The Appeal of the Infomercial

Rosser Johnson


Since the early 1990s, global television viewers have been presented with ever-increasing, putatively novel, forms of commercial speech. Such forms include advertorial, programme sponsorship, paid-for ‘considerations’ and infomercials. Typically, scholars have focussed on these forms of commercial speech as part of, or an adjunct to, other, wider, concerns, such as the impact of regulatory change. One result is that the forms themselves are not interrogated as thoroughly as they might be, with the consequence that they (and their component factors) may be assumed, rather than understood. This article remedies this situation by empirically describing the infomercial form and by critically examining the appeal of that form in relation to three main actors in the television ecology: advertisers, broadcasters, and audiences. Specifically, the article builds on data from three sources. First, relevant popular and academic publications have been used to outline the contemporary state of the industry. Second, I draw from a series of semi-structured interviews conducted with infomercial and television industry practitioners. These took place in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand. Third, I conducted four focus groups in Auckland, with two groups of open ages (participants here possibly had some experience viewing public service television) and two groups of adolescents (participants only had experience of the post-1990 highly commercialised television environment).

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