Late-night television is full of them: infomercials, those long, loud and often cheesy paeans to everything from investment schemes to Oriental cookware.
But while these low-cost commercials and their direct-response cousins, the home shopping networks, reach only a small portion of the television audience, they are powerful marketing tools nonetheless. They can sometimes provide direct-response advertisers with sufficient success - and cash - for them to pursue mainstream audiences with more traditional and expensive advertising.
Orange Glo International, a privately held manufacturer of cleaning products, is the latest to make the sometimes risky leap from late-night television to prime time. The estimated $30 million a year it says it has been spending on its two signature products, Orange Clean and OxiClean, has been reallocated from infomercials to a campaign that uses 30-second television commercials. Infomercials continue for other Orange Glo products.
The spots were created by McClain Finlon Advertising, an independent shop in Denver, and are running on shows like "Will & Grace," "Third Watch," the "Today" show and "Late Show With David Letterman." Orange Glo is also buying ads on billboards and in magazines like Good Housekeeping, Ebony, Rosie and Better Homes and Gardens.
The company, which began in the suburban Denver garage of its founder, Max Appel, in 1986, at first used trade shows and word of mouth to sell its products, including Orange Clean, a liquid-spray cleaner for hard surfaces, and OxiClean, a white powder that oxidizes and breaks up organic stains. While sales were brisk, according to Joel Appel, who is Max's son and the company president, Orange Glo wanted more.
"We realized that television is the way to get your business out of the garage and into the real world," Joel Appel said. So Orange Glo began selling its products on the Home Shopping Network in 1997, he said, and began using infomercials as well the next year. These featured a loud, enthusiastic pitchman, Billy Mays, demonstrating the stain-removing power of the products.
The strategy paid off, Mr. Appel said. Last year, Orange Glo International, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., reported sales of $240 million. Its products are now available in retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Wal-Mart. OxiClean powder is now third in sales in its category nationwide, according to Information Resources of Chicago, which tracks consumer product sales.
That performance makes Orange Glo a direct competitor to consumer product giants like Procter & Gamble and S.C. Johnson & Son, companies that usually rely upon regular advertising. And its status prompted a new marketing approach.
"There's only so far that an infomercial can take you," said Cindy Heller, Orange Glo's marketing director. "For these products, we need greater reach and greater frequency."
The new commercials also have a different tone, forsaking the earnestness of the infomercials for humor. In one of the vignettes for OxiClean, for example, stocky college football players don prom dresses and roll in a field of blueberry pies. A spokesman - not Mr. Mays - then applies a solution containing OxiClean to the stained items, which are immediately restored to their pristine state.
"If you didn't see it with your own eyes," the spokesman says, "you probably wouldn't believe it."
The reason for the new approach is simple, said Tom Leydon, executive creative director at McClain Finlon. "We are setting out to reach a different audience, one that does not respond to infomercials."
But Orange Glo's decision to swear off direct-response marketing does not come without risks. Nordic Trak, the exercise equipment maker, gave up the direct-marketing approach for a major retail push in the late 1990's, only to go bankrupt soon afterward, said Elissa Matulis Myers, president of the Electronic Retailing Association, a trade association. One product that is successfully sold with both direct-response and more traditional advertising is the George Foreman electric grill, she added.
But Jack Myers, chief economist at the Jack Myers firm in New York, which publishes media and research newsletters, says the move to regular ads is logical and inevitable.
"Once you're in retail distribution, you almost have to pull out of infomercials," he said. "Otherwise, you would be in competition with yourself."
Bernard Stamler, The New York Times. May 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.