By David Gill
For marketers of as-seen-on-TV products, television is the laboratory in which they can test the viability of new products before they reach the stores.
“We use TV to drive retail,” said Larry Nusbaum, chief executive officer of Ronco. “If consumers see the same products in the stores, there’s a visceral response. It provides more visibility for the brand.”
Some marketers believe that the infomercial format benefited from the economic downturn. “Advertising has gotten more expensive in the past year,” said A.J. Khubani, president and chief executive officer of Telebrands. For this reason, “the downturn propelled our business. It was like sitting on a rocket,” he said.
What has also helped the infomercial model is its advantages over traditional TV ad spots. Anand (Andy) Khubani, president of IdeaVillage (and A.J. Khubani’s brother), said, “TV spot ads only capture a small percentage of the market. We run short-form infomercials, two-minute spots, which create more consumer impressions. Versus a traditional consumer-products company, we’re creating demand before the product hits retail.”
So important has this category become to retailers that some have designated buyers specifically for as-seen-on-TV merchandise, according to Michael Hirsch, vice president of Joseph Enterprises. “The stores are giving these products a decent amount of space and paying more attention to it because their customers are interested in it,” Hirsch said. “As-seen-on-TV is now a destination in mass merchants, drug chains, supermarkets and office-supply stores.”
Emson will celebrate its 65th anniversary in business next year, but shows no signs of being the retiring type.
Two months ago, the company conducted what Eddie Mishan, owner and chief executive officer, described as a “blitz” at the International Home + Housewares Show. In its booth in the South building, which Emson enlarged and revamped, the company displayed its expanded presence in the Sharper Image line—which now includes the Super Juicer, the Stainless Steel Super Grill, the Stainless Blender, the Super Wave Oven, the Citrus Juicer and the Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker.
Emson also displayed the InStyler, which Mishan described as the only rotating curling iron on the market. He said the company has already spent millions of dollars on promoting this product on television.
“We’ll expand our place in the personal-care category, too,” Mishan said. “We’ll do this with different variations and styles for the InStyler.”
The company is also building greater recognition for The Big Boss Grill, which comes with 12 plates for making waffles, omelettes, doughnuts and sandwiches, among other items. Emson is featuring The Big Boss Grill in both a 30-minute infomercial and a two-minute commercial, and Mishan said he also plans to expand this line throughout this year and in 2011. emsontv.com
A division of Hutzler Manufacturing Co.
Gourmac’s line includes the Easy Action Cookie Press, which has been on the market since the ’80s and “is still a hot seller for the fourth quarter,” said Monique Hass, marketing director, to more recent products such as the TenderMade Marinating Tray and ServIt Hot Plate Heaters. The Easy Action Cookie Press is now offered in the newer versions of red and green, with a storage container, as well as the original version. After having decorating accessories, cake forms and cookie presses in the line for years, the company expanded into the cupcake category last year, introducing the Cupcake Stacker, a creative way to display and stack cupcakes. gourmac.com
Hearthware Home Products
Having launched the NuWave Pro Infrared Oven a few years ago, Hearthware Home took another route toward elevating its visibility with the debut of an infomercial campaign.
Not only did the infomercials increase awareness for the NuWave, but they also brought honors to the company. In January, Hearthware Home was cited by Jordan Whitney Inc., an independent agency that monitors broadcast and cable media, for the Best Infomercial Direct Offer award.
The infomercials worked by linking the NuWave to important consumer trends, such as the desire for quick, healthy meals and energy savings versus conventional ovens. They spotlighted NuWave’s technology, which combines infrared, conduction and convection heat in a patented design.
“Our hard work has brought us success in both the direct-response and retail markets,” said John Stewart, vice president of consumer sales for Hearthware Home, “and we expect the momentum to continue for many years to come.” hearthware.com
Launched as a dot-com 11 years ago, IdeaVillage has become a mainstay in the as-seen-on-TV product category. It is in the midst of a spate of product launches, following its business model of introducing products via infomercials, then releasing them to retailers after they have proven to sell on television.
Two of these have already hit the airwaves. First, the Yoshi Blade debuted on TV in November 2009, and is being prepared for a June launch in mass merchants and specialty stores. The Yoshi is a Santoku knife with a ceramic blade. “The benefit of ceramic blades is that they stay sharp 10 times longer than stainless steel blades,” said Anand (Andy) Khubani, IdeaVillage’s founder, president and chief executive officer.
The second is the MicroForce, a wet-dry shaver that is the size of a credit card. The razor, which sells for $10, is powered by two double-A-size batteries, features a high-quality razor and can be used as a secondary shaver for travel, the work place or the gym. ideavillage.com
The chia-plant line—recently extended to appeal to consumers’ patriotism—remains the company’s mainstay in the as-seen-on-TV category.
The line extension is called Proud to Be an American, and now consists of the heads of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Statue of Liberty—all adorned with chia plants on top. This is by no means Joseph Enterprises’ first venture into character heads for its chia plants. As explained by Michael Hirsch, the company’s president, the chia line has included the Chia Head, depicting a clown and a professor; the Chia Guy; a licensed group of Chia heads featuring the Looney Tunes cartoon characters from Warner Brothers; and film, television and comic-strip characters such as SpongeBob, Shrek, the Simpsons, Scooby Doo and Garfield.
Hirsch said the customer base for the chias now covers just about every age group. “Kids, grandparents and friends are our market,” he said. “A lot of our research shows that it can be a gift, both fun and educational.” chia.com
Even though television advertising rates have gone back up from a year ago, the former prime time exposure “legitimized the infomercial business,” said Bill McAlister, co-founder and co-owner, and business is doing well for a number of reasons. For one, “we’re getting more space at retail,” he added, and more distribution channels are now open to selling As Seen On TV products, where they weren’t before. And while the television aspect of the business is still important, the web is becoming more of a sales vehicle as well. Right now its web sites bring in about one fifth of sales, but that will climb to 70 percent within five years, he said.
Starting with the Smart Mop 20 years ago, the company has other successes such as the Mighty line, Urine Gone and Ding King, and more are on the way. The Gyro Bowl, for example, is a bowl that rotates 360 degrees, preventing its contents from spilling out and is perfect for kids. “It’s the first time we’ve entered the children’s market; we’re really excited about it,” McAlister said. mediaenterprisesinc.com
The company that gave birth to the tagline, “But wait, there’s more,” is continuing to expand its footprint in the housewares market.
This year, the company is going forward with a redesign of its standard rotisserie and new collections of cutlery. The new version of the rotisserie has been reconfigured with features such as a stay-warm mode and a more modern design.
Mike Taub, Ronco’s director of product marketing, said the modern design will be a key selling point for the new rotisserie. “This product hasn’t been redesigned since its launch in 1999,” Taub said. He added that the infomercials for the rotisserie will break on television in the fall, and the company is gearing them to air before Thanksgiving, in time for the holiday shopping season.
The cutlery collections include the Signature, a 15-piece set that is being targeted at the high end; the Essential, a group of core knives meant for everyday use in the kitchen; and the Ultimate, which is a line of specialty knives.
Last year, Ronco CEO Larry Nusbaum was named Turnaround Coprorate Executive of the Year by the M&A Advisor. ronco.com
Though the economy is recovering and prime media time has gotten more expensive again, the infomercial business has taken off as retailers have recognized the category as a big one, said A.J. Khubani, president and chief executive officer, as well as the creator of the As Seen on TV logo. Not only have retailers gotten increasingly behind the category, “numerous new retailers have taken it on that you wouldn’t imagine before,” such as convenience, grocery, office supply, consumer electronics, and pet supply stores.
With 28 years in the business, the company first launched at retail with the Ambervision sunglasses in 1989, and other successful launches include the PedEgg foot file, PediPaws pet nail trimmer and Stick Up Bulb. With categories ranging from automotive to kitchen to hair care to storage, Khubani sees about 400 to 500 products a year, and only about four or five of those are launched, or one percent, he said. Bottle Top, a new item that turns beverage cans into bottles, had a “fantastic” testing last year, he said, and “should be good this year.” telebrands.com—Andrea Lillo contributed to this article.