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Fresh Cuts

  • Writer's pictureDrew Donaldson

What 90s Infomercials Got Right That You Can Use In Your Marketing Today

Once you pop, you can’t stop. Seriously, don’t try it. I had a friend who tried to stop after he popped, and he still attends physical therapy after all these years.

Now that's what I call an impactful commercial slogan! And man oh man, did the 90s have a ton of them. Let’s go to my colleague, Kelly Kapowski, for a closer look.

Kelly Kapowski, here, standing next to the GroHaus Time Machine. I’m ready to visit classic 1990s ad campaigns. [que funky, time-wrapy music].

Here I am on the denim-ladened, crop-top crowded, and mood-ring-loaded streets of the 90s. Let’s explore local billboards for a taste of popular product slogans. [commences sultry Kapowski strut].

Alrightyyy then, here’s the 411 on what I’m seein’!

  1. “Got milk?”

  2. “Beef, it’s what for dinner.”

  3. “Do the Dew!”

  4. “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”

  5. “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline.”

[que bell jingle]. Oops, looks like you were saved by the bell, Kelly. Now back to the studio with Jessie Spano for a news update on Mr. Belding’s receding hairline. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Kelly!

I don’t know about you, but my soul is reverberating in nostalgia from hearing all those trademarked phrases. And commercials weren’t the only area to leave a stamp of impression. I’m talking infomercials, people! Who doesn’t stand up and salute the 90s gods when hearing the all-powerful expression, “Hi, Billy Mays here!” From Shamwow to Oxyiclean to the Snuggie, the 90s had an enormous stockpile of product infomercials that satisfied the deepest part of your psyche.

Even though these infomercials ooze with the delicious cheese factor, they nonetheless stuck around for a reason. Let’s take a look at what marketing practices the top 90s infomercials got right.

Who didn’t love Tony Little’s ponytail flying all over the place as he exercised? I know I sure did. And no, exercising on the Gazelle does not make one’s hair dance the macarena. Tony Little’s hair only did because of his unabashed enthusiasm. It’s one thing to graciously smile and animatedly gesture when talking about your product, but it’s another thing entirely to fling your head back to the sky and shout, “If you don’t fall in love with it, if you don’t get results from it, if you don’t like me, send it back!!”

Is it over the top? Yes. Does it make your eyes roll a bit? Certainly. But, did it grab the audience’s attention? Absolutely. Enthusiasm is contagious, people! So, in the marketing universe, employ a little of Tony Little’s viral passion and see what happens. I think you will find that consumers find your product and your brand to be all that and a bag of chips.

Do most Americans have “flat washboard abs and a sexy v-shape” in their mid-section? Ummm, a hard no on that. But, this Ab Circle infomercial suggests that they do because of how easy and fast this “cardio-ab” workout is (I’m not sure that’s really a thing?).

Humans love fast and easy; we are a lazy species. This infomercial claims that we can turn our couch-potato habits into healthy ones in just a matter of minutes. How many minutes, exactly? Well, in 3 minutes, of course. According to fitness expert Jennifer Nicole Lee (you’ve got to include the dynamic middle name), it only takes 3 minutes of exercising on the Ab Circle to get the results you want. Now that’s one way to burn fat.

Is that realistic? Probably not. No, wait, definitely not. But, it quantified what consumers had to do. In addition to being laggards, we are also searchers. While we aren’t very good at it, people Google everything searching for specific information. So, if you provide definitive information about product functionality in your marketing campaign, going so far as to put a number on it, consumers will eat it up. And then hopefully exercise it off using the Ab Circle. If you don’t believe me, you can talk to the hand.

“I loved it. I used it. The juices, spinning around and around and around. It’s so good. I put lemon juice in there and squirted it into the breast of the chicken and it was rolling around inside and all around. Flavor everywhere. Ah, the best.”

So says, awkwardly and with a dash of inappropriateness, an expert chef on the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie Oven infomercial. Before there were Instant Pots and Air Fryers, there were rotisserie ovens: bulky, fat-dripping, meat incubators. Sounds like an unpleasant kitchen appliance because it is. Who really wants to watch a chunk of meat spin for hours, bathing in its own oily juices? As if!

So, why did this oven sell over eight million units in the United States? Because Ronald Popeil, the inventor, and spokesperson for the Ronco Rotisserie embraced the mantra, “Sell the sizzle.” Well, actually, his motto was “set it and forget it,” but that’s not good marketing advice, so let’s go with the latter one. Did 1990s Americans really need a rotisserie chicken machine in their kitchen? Nope! But, this infomercial made you feel like you just had to have one if you were ever going to cook or eat food again. Now, if that’s not a marketing best-practice strategy I don’t know what is.

Infomercial #4: Survival Food Bank

It’s the end of days! BASTA! BASTA! BASTA! Okay, I’ll grant you that this is a truly bizarre infomercial from the 90s. But, renowned (not really) prophet (not really), Cindy Jacobs claims that she heard the lord say to her, “Basta!” This is a Spanish word that means, “Fed up. No more.” Enter Y2K doomsday predictions.

Pastor Jim Bakker, with the expert testimony of Cindy Jacobs, was able to capitalize on the 90s apocalyptic fears with his product, the “Staying Alive Bucket.” It seems the Bee Gees got it right two decades prior. The world was coming to an end, but you didn’t have to meet your end. With Jim Bakker’s bucket, you could dine on quality food for seven years. Not only that, but the bucket floats (because apparently water was going to be our grim reaper).

Obviously, this whole ad campaign holds no water, but in making a loud, ridiculous spectacle, the dynamic duo of Jim Bakker and Cindy Jabobs was able to make a net profit of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Granted, extorting money from consumers landed Bakker in jail, so don’t follow in his footsteps exactly. But, put on marketing performance, get jiggy with it, and you’ll be surprised what comes your way-- a payday! (pat self on the back for a stellar rhyme).

Infomercial #5: The Shamwow Towel

Oh, Vince with Shamwow! You stole our hearts with your New York accent and delicate wiping hand motions! You had everyone buying this shammy, towel, and sponge combination. Even me. Like millions of people out there, I owned a Shamwow and became a member of an elite club. No shame.

Why did I buy it? Because of the demonstration, and the cool, catchy product name. It’s very hard to refute visual evidence of a successful product in action. Charismatic Vince uses his unparalleled dexterity to squeeze water out, wipe water up, and make water disappear. It’s like magic to our senses and we cannot deny our senses. It’s Marketing 101. Take the course, right?

Infomercial #6: OxiClean

Two words: Billy Mays. Come on people, he is a legend in the infomercial world. What a spokesperson! A Home Shopping Network savant, Mays used his personable yet professional demeanor to sell not only OxiCean, but many other products as well. His personal mottos were “Life’s a pitch and then you buy” and “The best things in life are free ... and $19.95.” Now that’s a man I want to buy something from! And millions of people did.

In this OxiClean infomercial, he arms himself with the power of OxiClean and the power of marketing. Enthusiasm? Check. Demonstration? Check. Performance? Check. The point is, Billy Mays, checked all the boxes when it comes to marketing a product and, in doing so, became his own brand. If you serve a product well, it might just serve you right back. Do you get what I’m sayin’? Word.

Infomercial #7: GinSu Knife

Free home trial. Send no money. Say what? How can a business expect to make money if its starting point has the word “free” in it? It’s actually a smart game marketers play, called “lead magnet.” This is when a marketing campaign leads with a free item or service that acts as a magnet to attract customers. This enables the business to gather contact information, which is the golden ticket needed to enter the purchase shows.

And, come on, who doesn’t love a free offer? This infomercial is packed with the words, “but wait,” which creates an avalanche of free knives for the customer (now an avalanche of knives, that’s something I’d like to see). It starts off with one knife for $19.99 and ends with an accumulation of 13 knives for $19.99, suggesting that you are getting a bunch of extra, top-grade knives for free. If you add that strategy to their lead magnet, demonstration videos, and 50-year guarantee, there is no resisting the GinSu Knife. However you cut it (ba-dum-ching), this infomercial is da-bomb.

Infomercial #8: The Snuggie

Who doesn’t love a good snuggle? Just the name sounds adorably comforting. And if you are snuggling with an “ultra-soft, thick luxurious fleece,” then you aren’t just comforted on an auditory level, but on a physical level as well. Insert a sigh of deep satisfaction.

Now take that sigh and double it because that is the marketing level at which the Snuggie resides. In this infomercial, the marketers the Snuggie has enlisted the help of the age-old arch-nemeses, Problem, and Solution.

Meet Problem:

Hi, my name is Problem and I enjoy the chaos in life. I love to show people the difficulties that can plague them. I take sick pleasure in a frown. Nice to meet you. Not! Bwahaha.

Meet Solution:

Hi, my name is Solution and I enjoy the ease of life. I love to show people the contentment that awaits them just around the corner. I take immense pleasure in a smile. Nice to meet you. Can I kiss your hand?

Now, typically Problem and Solution steer clear of each other (natural-born enemies and all). However, when marketers use them alongside each other, it creates a powerful moment of persuasion. Showing the contrast between a problem (i.e., being cold and wanting to use your hands) and the solution (a wearable, warm blanket) is an adept marketing strategy because your product is obviously highlighted as the solution. Yay, go you!

On Financial Battlefield, a historic place where Problem and Solution often war, a lone victor stands, raising a flag in triumph. And that victor is your product, Miss Solution (currently unmarried).

INFOMERCIAL #9 George Foreman Grill, captivated attention by showing all the grease in the burger and accentuating the benefits of using the product.

TimeHop: From the 1990s to 2021

Welcome back from our 90s infomercial tour. We hope you enjoyed the ride and the information. And that’s really what GroHaus is all about, a great ride for our clients with quality information and resources to help small businesses grow. And at just $297/month, we can help you affordably embrace and implement these 90s marketing techniques with all the one-pant-legged-rolled-up styles they come with. Until we hear from you, peace out, my peeps.

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