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THE WORD : Call Me

August 06, 1995|Greg Spring

To you, infomercials may be hyperkinetic half-hour programs that have displaced your favorite Saturday-morning cartoons and middle-of-the-night movies with pitches for food dehydrators, hair extensions and exercise devices.

But to Steven Dworman, infomercials are a respectable, $1-billion-a-year business that fulfills customer needs with the touch of a phone button. They're also his bread and butter. Dworman publishes the Infomercial Marketing Report newsletter, the bible of the so-called direct-response television industry.

With 6,000 subscribers in 17 countries from Singapore to Peru, the 16-page newsletter reports on industry trends, new products and companies' ups and downs and deals. It also keeps tabs on consumer habits: It alerted readers at the height of the O.J. Simpson trial frenzy that customer response was down dramatically when the trial was in session. Infomercial addicts, apparently, were trial junkies as well.

Dworman, who launched the newsletter in 1991, is no stranger to out-of-the-ordinary consumer products. While studying film and TV at UCLA, he developed and sold the Lites-Out reusable plastic shade that turned any room into a photographer's darkroom. Next came VideoMate, touted as the world's first home-video dating service. All of which was a fruitful proving ground for someone who would eventually delve into the often-stupefying world of Pet Gloves, Brooke Shields Forever Sheer No-Run Pantyhose and Power Flo Paintsticks.

To those who think that infomercials peddle nothing but junk, Dworman says there is persuasive evidence to the contrary. "Buying the air time is so expensive that if an infomercial is not making money, it won't stay on the air," he says.

Infomercials do much more than pitch products, he says. "The fact that an infomercial is on the air" and succeeding, Dworman contends, "says as much about that infomercial as what our needs and wants as consumers are."

Major corporations that have gotten into the act recently, Dworman says, include such corporate giants as Apple, Upjohn, Toyota and Philips Media. "In the first four months of its infomercial, Philips sold more CD-i ["i" for interactive] players than it had sold in the previous 14 months."

He's such a believer in the power of infomercials that he used one to market his own women's fragrance, Curiosity. It's doing quite well, he says, even though skeptics said no one would buy a perfume they hadn't smelled.

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