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By Published on .

The Arthritis Foundation is trading in its annual national telethon for an infomercial sponsored by Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol brand, MCI Communications Corp. and HealthSouth.

In an unusual fund-raising tactic for a non-profit group, the three-sponsor infomercial will peddle subscriptions for Arthritis Today, membership to the foundation and various resources including a guide called "101 Tips for Better Living" and a videotape on exercises for arthritis sufferers-a $39.95 package.


"Although the telethon had been successful for us, the changing of the TV industry made us want to look for change as well," said Mike Gault, group VP-campaign development at the Arthritis Foundation. "We wanted to come up with something that would appeal to our sponsors, who are . . . willing to take risks with us."

"We look at the program as a lot more than an infomercial," Mr. Gault said. He noted that it's highly unusual for an infomercial to include segments sponsored by major marketers.

Each of the marketers is positioned with the same type of billboarding as in a regular program-"This portion brought to you

by . . ."


Both Tylenol, from J&J's McNeil Consumer Products Co., and MCI are running traditional 30-and 60-second spots that already air on TV. HealthSouth, a national network of outpatient services, is running a special 60-second message from its CEO. The cost of sponsorship was undisclosed.

As part of the deal, MCI also includes a prepaid calling card as a thank you for consumers who purchase the package.

Created by Frederiksen Television, Falls Church, Va., the infomercial adopts a magazine-style format and features real-life stories of people who successfully tolerate or overcome the pain of arthritis in their lives.

The 30-minute infomercial begins airing this week, initially in test markets including Atlanta and Washington. A national rollout is planned by July, with the infomercial airing on cable outlets including the Learning Channel and Nostalgia Channel, as well as local stations across the country.

The program is scheduled to run through October.

"It's a natural affiliation for a non-profit like the Arthritis Foundation to partner effectively with marketers who have an interest in people with

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