April 07, 2009

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.

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