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'Siskel and Ebert of infomercials' pick, pan long ads


PHILADELPHIA -- John and Clare Kogler flew in from Southern California, got to their room at the Rittenhouse Hotel and popped on the TV at 1:30 a.m. Monday to see what infomercials were playing. They caught Marshall Sylver's "Passion, Profit and Power," a new self-help, self-hypnosis package of audio tapes, on two channels.

"It's a good show," Mr. Kogler said admiringly.

"Thin, rich and beautiful is what they're selling in direct marketing. He's got two out of three. Thin and rich is what he hits," added Mrs. Kogler.

The Koglers should know. They bill themselves as the Siskel & Ebert of the infomercial biz, the estimated $1 billion-a-year industry built on 28-minute-30-second advertisements designed to resemble familiar kinds of TV shows: the talk show, the news show, the "story-mercial."

Once infomercials were considered a way to peddle cancer-curing crystals and cellulite creams to insomniacs. But increasingly, the Koglers say, long-form TV ads are showing up in daylight hours, are being used in conjunction with retail sales and are being used to build image and snare customers for such blue-chip clients as Fidelity Investments, Volkswagen and Texaco.

"It is a powerful, powerful tool," said Mrs. Kogler.

The Texaco ad, for example, which spins the story of a couple driving Route 66, "takes an ugly oil company, humanizes it and makes it warm and fuzzy," she said. "Texaco could never have made you feel friendly towards an oil company in 60 seconds."

The Koglers, both 52, own Jordan Whitney Inc., a Tustin, Calif., company that issues weekly and monthly reports on the infomercial industry. They rank infomercials by how much broadcast and cable time they buy, and they snappily criticize ads and products.

Mrs. Kogler is a former speech pathologist who created a direct marketing company about 12 years ago. In the mid-1980s, after the Federal Communications Commission dropped restrictions on how much commercial time could be in an hour of television, Mr. Kogler left his work as a real-estate lawyer and joined her. Within a few years, they had stopped making infomercials and begun critiquing them.

Now they chronicle such commercial oddities as the "Mop Wars," a slugfest between the EZ Mop, the Smart Mop and the Dyno-Mop, all $29.95 -- and all of which will probably die when cheaper knock-offs hit the retail store, they say.

They specialize in arcane knowledge, figuring out why Victoria Jackson can sell $180 million in makeup while Dolly Parton bombed. Theirtheory: Ms. Parton came across as a "hired gun" )) instead of a "true believer." Said Mrs. Kogler: "I love Dolly Parton, but I wasn't going to buy it. Keep your day job, Dolly."

The Koglers' reports, known as the JW Greensheets, don't come cheap -- $3,000 a year for the monthly version, $13,000 a year for the weekly, both printed on deep green paper that makes photocopying difficult.

While they don't use thumbs-up, thumbs-down, the Koglers don't hesitate to identify a bomb. They panned a new infomercial for "Yolf" -- yard golf -- as the "Howard the Duck," the "Ishtar" of infomercials.

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