Which Infomercials Are Lying?

The Infomercial Money Machine

Note: Consumer Reports has no relationship with the advertisers on this site. Ladies and gentlemen, do you scrub, scrape, and scour baked-on crud on cookware; cry over gallons of spilled milk; fall off your ladder when cleaning gutters; and torture yourself to get a firmer fanny? Wish there were a better way? Then stay up late tonight, rub your magic TV remote, and—abracadabra!—Infomercial Genie will save the day. Infomercials are the Rodney Dangerfields of advertising: They've gotten no respect for their quirky hucksters, ceaseless superlatives, and corny product names since at least the early 1960s. That's when Ron Popeil pioneered the Ronco Veg-o-Matic, once claimed to be "the only appliance in the world that slices whole, firm tomatoes in one stroke. French fries? Make hundreds in 1 minute!" But infomercials are a mighty money machine. They can chop marketing costs to as little as one-tenth the size of a traditional advertising campaign. They can slice posted prices when they lard the total bill with shipping and handling fees and other extras. They can dice consumer pocketbooks into 100 billion $1 bills a year, then miraculously sweep away that unsightly paper using patented credit-card technology. The secret lies in neuroscience. Infomercials are carefully scripted to pump up dopamine levels in your brain, says Martin Lindstrom, an advertising expert and author of "Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy," which details how ads affected 2,000 research subjects. "Infomercials take viewers on a psychological roller-coaster ride," Lindstrom says. The fun starts with dramatizations of a problem you didn't know you had, followed by the incredible solution, then a series of ever more amazing product benefits, bonuses, and giveaways, all leading to the final thrilling plunge of an unbelievably low price. After the ride, Lindstrom says, "dopamine levels drop in 5 or 6 minutes. That's why infomercials ask you to buy in the next 3 minutes." —Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org or check out Consumer Reports’ Money advice. Photo Credit: Michale