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Electronic Retailer: The 25th Anniversary of the Infomercial

President of Concepts TV, Collette Liantonio, was interviewed for Electronic Retailer’s retrospective on the 25th anniversary of the informercial.

Electronic Retailer: How did you get your start in the DRTV industry?

Collette Liantonio: I have a Masters degree in theater education, with concentration in directing from New York University. I always wanted to direct a three-act play, but a three-act infomercial is equally exciting. I’ve taught The Art of Writing, Film Study and Spanish at a New Jersey high school. I worked as a director of public relations at a Fortune 500 company, but my first job in DRTV was as a director of production for Urban General Corp. In 1979, my first spot was “The Exterminator,” an insect zapper…it was a hit! I produced approximately 30 DRTV spots my first year and my boss was so cheap, he made me cook the food myself for every food shoot—no prop stylist, just me. I started Concepts TV in 1983 and had a difficult time convincing my clients that DRTV doesn’t compete with the retail industry, but drives it! Now, every retailer in America demands an “As Seen on TV” campaign for its new products. One of my first hits was Ambervision Sunglasses in 1984 and I worked with A.J. Khubani.

ER: What product or products changed the face of DRTV within the past 25 years?

Liantonio: In 1987, Kevin Harrington and Jim Caldwell of Quantum Marketing invited me to make an infomercial for “The Blade.” I couldn’t believe that I actually had the luxury of an entire half hour to tell the story. It was a smash hit! Rob Woodrooffe of Interwood Direct had me produce a half hour for “DiDi 7,” a phenomenal success that was a hit internationally.

My Spanish-language skills came in handy and I created dozens of spots for audiences decades before the Hispanic audience was discovered. I wrote and produced “The Abdomenizer” for Fitness Quest—one of the first AB shows ever produced. I wrote and produced “The Bedazzler,” “Topsy Tail” and “Harigami,” known by every girl in America. The George Foreman Grill…Smart Mop…The Heat Surge Fireplace…so many memories.

ER: What is your most memorable (insightful, funny or endearing) story of the DRTV industry and/or a colleague in the industry to date?

Liantonio: In 1994, we captured two ERA awards for both short form, “The Contour Pillow” and long form, “The Smart Mop.” I remember numerous presentations I made to the big New York City Madison Avenue agencies. They were anxious to emulate our sales success, but disdainful of our “primitive” direct approach. These same agencies now attempt to recreate these magic demonstrations in their “mainstream” image commercials. The difference is their spots cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In my next life, I’m going to do image ads.