Photography & Video

Learning from Infomercials for Product Demonstration

Perhaps the easiest advertisers to brush off are the ones behind television infomercials — those talking-head, late-night sales pitches complete with low-budget graphics and mind-numbing sound effects, enticing us to buy a $29.99 kitchen gadget we don’t need at 2 a.m.

What could they know, right?

But the infomercial — also known as “direct response television” — continues to be one of the most successful marketing mediums. Last year, infomercials in the U.S. generated more than $100 billion in sales, three times the amount that Amazon sells in that same region. And while they may not use Google Analytics, direct response advertisers are considered to be masters of sales conversion optimization, often able to design tests and collect data that can predict sales before a product is even manufactured.

Apparently, they know a lot.

I will leave important concepts like urgency, price anchoring, and the many other sales techniques often employed in infomercials to other experts. What I want to focus on in this piece is arguably the most critical element of infomercials, which directly relates to my area of expertise of product display and online media: demonstration.

Look at one of my favorite infomercials. This is for the “Rollie Eggmaster,” a clever device for cooking eggs.

Note that it does what every good direct response ad should do: It shows you how the product works. Although it also demonstrates the benefits the product will bring its owner and the high value of the offer, it first makes sure the viewer understands exactly what the product does. This is critical to success.

Ecommerce merchants have even more freedom to demonstrate their products online than advertisers do on television, and many savvy companies are beginning to take advantage of this fact. For example, augmented reality systems and interactive videos are becoming more common for demonstrating how products look, feel, and work online. Below are two examples of companies that have learned the important lesson of the infomercial while surpassing what can be achieved with traditional television advertising.

TOMS Virtual Try-On

Different versions of “virtual try-on” systems for eyewear have been available for several years. But until recently they were clumsy and hard to use due to poor head tracking technology and the lack of high quality cameras integrated into laptop computers.

TOMS, perhaps most famous for giving one pair of free shoes to a child for every pair sold, is leading the pack with its virtual try-on system.

TOMS’ system uses augmented reality, which goes well beyond what can be accomplished with static images. Online shoppers can see themselves in a pair of TOMS glasses while they move their heads around and rotate from side to side. This gives a more complete demonstration of the product and likely improves customer engagement and increases sales.

Fender Stratocaster 360 Product View

Fender uses a 3D product rotator to display its Stratocaster series guitars.

Fender uses a 3D product rotator to display its Stratocaster series guitars.

The guitar manufacturer Fender recently added to its website a beautiful 360 product view of its iconic Stratocaster line. A 360-degree product view — often called a “360 product spin” — allows an online shopper to interactively rotate, or “spin,” an object on the screen to gain a better understanding of its shape and design. Fender does not appear to be using 360 product photography — a process that involves recording a set of images of the product as it rotates — but is instead using a 3D CAD model of the guitar.

Video and interactive media are deep topics, and I will be exploring their use for online sales and marketing, along with prevailing content creation tools, in forthcoming articles. But for now, think about how you can follow the lesson of the infomercial. How will you take advantage of the increasingly interactive and rich online experience to better demonstrate how your products look, feel, and work? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Create Product Videos that Show Instead of Tell

There have been many studies on the growing impact of video in online sales and marketing materials. It was the fastest growing ad format in 2012, with nearly 55 percent growth, according to eMarketer.

While the experts are still debating the precise quantitative impact, the broad consensus is clear; good product videos improve sales. It’s no wonder that Amazon, Zappos, and Walmart all use videos. Follow their lead.

Previous Practical eCommerce articles have discussed the tools and process for creating high quality product photography — see “How to Take Gorgeous Product Photos,” my previous article. Those same tools — including your smartphone — can be used to create compelling product videos. Study the techniques used in infomercials to demonstrate product functionality and develop videos of your products that employ those same techniques.

2. Investigate the Rising Tide of Tools for Online 3D and Augmented Reality

If you are a product manufacturer that sells online, you may already have 3D drawings or CAD files of your products. If so, you should check out SketchFab, a well executed site for hosting, managing, and embedding 3D content. SketchFab has made adding an interactive 3D model to your online store as easy as adding a YouTube video. You will need a 3D model to begin with, which you may not always have. 360 product photography is an easy way to achieve the benefits of online 3D systems with much lower costs and fewer technical hurdles.

If you’re an ecommerce merchant selling jewelry or eyewear, there may be virtual try-on systems, such as, that you can integrate into your site’s sales flow.

3. Ask your Product Manufacturers for Online Content

From my experience, product manufacturers often have more media — photos, videos, interactive media, and infographics — that shows how their products work than they remember to share with their merchants. Ask them and you may be pleasantly surprised.


Although you might not sell a clever device for cooking eggs or a blanket with arm holes, reconsider the methods you are currently using to demonstrate your products online. Sometimes it takes just a bit of perspective and commitment to transform the way you are showcasing your products. It’s not always easy and fast, but if the infomercial has taught us anything, it’s that slicing tomatoes is surprisingly difficult and effectively demonstrating your product to your online shopping audience is well worth the trouble.

Jason Lawrence
Jason Lawrence
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