Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Operators Are Standing By

I was up late last night working and left the TV on in the background. I don't even remember what I was watching, but it was late enough that regular programming had ended and the infomercials had commenced. I changed the channel when I finished my work, but noticed these commercials were on a lot of the channels. Some were a minute or two long, and some were a full 30 minutes.

I think I might have found a new hobby.

I enjoyed watching them, and realizing just how dumb the people selling these items think we all are. And I'm afraid they're right. There's a basic formula all of these things follow: Convince you your life is horrible, then show you how much better it could be if you purchased their product. We all know that's how any advertising works, but the infomercials are much less subtle, and that's what makes them so entertaining. Let me break down how these things work.

Objective 1: Remind you that you want something.

They all start the same way. "Do you wish you had great washboard abs?" "Everybody loves fresh tomatoes off the vine!" or "Do you need more space in your closet?"

These statements and questions are posed by an energetic, loud person (R.I.P. Billy Mays) who probably loves Monday mornings.

Objective 2: Show you that you'll never have these things.

This is where it gets entertaining. They answer those questions or respond to those statements with something that basically says, "but you're an idiot, so you'll never have those things". This is the part where they show black-and-white footage of someone in excruciating pain. Always with poor lighting they show a really fat guy in sweats, struggling to do a sit-up, or a woman with her hair in knots trying to cut tomatoes with a knife as sharp as a rolling pin, while her kids hatch plans to burn schools and hijack commercial jets. Sometimes they'll show a person with wires all tied in knots, wincing in pain like their foot is getting gnawed off by a muskrat; other times they show an old man, hunched over and working in the garden until he appears to get shot in the lower back with a BB gun. Other times you might realize just how impossible it is to stay warm only using a flat blanket while you use the remote control or read a book.

This is when we, as consumers, say to ourselves "they're right, these things and the bliss associated with them really are unattainable to someone like me. My life is horrible."

Objective 3: Convince you that you can, indeed have a fruitful life after all!

The key words in this section of the infomercial are something like "UNTIL NOW!!!".

This is where the production quality suddenly improves. Suddenly a supermodel, smiling ear-to-ear with well-behaved kids doing homework, effortlessly slices right through that tomato, and we're led to believe this is the same woman from before. Brightly lit and in fashionable workout clothes, a man with washboard abs and perfect teeth and hair, easily does an effective, ab-shredding workout while sitting in a recliner. Or the same older gentleman, in a perfectly-manicured garden, tills the soil with the greatest of ease while his wife hugs him and presents him with an ice-cold lemonade. These scenes are usually accompanied by a momentary flash of light and a "Ding" sound.

This is where the consumer says to themselves, "wow, this would make life perfect! Only problem is, it probably costs a fortune. Some things are just too good to be true. I'm switching back to re-runs of The Nanny."

Objective 4: Show you that you can afford this kind of happiness.

Before you're able to change the channel, the obtrusive spokesperson momentarily affirms your greatest fears. "You would probably expect to pay 10, 20, even 60 MILLION DOLLARS for this in a store!" This is followed by more black-and-white still photos of other gadgets, along with stacks of money and bars of gold.

"Yep. Gimme some good news or I'm going back to Golden Girls."

But in the nick of time, we hear, "but this perfection in your miserable life can be achieved for just four easy payments of $19.95!!!" The same black and white pictures are now covered by the red circle with a line through it, or perhaps an image of broken glass. They are replaced by color images of the perfect gadget and a yellow circle containing the low, low price.

"Oh yeah, now I'm listening! I've already got every episode of Quantum Leap on VHS anyway. But I'm still not convinced. Is that really all I get?"

Objective 5: Sweeten the Deal, Seal the Deal.

"But wait!! There's more!!!" or "But that's not all!!!"

"Cha-ching! I knew if I waited long enough they'd come around. Suckers."

Here they want us to act fast, as if these treasures will only be available for the next hour and a half before they are all incinerated and their ashes are used to make Taco Bell food. This is where they either double the offer or give you something totally unrelated as a bonus gift. "If you're one of the first 50 callers, we'll give you the Snuggie AND this amazing combination travel flask, cigarette lighter and tire gauge."

This is where the majority of viewers faint from the sudden influx of joy that has filled their souls. But that's okay.

Objective 6: Repeat the Deal and the Contact Info

Your wife or your roommate comes sprinting into the room from the commotion.

"Hey Ronnie-Jack, did you fall down?"

"I reckon I did...look at the T.V., yer not gonna believe this!"

The unfathomable offer is repeated and accompanied by a money-back guarantee. You just pay shipping and handling but return it for a free refund. The flask/lighter/tire gauge is yours to keep. This just might be a better deal than the Elvis plate set you bought in '84.

Sometimes I just don't know how the expensive stores like Wal-Mart stay in business.

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