THE AGENCY-INFOMERCIAL MATING GAME ALL TALK AND NO ACTION, SAYS CHIAT/DAY'S WOLF

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For Bob Wolf, North American chairman-CEO of Chiat/Day, ad agency interest in infomercials is like "prepubescent sex."

"Everyone's talking about it," he said. "Everyone's wondering how to do it. But nobody's actually doing it."

Mr. Wolf, a panelist at last month's Direct Response Television Expo and Conference in Los Angeles, said agencies are starting to look into infomercials as interest in home shopping grows.

"Agencies used to look down at infomercials as second-class citizens," said Mr. Wolf, an executive in Chiat's Venice, Calif., office. "Now, most agencies realize that infomercials are at the leading edge of the changing paradigm of home shopping."

Production costs can run as high as $500,000, while the minimum media buy is a cool $1 million. Those figures may frighten off traditional infomercial entrepreneurs, but the numbers are big enough to attract ad agencies.

Mr. Wolf said he sees infomercials as an interim step to interactive TV.

"Agencies' biggest fear used to be that a TV viewer would pick up a remote control and zap their commercial," he said. "Now, their biggest fear is that the viewer won't pick up the remote and interact with it."

Some agencies may delve into infomercials simply as a defensive strategy, Mr. Wolf said. But he further suggested that agencies may get into the infomercial game with an equity stake.

"One of the biggest problems agencies face is that they've never owned intellectual properties," he said. An agency's income is derived strictly from media commissions and production mark-ups. Agencies would welcome an opportunity to become a joint venture equity partner in an infomercial project.

"Otherwise, you'll just be trading dollars" from traditional media buys to infomercials, he said.

The conference, sponsored by ResponseTV magazine, drew an estimated 1,500 attendees, up 50% from last year.

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