Internet Video Gives Rise To Infomercial Resurgence

NEW YORK In the 1950s and 1960s, DuPont produced dozens of product films, such as police showing the effectiveness of bulletproof vests, and showed them to clients and small audiences at trade shows. Fast-forward 50 years: DuPont has unearthed that archival footage to form the basis of Science Stories, a series of two-and-a-half minute videos explaining the DuPont products that make possible such things as fire-retardant clothing and shatterproof glass.

DuPont is just one of many advertisers turning to Web video as a new outlet for product pitches. These new-style infomercials are built on quick product demonstrations of everything from Kevlar and blenders to bathroom fixtures. They take advantage of the Web’s ability to appeal to niche audiences, while hoping to tap its viral appeal to distribute the videos widely.

Unlike the cheesy infomercial aesthetic associated with Ginsu knives or Amazing Discoveries, many of these product pitches—lasting only two or three minutes, not a half-hour—are borrowing from cutting-edge YouTube culture.

The recut footage for DuPont by its shop Denuo, which includes scenes set in labs, shows police officers telling how bulletproof vests saved their lives, Mario Andretti recounting, in voiceover, a fiery crash he walked away from, and the chaos wrought by hurricanes. It then linked up with video blogger Amanda Congdon to host the series. “We knew we didn’t want them to be dry,” said Dan Buczaczer, svp at Denuo. The videos are on dupont.com and YouTube.

Blendtec, a small Utah blender maker, is a certified cult hit with the YouTube generation, with its product demonstrations drawing 15 million views since debuting in November. Without the marketing budget of larger rivals Hamilton Beach and Waring, it turned to something it’s long done: test blenders by placing in them all manner of unlikely objects. Blendtec created the Will It Blend? series out of such experiments, starring its CEO Tom Dickson.

Thanks to offbeat demonstrations of Blendtec blenders taking on everything from golf balls to glow sticks, Web sales of blenders have tripled, said George Wright, director of marketing at Blendtec. The series is so popular that the company’s marketing department actually turns a profit by doing Will It Blend? demonstrations at corporate events. “[The video] has to be fun and it has to be awesome,” Wright said. “Barring those two things, it won’t take off.”

Other advertisers see room for a more straightforward approach to Web video product demonstrations. Kohler has created “The Kohler Network” on its site, kohler.com, and Brightcove.com to house a collection of how-to videos on home remodeling and specific products. The video demos have attracted over 1 million views since Kohler put them online in October, according to John Engberg, online marketing manager at Kohler. “We have the luxury of being a high-involvement product,” said Engberg,

Some are skeptical this approach will work for ho-hum products (blenders being an exception). Patrick Moorhead, national research and development manager at Avenue A/Razorfish, said demos will have limited appeal compared to branded entertainment series, like Haggar’s short films from Crispin Porter + Bogusky that follow dads on adventures showing off the pants’ features. “The challenge is to get across the product information without being too salesy,” he said.