Honey, Cover the Kids' Eyes! It's An Infomercial!
Infomercials were born in 1984, when the government ended its 12-minute-per-hour limit on TV ads. Six years later, the "shows" (for which the infomercialist buys the airtime) were raking in a reported $500 million in sales of products, some costing up to $180.
Stars are singing hosannas to financial plans, car wax, male-potency preparations and weight-loss systems. Why? Mostly, it's not to bolster sagging careers but, as an infomercial might put it, "to maximize hidden earning potential." According to Greg Renker, president of Guthy-Renker Corp., a major producer of the ads, participating celebrities might be paid as little as $5,000 up front but can earn a big chunk based on sales generated by the spots.
There have been grumblings, both from consumers and the Federal Trade Commission, about unfounded claims made for some products (for instance, a diet-device "show" featuring Michael Reagan was withdrawn after an FTC challenge). And infomercials haven't always been labeled as such. So the National Infomercial Marketing Association—a self-monitoring (but technically powerless) group of producers—has recommended that, at the least, these shows should carry a label.
Meanwhile, one cable network has plans for an infomercial channel. Now, that's a beast.