Susan Powter Bankruptcy $3.5 Million

February 11, 2012 by staff 

Susan Powter Bankruptcy $3.5 Million, Twenty years ago this month, I was involved in launching one of the first infomercials in this modern era of long-form marketing: Ed Beckley’s “Millionaire Maker,” a no-down-payment real estate home study course. Fifteen months later, “MM,” one of the first “home runs” of our industry, had garnered $60 million in sales.

The years 1984 to 1987 were truly days of “amazing discoveries” in long-form DRTV. Success rates were one out of three instead of one out of 20. People would sit and stare in disbelief at these new long commercials – and watch them a dozen times from start to finish. There were no complicated upsells, continuity programs or retail driving pro formas. It was strictly a time of cash in the bank, every day, like clock work.

Want some other fond early on memories? How about one-hour infomercials, $15,000 production budgets, buying Discovery Channel for $50 an hour and media efficiency ratios (MERs) of 30 to 1?

Twenty years later, much has changed and much has stayed the same. As an armchair historian of DRTV, I thought I’d reflect on that first “Wild West” decade with a series of groundbreaking highlights and lowlights.

1984 – HerbaLife’s 90-minute auditorium “rally” infomercial on USA Network awakens a new industry. Paul Allen’s “No Down Payment” one-hour seminar pitch launched by Media Arts’ Ray Lindstrom and Nancy Marcum opens the door to a half-dozen real estate business opportunity infomercials.

1985 – The year of Real Estate. Beckley, Dave Del Dotto, Tony Hoffman, Robert Lawry, Robert Allen, Hal Morris and many others dominate late-night DRTV. Linda Chae launches the first skin care home run. The Helsinki Formula balding cure debuts with “Discover with Robert Vaughan.” (In 1997, after years of court battles, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) $27 million judgment finds few dollars in Hal Lederman’s bankrupt company.)

1986 – Sybervision, the first self-help infomercial mega-hit, debuts.

1987 – New product categories abound: Soloflex “Heroes” is the first “upscale” infomercial and fitness success, and the first to include “fictional” storymercial elements. “LifeSign” becomes the first and most successful stop-smoking infomercial. Bob Warden launches “Cable Kitchen,” the first kitchen appliance success: a vacuum sealer.

1988 – Quantum comes on strong with “The Wok” and begins the British Invasion of pitchmen (Wally Nash). Guthy-Renker enters DRTV with “Think and Grow Rich.” Joe Sugarman launches BluBlockers using an infomercial positioned as an independent consumer news program conducting an “objective investigation of the sunglasses.”

1989 – Mike Levey launches “Amazing Discoveries” series. Guthy-Renker launches Tony Robbins’ “Personal Power” campaign. American Telecast launches the Victoria Jackson cosmetics line. Joe Sugarman settles with the FTC for his BluBlocker program. Congress launches investigation of infomercials.

1990 – Amazing Discoveries’ British pitchmen Ian Long and John Parkin light a Rolls Royce hood on fire, protected by Auri Car Wax. First major FTC fine against the industry: Twin Star pays $1.5 million for airing a baldness remedy, male impotence treatment and an appetite suppressant patch. National Infomercial Marketing Association (NIMA – now ERA) founded to combat potential DRTV regulation.

1991 – After nearly a decade away from TV, Ron Popeil returns to DRTV with his Food Dehydrator, the first of a string of mega-hits. NIMA Board of Directors votes to refer “The Amazing Micro Diet” to the FTC for review by the staff of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. This is the first time NIMA refers an infomercial with questionable claims to the FTC.

1992 – Dionne Warwick hosts “The Psychic Friends Network” and ignites 5 years of 900-number DRTV frenzy. Ross Perot is the first presidential candidate to use infomercials. His success sparks the beginning of Madison Avenue’s failed invasion of the infomercial business.

1993 – “Gravity Edge” breaks ground as one of the first effective “storymercials” for a fitness product. Cher co-hosts the Lori Davis Hair Care infomercial, then later swears it was the nadir of her career. And Susan Powter yells and sells “Stop the Insanity!” The FTC tries doing the same by fining Synchronal a record $3.5 million for a balding cure and AN*Shka anti-cellulite program.

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