April 30, 2009

Thoughts on "Pitchmen," Episode Three

The third episode of Pitchmen aired last night on Discovery. Overall, I liked this episode a lot. It was well constructed, entertaining and exciting, and it never felt slow or boring. While the last episode focused more on the inventors, this episode focused more on Billy and Sully -- their relationship on and off the set, and the drama that surrounds the testing of new products and the commercial production process.

The items for this show were the Sharkstopper and the Black/Freedom/Juno/Jupiter Jack.

My first reaction to the Sharkstopper, a device that uses sound to repel sharks, was "prevention doesn't sell." I can't count the number of products I've reviewed that were trying to sell prevention to impuIse DRTV buyers. It just doesn't work. This falls under my third criteria for DRTV products: It must solve a problem. And not just any problem: an immediate, pressing problem. DRTV buyers are impulse buyers. People don't buy products on impulse for a problem they might have in the future. Billy and Sully got more hung up on the "does it work?" question, which was certainly important from a liability standpoint, but I would have passed before that phase because of the prevention issue.

The Sharkstopper also violates my second criteria for DRTV products: It must be "mass market." Most people don't surf, so the problem of shark attacks is far from their minds on most days.

Of course, without the Sharkstopper, we wouldn't have had some of the best moments of the episode. I know several people in the industry who would consider Sully's bold stunt their worst nightmare (A.D., I thought of you in particular). I have no fear of sharks, but even I thought Sully was "bloody nuts" for swimming about while Billy was chucking chum into shark-invested waters. That's going too far for a DRTV product! The equivalent for me would be performing the parachute stunt in Mighty Mendit. I love to skydive as much as Sully loves to surf, but I would never put that much faith in an unproven item. At least Mighty Mendit had passed the wind tunnel test!

Moving on, and by contrast, I loved the Jupiter Jack (a hands-free cell phone device) at first site. It meets all seven of my criteria for a DRTV product. The only weakness I see is that it isn't visually exciting, or what Billy calls "demonstrable." That visual "wow" factor is so important in DRTV today. Think Billy hitting his hand with a hammer or the Frenchman cutting himself out of a metal box. The jack just kind of sits there. But I still expect it to continue doing well, especially with all the cell phone laws being passed, as Sully mentioned.

As for the show itself, I think viewers will be figuring it all out by now -- why Billy is coming off the way he does, etc. After an episode of fighting between Billy and Sully, Billy summed it up nicely for us: "When it's all over, we hug, we kiss, we make up. Not that we [ever really] had anything going. It's just how we work, how we get things done." I misread this early on and was genuinely concerned that Billy was being made to look like a bad guy, but it was clear to me after this episode that isn't the case. It's more along the lines of what I wrote last week about Billy and Sully behaving "like brothers, complete with the occassional 'family feud.' "

Last but not least, and as promised, here is my insider perspective for the week. During the editing process for the Jupiter Jack, Sully, Arwen and Carla realize the driving scenes just aren't credible and decide to do a re-shoot to get more realistic footage. I'm sure a lot of people were wondering if this really happens. A whole new day of shooting just for that? Well, it's true. Things like that do happen quite a bit. Some things you just don't see until the edit, no matter how much time you spend trying to get it right on the initial shoot. Most "pickup shots," as they are called, are much less elaborate than what the Sullivan team had to endure, but sometimes that's just the way it goes.

Some people might also wonder what the numbers at the end of the show mean. For example, the Jupiter Jack guy could make $3 in sales for every $1 spent on advertising. Is that normal or great? This number, what insiders call the "media efficiency ratio" (MER) or just the "ratio," is one of the key metrics in the industry. And a 3 to 1, if it holds up on national rollout, would be exactly what Billy called it: a hit as big as Jupiter!

Most campaigns struggle to get to a 2 to 1. In a study I did in 2007, I found the success rate for DRTV items was one in eight. However, most of the hits from the study were in the 2 to 1 MER range. When I narrowed the criteria to what would be the 3 to 1 range, I found the rate to be 1 in 50.

Are you on LinkedIn?

If you're part of the DRTV industry and have a profile on LinkedIn, you should join the DRTV Professionals group, managed by yours truly.

With 403 members as of today, it's a great way to network and keep up with industry buzz.

April 29, 2009

Review: Sure Clip & Clip It Clean

Description: Nail clipper with lighted magnifier and "catcher" for clippings
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7

Main Pitch: "The world's most advanced nail clipper"
Main Offer: $10 for one clipper
Bonus: 4-in-1 Miracle Nail Buffer, double the offer (just pay separate P&H)
Marketer: Ontel Products
Producer: Unknown
Sure Clip Website: www.GetSureClip.com
Commercial Rating: OK

Main Pitch: "Illuminates, magnifies and cleans up for you"
Main Offer: $10 for one clipper
Bonus: Double the offer, Professional Callus Remover (just pay separate P&H)
Marketer: Merchant Media
Producer: The Schwartz Group
Sure Clip Website: www.ClipItClean.com
Commercial Rating: Good

I doubled up on this review because both of these commercials tested around the same time. Of the two commercials, the Clip It Clean is the better one. It gets right to the point. The Sure Clip commercial takes forever to get to the key features of this product: The lighted magnifier and the catcher for clippings. Too much time is spent in the beginning of the spot describing the clipper itself.

As for the offers, the Sure Clip wins because the nail buffer bonus is more relevant. Clip It Clean's callus remover might have come across as a better value, but for some inexplicable reason the commercial shows but does not describe the three extra heads that come with it.

As for the product, don't let the high rating fool you. This product has a deadly weakness: It doesn't solve a real problem. You can follow the opening of these commercials and shoot down the problems, one by one. "Can't see your fingernails well enough to clip them?" That's what glasses and lamps are for. "Sick of nasty nail clippings all around your home?" If so, cut your nails over a trash can like everyone else. "Do you dread painful, jagged cuts with your rusty old nail clipper?" Not really, I just throw the old one out and spend $2 on a new one. (Walgreens is selling one that even catches nail clippings for $2.19.) "Sick of cheap nail clippers that tear your nails?" All right, then spend $5 and get a top-of-the-line clipper. Etc.

I'm being a bit flippant, but here's the bottom line: The lighted magnifier feature isn't enough to carry a campaign (see also LumaTweeze) and the other interesting feature of the product, that it catches clippings, isn't very exciting. I think regular old nail clippers are another "good enough" solution that most people aren't dying to see improved.

Review: Lock Fresh

Description: Food storage container with pump lid that sucks out air
Main Pitch: "Keeps food fresh up to five times longer"
Main Offer: $39.95 for three containers (3/4 quart, 1 1/2 quart and 2 1/1 quart)
Bonus: Second set of containers plus a 17-piece culinary tool set
Marketer: Unknown
Producer: Unknown
Website: www.LockFresh.com
Product (D7) Score: 4 out of 7
Commercial Rating: OK

At $39.95, this campaign has no shot at success. The price barrier for short-form DRTV items is $19.99 with few exceptions. Certain categories have stretched the barrier (toys, men's fitness). Food storage is not one of them.

I know some people, especially those in love with their products, cannot accept this. Such people tend to argue that "you never know" and like to cite DRTV items that broke the rules, such as those in the categories I just mentioned. But as the great Al Ries once said: "You can always find at least one exception to every rule. You have a choice. You can either live by the rules and accept the possibility that you might miss an opportunity because you didn’t break the rules. Or you can live a life of anarchy.”

Taking the realistic view, then, this item is too expensive. It is also not unique enough to break through. There is so much activity in this category, I've grown tired of writing about it.

As for the commercial, it gets the job done but is not inspiring.

April 28, 2009

Review: Perfect Brownie

Description: Special pan for baking and then serving brownies and other treats
Main Pitch: "Bake the perfect brownie batch every time"
Main Offer: $19.95 for pan with removable tray bottom, stand and dividers
Bonus: 10 decorating stencils, Gooey & Chewy recipe booklet
Marketer: Allstar
Producer: The Schwartz Group
Website: www.PerfectBrownie.com

Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good/Excellent

I don't love baking items for DRTV, but I love this product and its commercial. That's because it's something truly unique and desirable, and the commercial does a great job of emphasizing these strengths.

The challenge with baking items is that they typically don't solve a pressing problem. A great example, which taught me this lesson, was the Pancake Puff. I gave it rave reviews and thought it would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. It wasn't. In doing a post-mortem on the item, I had to accept that "the problem matters." The Pancake Puff was a great item, but not being able to make munchkins at home isn't a real problem, so the campaign couldn't generate that critical impulse to buy.

Allstar is taking a similar risk with this item, but this product is a little different. Within the task of baking, it does solve a problem: uneven cooking and gooey deserts that get hopelessly stuck to the pan. And what a cool solution! The rack separates the brownies, so they cook evenly and don't get stuck together. Then the bottom and sides drop away when serving, leaving the perfect rack of treats behind. Brilliant!

Returning to the commercial, I want to start giving special credit to producers who are creative enough to come up with those little signature lines we all remember. That recent CNBC special paid homage to some of the most famous ones; e.g., "set it and forget it," "but wait! there's more!" and so on. Derek over at The Schwartz Group has a special flare for "it's so easy" analogies, and this commercial includes one of his classic comparisons:

"If you can make ice cubes, you can use the Perfect Brownie pan!"

April 27, 2009

Review: Wash Wizard

Description: Power washer for cars that attaches to a garden hose
Main Pitch: "The world's most powerful, water-driven roto washer"
Main Offer: $19.95 for power washer with Water Blaster Extension
Bonuses: Spot Free Self-Drying Car Wash and Wheel Wizard brake dust and rim cleaner, Shine Wizard with motorized sprayer and micro-fiber cloth (just pay additional P&H)
Marketer: Simoniz USA
Producer: Unknown
Website: www.BuyWashWizard.com

Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good

A few years ago, Anthony Sullivan (shameless name drop) and I worked on an item similar to this one we called Hydro Max. Although we spent a lot of time on the spot and it came out great, it bombed.

My conclusion: With two brilliant DRTV marketers dedicated to the item, the only possible reason it could have failed is that DRTV consumers don't want this type of product.

But I could be biased.

(On an unrelated side note, did anyone else feel like watching Entertainment Tonight after viewing this spot?)

CNBC's take on DRTV

I caught Darren Rovell's CNBC special on the 'As Seen on TV' business this weekend. Overall, I thought it was pretty fair and accurate. However, it was more fair to some people than others. I cringed during certain parts, along with most other industry insiders I'm sure.

Rovell's treatment of AJ Khubani, president of Telebrands, was especially rough. I'm sure it was a long interview, but the editors chose to focus on the negatives of that interview and make AJ take the hit for some of the harder-to-explain practices of this industry. He did a good job and was cool under fire, but it wasn't really fair to him. Meanwhile, Scott Boilen, president of Allstar, received better treatment, and he came off well. He was every bit as witty and on point as he is in real life. (See below for a sample of what I mean.)

The pitchmen were also well portrayed. I haven't seen Ron Popeil for years, since he sold Ronco, so it was good to see he is still at it, doing what he does best. Billy Mays also gave a fun interview, but I remember thinking: It must have been a small room, or they must have asked him to keep his voice down. Even when he pitched Rovell's phone (you have to see it to understand), he was much more subdued than normal.

Incidentally, Rovell called Billy the "heir" to the King Pitchman throne. But as far as I'm concerned, that coronation has long since passed. Nothing can take away from Ron's former greatness, but Billy is definitely the reigning monarch. (See below for a portion of the Ron and Billy segments.)

To find out about future airings of this special or watch certain segments online, visit AsSeenOnTv.CNBC.com. Below are two videos from the site.

The first is about Snuggie pub crawls and features part of the interview with Scott Boilen:

The second includes some of the stuff they did on Ron Popeil and Billy Mays:

April 23, 2009

CNBC explores 'As Seen on TV'

Second chance to set your DVR!

CNBC is re-airing a documentary on this business, which it calls "the $150 billion industry hiding in plain sight." Catch it Sunday, April 26th at 10PM.

From the press release:

"In this one-hour special, [Darren] Rovell will speak to the pitch people and the inventors and executives who produced the greatest products. He'll also show viewers how the infomercial world works and explore various products and their claims."

Thoughts on "Pitchmen," Episode Two

Thanks to a DVR malfunction, I didn't watch the premier of Pitchmen until it was too late to post about it. (Of course, I should have been at the premier party, to which I was invited, but such is life when you have two small children.) Anyway, I had no such problems last night and in fact caught the second episode of Pitchmen live. Here are my thoughts:

For the second episode in a row, Billy came off looking a bit like a prima donna and/or an egotist. He refused to do demos, complained about Sully having more lines and passed out signed pictures of himself. I've known Billy for a long time, and he's one of the most down-to-earth people in this business, so it's a false characterization. I hope we get to see more of Billy's true nature in future episodes. He is a genuinely nice, humble guy who has one of the smallest egos in the industry (which is full of egos).

This episode also made him look like a chicken again. Last week, he wouldn't let a car run over his hand (Impact Gel demo). This week, he wouldn't let Sully's crew weld him into a box (Dual Saw demo). But that's not the Billy I know, either. I think later episodes will correct this perception. Until then, check out the What Odor commercial or the Mighty Mendit commercial for proof that Billy isn't afraid to do his own stunts!

As for Sully, the best parts of his personality shone through: He was good natured, quick-witted and seemed generally fun to be around. His temper only had a brief cameo during the "time crunch" segment of the Shuffles project, but we've certainly all been there!

On another bright note, the interplay between Billy and Sully is coming off well, in my opinion. You can tell these guys have worked together for a long time and treat each other like brothers, complete with the occasional "family feud." Generally speaking, I also felt the second episode was better than the first, but that might have a lot to do with the Dual Saw (great item) and its inventor, a very sympathetic character. You wanted him to succeed.

Moving on, I think readers of this blog will be most interested in knowing how an industry insider like me views what happens on the show. Do things really go down like that? Is this REAL reality TV? So starting with this post, I'll be commenting each week from that perspective.

Regarding last night, the show created the false impression that a client sees a commercial for the first time at Sully's or Billy's office and is not expected to make any changes. Christen Hagan, the Shuffles inventor, is portrayed as an annoyance because -- on what appears to be her first viewing of the spot -- she thinks it's only 99% right. The Frenchman flies in from abroad to see his Dual Saw infomercial and gives it 100% the first time. In reality, no spot or infomercial is ever 100% the first time, and we use modern technologies like email to review commercials and suggest changes from the comfort of our own offices (even if they're in France). Moreover, "pickup shots" and re-shoots are more the norm than the exception! The experienced clients make just as many changes as the newbies (if not more).

More such insights to follow. Overall, however, my biggest concern about the show has to do with how interesting the DRTV process will be to outsiders. I've spoken to quite a few industry people about this, and they feel the same way. We live and breathe DRTV, yet many of us found the show to be slow in places. How will the average Joe react?

Perhaps he will be riveted when we are bored because this is all new to him. Or maybe he will change the channel. We'll see. I have no gut on this one because I am hopelessly biased. So feel free to post your thoughts, whether you are an insider or an outsider.

April 17, 2009

Review: Impact Gel

Description: Shoe insert/insole made of a high-impact gel
Main Pitch: "Absorbs more shock and pressure than other insoles"
Main Offer: $19.99 for one insole and insert set
Bonus: Second insole and insert set (just pay separate S&H)
Starring: Billy Mays
Marketer: Impact Gel Corporation
Producer: Sullivan Productions
Website: www.ImpactGel.com
Product (D7) Score: 5 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good/Excellent

This product was featured in the premier episode of Pitchmen, the new reality show about Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan. Since I'm writing this after that episode aired, and American now knows how it did, I obviously won't be making a prediction. However, I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the product and the commercial, two things that will certainly affect where the item ranks on the annual Top 50 charts for this year.

First, the product. It's in a very tough category for DRTV. I've seen many similar items (including ones I worked on) fail miserably. Indeed, I know of no insole-type product that has succeeded on DRTV besides this one. In my opinion, that's because the category is already dominated by major brands. As discussed in a previous posting (see here), crowded categories are a common trap that DRTV entrepreneurs fall into. Sometimes it works out, but most times it does not. The trick is convincing the consumer your 'better than' solution is so much better, they have to have it. That's where the creative comes in.

Sully and Billy did an excellent job establishing the required point of difference using a series of well-conceived "magic demos." This tried-and-true DRTV technique is so powerful, it can often overcome major product shortcomings (such as the crowded category problem). My only criticism pertains to the relevancy of those demos.

The spot doesn't prove the "impact" material does for feet what it does for Billy's hand (or Sully's hand, as the case may be). When it comes to feet, there are no magic demos, nothing to show people this is better than a name-brand insole in a way that really matters. I liked the scene that showed other inserts can break down, but it was a little apples-to-oranges given the main product is a gel insole. The real comparison viewers will make is to Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel insoles (of "Are You Gellin'" fame) and the like. They will rightfully ask: "How is this any better at protecting my feet?" And they won't come up with a good answer.

April 07, 2009

Review: Handy Valet

Description: Armchair organizer with a built-in tray and light
Main Pitch: "Eliminates clutter and keeps everything you need within easy reach"
Main Offer: $19.95 for one
Bonus: Second one free (just pay separate P&H)
Marketer: Allstar
Producer: Blue Moon Studios
Website: www.HandyValet.com
Product (D7) Score: 6 out of 7
Commercial Rating: Good/Excellent

This product has a lot going for it. It has mass appeal, solves quite a few everyday problems and is the right kind of item for the DRTV market. Its only shortcomings are that it's not super-exciting (no magic demo here), and it may not be different enough from all the low-cost, similar items already in catalogs (e.g. this one for $14.98 in the Get Organized! catalog). The light is a smart addition, but it might not be compelling enough.

As for the commercial, it's darn-near perfect. The only reason I didn't give it my highest rating is because of the product. Because it wasn't exciting, the commercial didn't have a chance to impress. Technically, however, this is top-notch work from Blue Moon once again.

Pitchmen tell their secrets to Fortune

Billy and Sully continue to do the public-relations thing to promote their new reality show (Pitchmen premiers Wednesday, April 15 at 10 PM EST on Discovery Channel). Their latest PR hit is a comprehensive article in Fortune magazine. Lots of great background stuff on the two industry icons. One of my industry mentors, Dick Wechsler of Lockard & Wechsler Direct, is also quoted.

But the most interesting part of the article is a (mostly accurate, from what I know) summary of the feud that's been brewing between Billy and Vince Offer of ShamWow fame:

As successful as Mays and Sullivan are today, they have plenty of competition. And their fiercest rival at the moment is a new phenom named Vince Offer, the man behind the ShamWow absorbent chamois cloth. Propelled by Offer's goofy charm and funny one-liners ("You followin' me, camera guy?"), the ShamWow ad has become a cultural sensation and YouTube favorite. Since it first aired in the fall of 2007, over five million sets of the absorbent cloths have been sold, says Offer. In a recent poll on CNBC.com, the ShamWow defeated the George Foreman Grill as the best As Seen on TV product of all time. And because Offer is the owner as well as the pitchman, he's making a mint.

Mays, however, dismisses Offer as a Johnny-come-lately who has broken the pitchman code by invading not one but two of his markets. Before the ShamWow came out, Mays starred in an ad for a chamois called the Zorbeez. In addition, Mays sees Offer's Slap Chop vegetable chopper, as a rip-off of a similar product Mays himself previously sold called the Quick Chop. (Never mind that chamois cloths and vegetable choppers have been sold for years.)

"You know what, rip me off once, shame on me," says Mays. "But twice? I'm coming after you and taking back what's mine." Mays has new ads for the Zorbeez and the Original Quick Chop ready to go. After Mays and Offer attended this year's Super Bowl in Tampa Bay as guests in the same suite, Mays went on the Adam Carolla radio show and said that he and Offer had exchanged words. Mays then challenged Offer to a "pitch off."

Offer says he's amused by the grandstanding. A onetime Scientologist and aspiring filmmaker who made a critically reviled gross-out humor flick back in the late '90s called The Underground Comedy Movie, Offer thinks Mays is merely posturing to drive up his ratings. "I got no beef with the guy," he says. "He's just trying to create some drama for his show." The Super Bowl incident? "Never happened," says Offer. "I think we took a picture together."

The article also includes a great video about Billy (sort of a Pitchmen preview), which you can view below.

April 02, 2009

Billy on Leno

Billy Mays appeared on Jay Leno recently to promote his new reality show (Pitchmen, which premiers Wednesday, April 15 at 10 PM EST on Discovery Channel).

Check him out in a skit with President Obama during the opening monologue and the one-on-one interview after Dana Carvey (with jokes thrown in by Carvey, who shares the couch) on NBC's Web site.

Looks like Billy had a lot of fun!