says Jeffrey Glickman, president of World Class Marketing in Greenwich, Connecticut. “You can create upsells that over 60%of callers will go for.”

11) Test 2 or 3 prices and bonuses.

No matter how smart you are, America is smarter. Let them tell you what the right price point is.

12) Retail outsells TV.

If you have wide distribution, you can sell 10 times more products in retail than you will with your spot or infomercial.

13) Don’t fall in love with your product. 

“You have to remain objective,” says Marsha Kent, co-president of Kent & Spiegel Direct in Culver City, California. “Look at your product with a critical eye. You can be assured that’s what the TV viewer is doing.”

14) You have to be clear.

In the end, there’s no room for B.S. If you’re not clear about your offer, expect lots of expensive “inquiry” calls.

15) You don’t have to look cheap.

Today, effective DRTV can look as good as you want it to look. Spots and shows are shot on tape and film, with high or low budgets, and can look beautiful, even exotic.


Testimonial shoot

Shooting on location


16) A :120 can out-pull a :60 by more than 2 to 1.

Usually. But you’ll still want to make your spots in shorter lengths like :90, :60 and maybe even :30 as well.

17) Just because a spot works, it doesn’t mean your show will.

They’re different formats with different dynamics, even though many of the principles they use are the same.

18) Just because Home Shopping Network works, it doesn’t mean a spot or show will.

There’s no correlation, unfortunately. Although a successful DRTV product will usually do well on the shopping channels, too.

19) You must appeal to a mass market.

You can’t target TV like you can radio or print, so you’re buying the whole population. Your product should appeal to as wide an audience as possible.


20) The product is king.

You hear this a lot. But don’t think that just because you have a better mousetrap the world is going to beat a path to your telephone, because...

21) The script is everything.

Say the right things and the phone rings off the hook. Forget to say the right things and your secrets go the grave with you. Direct response writing is not for the faint of heart.

22) The 6 Biggest Sellers.

1) Quick, 2) Easy, 3) Love, 4) Greed, 5) New, and 6) Fun. Virtually every successful product hits one of those 6 hot buttons.

23) And the winners are...

Weight loss, exercise equipment, self-improvement, money making, cosmetics, housewares, golf, fishing, tools and car care.

24) DRTV is a writer’s medium.

Or a writer/producer’s. He or she is as critical to your DRTV success as, say, the director is to a big budget film or commercial.

25) Listen to the guy who’s actually sold the product.

Chances are, he knows more about his product than you ever will.

26) Use problem-solution.

“A good DRTV product solves a problem,” says Barbara Kerry, president of Script to Screen Productions in Santa Ana, California. “Dramatize and build up the problem, then offer the product as the clear cut answer.” 

27) Talk directly to the viewer.

Traditional advertising may use lots of slice-of-life, but you’ll find that doesn’t get people to pick up the phone like a good old, direct appeal.

28) Know what your benefits are.

Can you list 5 major reasons a viewer should buy?  Can you phrase them in short, powerful sentences? You should do that before even starting to write.

29) Know what your claims are.

Do the same thing with your claims. Would they be more powerful if they were more specific, or less?

30) Respect your customers.

Sure, baldness cures and reducing plans are very funny on Saturday Night Live. Very funny. Unless you’re bald or fat.

Your potential customers want to be taken seriously and treated fairly. They want to buy from the guy at the Hair Club who says, “I’m not only the president, but a client myself.”

31) Show incredible demonstrations.

TV was made for demonstrations. Whenever you can, make sure you “show” as well as “tell”. Today’s video technology makes it possible and affordable. What a tool for selling your product.

32) Work to define a unique selling proposition.

Remember the USP? What is it for your product? Can you clearly define it in a single sentence? If you can’t, get out your #2 pencil and go to work.

33) Give a reason to believe.

“Give people a simple explanation of why your product works,” says Hollywood-based Peter Bieler, ThighMaster marketer and author of This Business Has Legs (New York: John Wiley & Son, 1996). “We all need a reason to believe.”

Jim McNamara is a proven writer-producer for DRTV, internet, print, and interactive projects. He can be reached at or at 818-425-6441.



34) Don’t worry about filling your half hour.

People say, “Gee, how much can you say about a widget? How can you fill a half hour?”  Well, once you get into it, it’s easy. There’s a lot to say about good products.

35) Simplify, simplify.

“Got Milk?”  Use short, active sentences. No long words. Stay away from the Thesaurus and those 25-cent words.

36) Repeat, repeat.

OK, so you don’t want to sound stupid. But remember, a lot of people are only half-watching.




Shooting on green screen


37) Learn from other mediums.

What hot buttons sell your product in stores, at fairs, or in direct sales? What can you learn?

38) Learn from other shows.

You don’t want to copy the other guys, but stay abreast of what’s working with other spots and shows. There’s a reason that so many phone number tags, for example, look the same. Can you spot it?

39) Counter objections & give details./p>

If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know the typical questions or objections people are going to have about your product. So answer them!  Those little details like “For Mac or Windows” mean a lot when you’re thinking about buying.

40) The first 3 minutes are key.

Pros like Las Vegas’ Joe Sugarman of BluBlocker sunglasses fame will tell you to work hard on the opening of the show. Why? Because that’s where you grab a lot of viewers.

41) Have a lawyer go over your script.

Observe the ERA guidelines. Sure, nobody likes paying those rates. But, as Jeffrey Knowles of the Washington D.C.’s Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti says, “You can pay us a little now, or a lot later.”

42) You can’t sell prevention.

You can generate leads, but closing a sale is tough.

43) An air test is better than a focus group.

Focus groups are great, but expensive and easy to misinterpret. If you want to know if your show will work, it’s better to just put it on the air. The results are far more reliable.

44) Avoid humor.

It rarely sells anything but comedy albums.

45) Watch out when they say, “let’s do something different.”

“Different” usually turns out to mean, “unsuccessful.”  Sure, a lot of shows and spots look the same. So do soap operas and rock concerts. DRTV is a form, a delicate format for TV advertising. If you want a show that pulls sales, be sure you understand it before you try to reinvent it.

46) Plan for how you’ll protect your success.

There are a number of things you can do to protect your product. They range from product selection, to patents, to unique creative elements. Use them to avoid getting ripped off.

47) Create 2 or 3 call-to-actions inside your show.

The goal is to let the person order when he or she wants to. Interestingly, even when you have 2 or 3 commercials, most calls still come in at the end.

48) The audience should make sense.

There should be a reason when they applaud.


49) Stars stop channel surfers & add instant credibility.

Suzanne Somers has great legs, so she was a perfect choice for Thighmaster. Your star ought to have some relevance to the product.

50) The more a star is personally involved with the product, the better.

How does your celebrity measure up against, say, Victoria Jackson talking about her cosmetics?

51) A star can be your best copywriter.

Believe it or not, actors can be very smart people with some real insight into what sells.


52) Don’t try to “lift” a :120 from an infomercial.

Sure, you can use pieces and shots. But infomercial CTAs are designed to fall in the context of the show, while DRTV spots can run anywhere. A lift may not make sense.

53) A CTA should start by summarizing the benefits.

Refresh the viewer on why she ought to buy.

54) Re-establish credentials and credibility.

Next, remind her of the authority and credibility behind the product.

55) Establish value.

Before you reveal the price, remind her of what the other products cost. Yours ought to be a bargain.

56) Make the offer.

It must be very clear what the buyer will get.

57) Add bonus items.

These add-ons can add punch and urgency, giving somebody a real reason to buy now. They ought to be relevant to the main product and simple to explain.

58) Make a terrific guarantee.

“Make a terrific guarantee, then keep making it,” says Greg Renker of Guthy-Renker Corporation in Palm Desert, California.

59) Ask for the order.

The name of this game is action!


60) Only the director should talk to the actors.

Otherwise, actors and everybody else can get confused.

61) Remember, the sales message is the key.

That’s why the script and the writer/producer are so important.

62) Don’t script testimonials.

They’ll be much better if you let them use their own words.

63) With effects & music, less is more.

“Effects and music can add a lot to a show,” says Joan Renfro, president of LA-based Onyx Productions, “but only if they don’t distract from the selling message.”

64) Allow ad-libs.

Who knows, somebody besides you might say something great. People like to hear real people.

65) Don’t fake demonstrations.

It’s illegal, and you’ll create a real returns nightmare if you promise what you can’t deliver.

66) Always make extra prototypes.

You never have enough for that one last beauty shot.

67) After 10 hours, all shoots are going downhill.

The crew is tired, the actors are tired, and you’re about to be hit with overtime. But most importantly, you’re tired and probably not making your best decisions.


68) Don’t show a phone number until after the offer.

The experts say it makes “info” calls skyrocket.

69) No matter how your show does, you’ll reedit.

“Smart producers design their shows so they’re easy to change,” says editor Jim Settlemoir of L.A.’s Burbank Editing Company. “They build in shortcuts.”

70) Make big changes, not little ones.

The hard part with fixes is finding a change that will actually make a difference.

71) Look at the opening, the offer and the CTAs first.

That’s where you can make the most difference the fastest.

72) You’ll never mess with success.

Don’t kid yourself by thinking you can put in an inferior shot now, thinking that you’ll fix it later. If the show’s a hit, you won’t dare touch it!


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