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Originally published April 17, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified June 28, 2011 at 11:11 AM

In Person: Rick Cesari, impresario of infomercials

Rick Cesari has spent the past 20 years in Seattle making sure those late-night infomercials draw in the casual channel-flipper.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Rick Cesari

Age: 54, born in Valhalla, N.Y.

Family: Wife, Martha, daughter Anna — freshman at UW.

CEO and Founder: Seattle-based Cesari Direct

Employees: Varies from 15 to 30

Well-known infomercial campaigns he originated: Juiceman Juicer, Sonicare, OxiClean, Orange Glo and the George Foreman Grill

Clients include: Microsoft and Clorox

Infomercial insights

A few tidbits from "Buy Now," the book on infomercial marketing by Rick Cesari and Ron Lynch, Cesari Direct's creative director, with writer Tom Kelly.

Filming George Foreman Grill commercials:

"One of our challenges to shooting in his home was that George is a big bird lover. He has a huge aviary in his backyard, with every type of tropical bird imaginable. Well, when you're trying to record audio, and you have 50 tropical birds like parrots whooping it up, it can get very frustrating."

Billy Mays, pitchman best known for OxiClean:

"Billy Mays' passing leaves behind a huge void that no one besides Mays himself seems able to fill. Several of his ads are still being broadcast (with his family's permission). Response rates are, in some cases, better than before his death."

The image of direct marketing:

"With a reputation for cheesy products, slimy hosts and phony testimonials, our industry has consistently bounced back with reputable products, quality brands, and truth-in-advertising. If you think infomercials are just for shoddy startup gadgets or stand-alone companies that operate in the dark, think again. Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Range Rover, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Kodak and many more blue-chip organizations are turning to the direct response sales model."

Source: "Buy Now"

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Rick Cesari has spent the past 20 years in Seattle making sure those late-night infomercials draw in the casual channel-flipper. He's the driving force behind the highly successful, if sometimes annoying, television campaigns of OxiClean, Sonicare and the George Foreman Grill, among others.

Cesari, a pioneer in what he prefers to call direct-response marketing, recently wrote a book on how the business works with his colleague at Cesari Direct, Ron Lynch.

Here are edited excerpts from an interview with Cesari:

Q: How did you get started in the infomercial industry?

A: I was a real-estate broker [in Florida]. I made my first infomercial back in 1984 to promote real-estate seminars, and it was successful. A little later I went to Seattle for the Seattle Home Show and there was this booth with a lot of people around it, and it was my future partner Jay Kordich talking about juicing. I thought to myself 'There's something here.' The first big hit we had was a product called the Juiceman Juice Extractor. We basically built the business up from $0 to $75 million in sales in four years.

Q: Do you still market your own products?

A: No, now this company is an agency so people hire us and they pay us fees to do direct-response marketing for them. We make the commercials, we buy the media time, we make the websites.

Q: Where is the infomercial headed?

A: The new thing is driving people to websites. TV is a really powerful drive to the Internet if it's done correctly.

Q: How do you go about creating an infomercial for an audience?

A: One of the things we do is create specific advertising messages for different demographics and then being able to measure the response.

That's really effective. The advertising message is similar, but we've created 16 different ads that will run on specific channels that reach specific demographics.

Q: What's some of the psychology behind an infomercial?

A: They are, to some extent, an impulse buy. There are a few categories that work really well. Anything fitness and weight loss, housewares, the 'get-rich quick' infomercial, and skin care. The buyer on TV is primarily a female buyer, college-educated and above $55,000 in income.

Q: You must get a lot of people pitching their products to you.

A: You hear statistics in our industry like 1 in 20 are successful.

Our success rate is much higher, about 7 in 10. We're not necessarily a lot smarter, we're just a lot more honest with the people that approach us. Ninety percent of what we see doesn't have potential.

Q: What's it like dealing with all of these inventors out there?

A: We see some of the funniest things. These two guys from Minnesota called ... they were hunters, and they had invented a product called Season Shot.

They took shotgun shells and replaced the pellets with peppercorns and different spices so when you shot a bird it was pre-seasoned. We thought it was joke.

Q: Is the infomercial as a whole dying out?

A: A lot of things that were a mom-and-pop invention going onto TV, those I'm seeing decline a little bit. But on the other side, we're seeing much more interest from Fortune 500 companies.

Q: So it's here to stay?

A: I think so. We continue to sell millions of dollars of products every year.

Nick Visser: 206-464-3226 or nvisser@seattletimes.com

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