For many of us, the word “infomercial” might bring to mind images of late-night TV ads for kitchen gadgets, exercise equipment, or cleaning products. But infomercials have a long and fascinating history, spanning several decades and encompassing a wide range of products and services. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the history of infomercials, from their origins in the 1940s to the present day.
1940s-1950s: The First Infomercials
The first infomercial is widely believed to be for the Vita-Mix blender, which aired in 1949 on a local TV station in Ohio. The 30-minute program demonstrated the features and benefits of the blender, and was designed to educate and inform viewers about how the product worked and what it could do.
In the 1950s, the concept of long-form advertising began to take hold, as companies like Bulova Watches and Chevrolet experimented with hour-long TV specials promoting their products.
1960s-1970s: The Rise of Direct Response TV
In the 1960s and 1970s, the concept of direct response TV (DRTV) began to gain popularity. DRTV ads were typically 30- or 60-second spots that included a call to action, such as a phone number or website where viewers could order the product directly.
In 1978, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began regulating infomercials, requiring them to disclose the fact that they were advertisements.
1980s: Fitness, Juicing, and Business Opportunities
The 1980s saw the rise of the 30-minute infomercial, which allowed companies to showcase their products in more detail and provide more in-depth information to viewers. One of the most successful infomercials of the decade was for the “ThighMaster,” a fitness product that became a cultural phenomenon.
Other popular infomercials of the era included the “Juiceman,” which promoted a juicing machine, and various business opportunity infomercials that promised viewers a chance to get rich quick.
1990s: Household Names and Regulation
In the 1990s, infomercials became even more mainstream, with products like the George Foreman Grill, OxiClean, and the Snuggie becoming household names. The rise of cable TV and satellite channels also provided more opportunities for infomercials to reach a wider audience.
However, with the increased popularity of infomercials came increased regulation. In 1997, the FTC issued the “Franchise Rule,” which required infomercials promoting business opportunities to disclose certain information to viewers.
2000s: Full Disclosure
In the early 2000s, the FTC began to crack down even harder on deceptive infomercials, issuing new rules that required infomercials to disclose all material facts about a product, including any limitations or conditions that apply to its use or performance.
At the same time, the rise of the internet and e-commerce began to change the way that consumers shopped, leading to a decline in the popularity of TV infomercials.
2010s-Present: The Future of Infomercials
Despite the challenges of a changing media landscape, infomercials continue to be a popular way for companies to promote their products. However, the rise of social media and other digital platforms has led to a shift away from traditional TV infomercials and toward long-form video ads on YouTube, Facebook, and other channels.