Infomercials - as the word implies, are television commercials that run as long as a typical television program. Infomercials, also known as paid programming or teleshopping in Europe are normally shown outside of peak hours, such as daytime or late night (usually 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.). Some television stations have undertaken to air such programming as an alternative to the former practice of sign-off.
The word "infomercial" is a portmanteau of the words "information" and "commercial". As in any other form of advertisement, the content is a commercial message designed to represent the viewpoints and to serve the interest of the sponsor. Infomercials are often made to closely resemble actual television programming, usually talk shows, with minimal acknowledgement that the program is actually an advertisement.
Infomercials are designed to solicit a direct response which is specific and quantifiable and are, therefore, a form of direct response marketing (not to be confused with direct marketing). The ad response is delivered directly to television viewers by infomercial advertisers through the television ad. In normal commercials, advertisers do not solicit a direct response from viewers, but, instead, brand their product in the market place amongst potential buyers.
Infomercial advertisers may make use of flashy catchphrases, repeat basic ideas, and/or employ scientist-like characters or celebrities as guests or hosts in their ad. The book As Seen on TV (Quirk Books) by Lou Harry and Sam Stall highlights the history of such memorable products as the Flowbee, the Chia Pet, and Ginsu knives. The Flowbee and Ginsu were put on air by infomercial guru Kevin Harrington. Many infomercials have limited time offers and/or claim one can only purchase the wares from television, that slightly pressure the viewers into buying their products. Teleshopping is generally taken to mean buying at a distance or real-time transaction processing from a PC at home or work.The Internet is home to a huge teleshopping industry. Teleshopping was invented and pioneered in the UK in 1979 by Michael Aldrich who demonstrated real-time transaction processing from a domestic television and subsequently installed many systems throughout the UK in the 1980s.
It is quite possible that the first Informercial series which ran in North America was on San Diego-area television station XETV-TV, which during the 1970s ran a one-hour television program every Sunday consisting of advertisements for local homes for sale. As the station was actually licensed by the Mexican government to the city of Tijuana, (but the station broadcasts all of its programs in English for the U.S. market), the FCC limit at that time of a maximum of 18 minutes of commercials in an hour did not apply to the station.
Infomercials proliferated in the United States after 1984 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eliminated regulations on the commercial content of television established in the 1950s and 1960s. Much of their early development can be attributed to business partners Edward Valenti and Barry Beecher, who developed the format to sell the Ginsu Knife.
Some televangelists such as Robert Tilton and Peter Popoff buy television time from infomercial brokers representing TV stations around the U.S. and even some mass-distributed cable networks that are not averse to carrying religious programming.