From the George Foreman Grill to the Bedazzler to the Topsy Tail to the Perfect Pasta Pot to Ambervision to Pajama Jeans, Collette Liantonio is turning products into household names, one infomercial at a time.
The president of Concepts TV, also known as the “Queen of Infomercials,” boasts more than 30 years as an infomercial producer, creating more than 2,000 TV spots along the way. We recently spoke with the former high school teacher about how she got started in the biz, what it’s like working with her children and how Pajama Jeans became a huge hit. An edited version of the interview follows.
MORE: So, how did you get started in infomercials?
Collette Liantonio: You know, you don’t go to school for this. You don’t say, “Hey, I’m going to be an infomercial producer when I grow up” . . . I have a master's degree from NYU in theater education and I wanted to run a theater on a university level . . . I ended up teaching high school for a few years: art of writing, film study and Spanish. And at some point, I had two children, I was home with them and I began freelance writing. One of the people I was working for . . . was a very wealthy person who purchased a direct response company, and in the very early days of the business, he said, “Take a look at what I’m doing. See what you think.”
MORE: And it was a match?
CL: I have to say, I was instantly hooked by the idea that you could make the commercial and, hours later, know if it was successful, know how many products you sold and know how the public responded. To have that impact on the culture—or lack of culture, however you want to approach it—to know instantly what the response was, was addictive to me. I came aboard and began working for his company. It was really a challenge, having a couple of kids and going to work on somebody else’s schedule, and I ended up going off on my own in 1983 to start Concepts and haven’t looked back.
MORE: What’s the appeal of infomercials over other types of advertising?
CL: In other advertising genres you’re a cog in the machine . . . When you do direct response, you see a job from concept to completion . . . You start with an idea, you shoot it, you direct it, write it; it’s your baby and you bring it all the way through the edit process and see it have a life of its own. That’s a thrilling process, and very gratifying for people who work in this field. If you work in an ad agency, you’re a copywriter—you stay in your corner and you write copy. Or you’re the art director, and you’re not allowed to comment on the copy. It marginalizes people. But when you’re in direct response, you’re a generalist, and you get to see every aspect of the business.
The other thing that’s so thrilling is that I’m an entrepreneur and I work with entrepreneurs. There are very few places in the world where you can introduce, say, a mascara, for a very small amount, and have it become a household word. It would take millions of dollars in the normal chain of events. Or jeans—we did Pajama Jeans. If you wanted to bring out a brand of jeans, what would that take in the world of advertising? A fortune—and yet an entrepreneur can come up with Pajama Jeans and for less than $100,000 have a success story. That’s the appeal of this business for all the people out there who see the Topsy Tails and the Bedazzlers and all those products they may have grown up with. Everybody thinks of inventing something. That’s the American dream, and I really relate to that.