Renegade Pitchmen Gone Wild

Editor’s Note: OMG, how eerie that I wrote this the day before Billy Mays died.

Although I wasn’t a fan of his pitching style, I grew to admire and respect what Billy does as an entrepreneur, as this article tells.

He’s a one-of-a-kind, so he’ll be missed, and our condolences go out to Billy’s family.

A follow-up post on life, death, and the sudden passing of several celebrities this week will be forthcoming.

Okay, I know a lot of people think it’s cool to say, “I don’t watch TV.”

I first found this out over 10 years ago, doing “streeters” (on-the-street short interviews with passersby).  Whenever I asked, “What’s your favorite TV show?” I got “I don’t watch TV!” more often than any other answer.

Somehow, I don’t think they were telling the truth.

Or, at least, most of them weren’t.

But I’d believe them if they said, “I don’t watch a lot of TV,” because Barry and I don’t watch a lot either.

And when we do, we try to watch something entrepreneurial (like The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch), or inspiring (like something on the Travel Channel, whether it’s Samantha Brown or her alter-ego, Anthony Bourdain), or entertaining in a quality way (like Entourage, a great study of human nature and the roller coaster of life).

A little over a week ago, we found a new show that’s both entrepreneurial and entertaining… and, in a way, you could say it’s inspiring too

*  *  *  *  *

It’s the Discovery Channel’s Pitchmen, featuring infomercial kings Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan (a.k.a. Sully).

Hey, fair warning here: I’ve never liked Billy Mays very much.

At least, not when he’s being the pitchman.

I don’t like people yelling at me, and I certainly don’t want some guy I don’t even know in my living room (on my TV) yelling at me.

Some people call it “energy” and “enthusiasm” (Billy even says, “I’m not yelling, I’m projecting my voice”), but it just seems like an invasion to me.

Plus, I bought The Awesome Auger that Billy pitched at me a year ago, and I was less than impressed with the quality… not to mention that I really didn’t like the whole “all this for only $19.95!” promise, just to find out that I had to pay close to $10 shipping and handling on EACH “free” component of the package that I wanted (which, in actual fact, covers their whole cost for manufacturing that item).

And even with the high price for shipping and handling, it took me two months to receive it.

Awesome? Yeah, whatever!

But I have to admit that I do take notice when he comes on the screen, and that, says Barry, is why “what Billy Mays does is brilliant!

After all, how can you just walk away when you hear, “Hi, Billy Mays here!” followed by a rapid-fire slew of words that may just describe something you’ve actually experienced, albeit exaggerated to the extreme?

As Conan O’Brien said the other night when Billy and Sully came on The Tonight Show, “You guys just make up problems, and then come up with solutions for them!”

That goes for any infomercial, of course.

Why is it that when they say, “Oh, no! Has this ever happened to you?” we actually think that maybe it has?

Hmmm… the power of suggestion.

Well, anyway, as much as his pitches annoy me, I’m starting to have more respect for what Billy does, after watching a couple of episodes of Pitchmen with Barry.

When he’s not “pitching”, Billy Mays comes across as an astute and creative businessman, and he can even laugh at himself sometimes.

It’s inspiring to see how he and Sully approach all the new products that inventors pitch to them.

And Billy knows pitching, inside and out.

He got his start in the trenches, pitching products on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and was taught by some of the most successful pitchmen ever.

His big break came as the result of The Law of Reciprocity, when at a home and garden show, his competitor at the next booth had a broken microphone.  Billy gave him an extra one, and they ended up keeping in touch for years.

Who was that guy?

The inventor of Orange Glo, Oxi-Clean and Kaboom!, the three cleaning products that Billy is best known for.  The “competitor” he helped turned out to be his best business connection.

And, contrary to what I would have thought after using (or trying to use) The Awesome Auger, he does seem to care about quality in the products he promotes.

One thing you can’t deny is, he’s carved out a niche for himself that’s unique among all the other infomercial hosts.

He’s a renegade who does things his way, no matter what kind of feedback he gets.

Here’s a video of Billy hawking the Hercules Hook… complete with some standard infomercial clichés!


*  *  *

But there’s a new kid on the block who also does things his own way, and that’s Vince Offer (real name Offer Shlomi), better known as “The ShamWow Guy“.

Vince’s story in a nutshell (and hey, you’re gonna love his nutshell!) 😉 is that he was an aspiring comedian and filmmaker who became a Scientologist for some reason; maybe because of the other show biz types in the cult, or maybe because he really liked the “sci fi alien as Creator” theory.

Anyway, the Church of Scientology was going to fund the production of his Underground Comedy Movie, and supply him with some actors, but then pulled out when they realized it wasn’t that good (let’s call it a B-movie; or maybe a C minus).

Hey, what did they expect? The actors they were supplying were D-list celebrities like Joey Buttafucco anyhow.  C minus is a step up!

Alright, fine, everyone has the right not to pay for something they don’t think is good quality, but then they decided to lay criminal charges on him (apparently it’s a crime to make cheesy low-brow comedy, even though Hollywood churns out several a year that just happen to have bigger budgets) in their own court, the Court of Scientology.

No, seriously!

That’s a no-win situation if I’ve ever seen one, and of course he was found guilty, had to pay for the movie himself, and lost everything he had, including his employees and PR people; but when all was said and done, he turned the whole thing around.

Inspired by the success of Girls Gone Wild infomercials, Vince put his movie trailer on an infomercial and ended up selling 50,000 copies.  Not too shabby!

Now he was hooked (but not by the Hercules Hook)… and figured if he could market something more mainstream, he’d be all set.

He had been working at flea markets selling absorbent chamois, and thought that the same pitch on TV would move a boatload of the things (or maybe several boatloads).

And he was so right!

“The ShamWow Guy” was born.

Guess what else he had been selling to crowds?  Yup, you got it… kitchen gadgets.

(Sounds like a familiar story now, doesn’t it?)

After the ShamWow came the SlapChop, and people started looking at Vince as the anti-Billy Mays.

Personally, I like Vince’s sales style on air better than Billy’s.  I can relate to him more, and the tongue-in-cheek comedy makes me want to see what he’s going to say next.

He doesn’t yell at me, but he entertains me, and I don’t mind him in our living room.  People call him “aggressive”, “abrasive” and “condescending”, but I think he’s a pretty nonchalant smooth-talker.

Obviously others like the way he sells too, because he’s sold millions of dollars’ worth of the two products now.

They say success is the best revenge, and this would be a good example.

Here’s Vince with the SlapChop and free Graty:


*  *  *

But trouble seems to follow Vince around. If it’s not legal problems with the Scientologists, (or Anna Nicole Smith, who backed out of his movie, or the Farrelly brothers, who Vince claimed stole some of his jokes), or an arrest for fighting with a hooker, then it’s a pitchman war with Billy Mays.

Billy claims that Vince ripped off his Zorbeez to make the ShamWow, and stole his QuickChop to make the SlapChop.

Could that be the QuickChop that Vince threw over his shoulder because it’s harder to clean?

But as for the ShamWow, I’m not so sure that Billy can claim credit for it, because I bought a similar chamois product with a different name at the fair many, many years ago (15 years, in fact… in 1994). It was pitched by a guy who reminds me a lot of Vince  — complete with the spiky hairdo, headset, cola, carpet piece and clear shallow bowl — which makes sense, since Vince was doing the same gig at flea markets.

Who knows, maybe it was even him… although I’m pretty sure that was before his time as a fair pitchman.

The point is, it pre-dates both the ShamWow AND the Zorbeez by more than 10 years.

But when Vince decided to launch the ShamWow, he didn’t just sell an existing product… Vince apparently had a better, more absorbent chamois towel engineered, as confirmed by Popular Mechanics.

Is there anything wrong with making something good even better?

The pitch is basically the same one these fair guys have been using for years… but maybe Vince’s script is a little too close to Billy’s.

Here you can see the juxtaposition of their styles… and why Billy is so angry at Vince (if you thought Billy yelled a lot before, wait till you hear him yelling about Vince… and you probably will, soon!)


*  *  *

But hey, if you can build a better mousetrap — or a better chamois — and pitch it in a way that people can relate to, all the more power to you.

And if you’re a renegade thinker who doesn’t care about other people’s opinion, you got my vote too.

Probably one of the hardest things we ever have to do is follow our hearts and take inspired action, despite all the naysayers, dream stealers, and roadblocks we run into.

Apparently very soon on Pitchmen, we get to see the battle in action as Billy tries to take some of the wind out of Vince’s sails.

In the meantime, to learn from some renegade mentors who will help you change your life for the better, and get out of whatever rut you might be in, check out the Renegade Growth Pak.

Your Partner in the Quest For
Living a Life Without Limits

Filed under: Marketing - Selling

8 Responses to “Renegade Pitchmen Gone Wild”

  1. Well, that’s just not very original of you Vince! I look at that and have to laugh because it amazes me what people will do to make money. It would have to come down to whether you like Billy or Vince better? If I can’t market my own thing, my original own thing that is, and in my original own way, I don’t want to do it. Anyone can copy, that’s too easy. That would be way too embarrassing for me to do. So he made it better? There’s no mention of what makes Vince’s product better, and Vince made the mistake of not putting that in there-that’s where he went wrong. Guess he out to get a fine tuning on the thinking apparatus. He He.

  2. You are, you probably know this, an excellent and interesting writer.

    Whenever I hear “I’m Billy Mays…” I rush to the remote control and switch the channel or hit the mute button.

    I have never known what he sells, I just found his style very offensive and annoying.

    Heather, I would be willing to bet that commercials with subtle humor are probably more effective in moving merchandise, although I have heard anecdotally that annoying commercials are effective.

    “Probably one of the hardest things we ever have to do is follow our hearts and take inspired action, despite all the naysayers, dream stealers, and roadblocks we run into. ”

    Great advice, little pragmatic tidbits like this help me over emotional letdowns and make the journey to move forward more tolerable.

    BTW, Thank you for the link to the Iranian dissidents article.
    I have often thought of the possibilities inherent in Israeli and Persian Rapproachment.

    They have common enemies, and many intellectual qualities in common.

    Again, thanks for the article.

    If I had to choose between the two styles, I would go, reluctantly, with the Sham Wow guy.

    Michael Blackburn, Sr.’s last blog post..Iranian Dissident: Dear Israeli Brothers and Sisters – Help Us!

  3. Hey…The whole thing just seems like ‘smart marketing’ to me…it is the old ‘Bad press is better than no press’ and usually Bad Press is Better!
    All in the ‘Game’ !

    Kathreen’s last blog post..The Belly Dancer and The Drum

  4. I too dislike Billy’s style, however since I first saw Pitchmen I was hooked.

    Anyone who is serious about marketing should study the successful people in ever channel.

    Just like Billy, your emails have about 5 seconds to make the right impression before the reader “clicks the remote” and changes channels – by hitting the delete button. No one yet has figured out how to sell the “OPT-OUT”.

    Just like Billy, good research into solving niche problems can make you millions.

    Just like Billy, building relationships and JVs can expand your markets and make you rich.

    Just like Billy, making an “irresistible offer”, “bulking up” “stacking the cool” can generate much larger conversion rates, for the same amount of traffic.


  5. Timing is uncanny. I had just finished reading this blog, and a few minutes later as I was looking into google apps, I came across the announcement that Billy Mays was found dead this morning! That is just eerie that you posted this yesterday.

    Here is the blog I found:

    I’m speechless!

  6. Eerie. That’s the right word.
    May he rest in peace,
    I believe he will.

    Michael Blackburn, Sr.’s last blog post..Tennis Is Easy To Learn, How and Why You Should Play

  7. What is all of this pointing to? MJ died at 50..Billy Mays…died at 50…Farrah Fawcett..not 50 but same day…
    What Transpires behind What Appears?

    Kathreen’s last blog post..An Oriental Dancer’s Michael Jackson Tribute

  8. I find that it’s easier to relate to Vince, but both are good at what they do. Vince appears more attractive in his infomercials, and I feel that has pulling power. But Vince’s voice is a bit annoying.

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