INFOMERCIALS ARE ATTRACTING MORE CONVERTS

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NEW YORK-The town was abuzz with infomercials last week, and maybe not just because the National Infomercial Marketing Assn.-the trade association for the infomercial industry-held its annual midyear meeting here.

Along with the industry's most obvious players-entrepreneurs dreaming of hitting it big, media buyers, production houses, cable shopping channels, and fulfillment agencies and back-end shops-NIMA attracted executives from commercial online services and agencies like Chiat/Day and Ogilvy & Mather.

While scrambling to become interactive, it seems that perhaps some in the advertising industry may be realizing they missed a step: infomercials.

And thanks to voluntary media guidelines, along with stepped-up interest from blue-chip marketers and Madison Avenue, infomercials are gaining new respect.

"Infomercials are a terrific way to tell a complex story," said Bob Wolf, a chairman of Chiat/Day North America, Venice, Calif., and founder of Mainstreet Chiat/Day, the agency's subsidiary dedicated to infomercials. "Most agencies operate out of self-interest, and because they feel `above' infomercials, they won't produce them. But that's changing."

Not only are agencies looking at this as an opportunity to drive brand awareness and sales, but marketers and agencies are realizing infomercials are a great way to practice "creating" for interactive TV, especially by running them on online services.

America Online President Ted Leonsis challenged the industry to harness online services. "Someone here will understand how these two industries should come together. The result will be revolutionary," he said.

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