Young people, come! Gather around the glowing screen of your smartphone to tell a story of a time when you watched TV on large boxes and switched channels when you were bored.
Between the TV shows, there were many commercials. In the past before streaming, you could only watch the entire thing. If you didn’t have time to, you could run to the kitchen and the bathroom. You couldn’t pause or fast forward or take the screen with your.
The night creatures appeared in the darkest and most obscure hours of the day, after all the programming was finished. These were informationmercials, which were TV programs that featured infomercials about people who sell products you might find useful, but not what you actually wanted.
These immediate forebears of home-shopping channels and, beyond them, the content marketing techniques of the 21st century were where Ron Popeil, an American original who gave the world the word “Ronco” and died Wednesday at 86, thrived.
America has been attracted to both yarn-spinning and high-spirited inventors for centuries. Popeil was both of these, amplified through the airwaves to millions of homes. He was a gadget innovator like his father, yes, but a popularizer as well, a man who intuited consumers’ common-sense needs, then found accessible ways to entice them into making purchases.
He titled his 1996 memoir “Salesman of the Century,” and he was a 20th-century man to the core, a cultural descendant of both Thomas Edison and P.T. Barnum. Barnum was the man whose 1970s “As Seen On TV” commercials featured the remarkablely wireless Mr. He was able to bring up the Microphone, the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, and the Rhinestone & Stud Setter to become the public face of their products for the TV-soaked generation that we now call X.
He was CEO, sales representative and user-in chief all rolled into one. He was there to tell us about the Showtime Rotisserie (“Set It and Forget It”), the Food Dehydrator, or aerosol cans GLH-9 (“GLH”, shortening for “great-looking Hair”) in the 1980s and 1990s, as we lay in bed and considered turning off the TV. He wrote the copy for his “operators at work” infomercials and also edited them.
He would call his babies by affectionate names (The Popeil Electric Pasta-Sausage Maker became, simply, “Pasta-Sausage”), and he was known to say things like, “I created the jerky category.” Now and then he would drift into Shatner-style staccato to make his points: “A child! Can make! He shouted “Homemade sausages” on QVC in 1997.
But there’s more. He was a Chicago open-market barker, who used television to propel him toward success in the 20th century. But he also saw the potential that lay ahead. This fragmented 21st Century, when all media merge into one large glop, where advertising becomes content and then advertising again, is a time when all media are blurred.
Popeil’s popularity was evident when people began to make fun of him. It was because he deliberately and strategically chose to be part of the joke.
Popeil was sent up by Dan Aykroyd on “Saturday Night Live,” 1976, with the “Bass-O-Matic”, commercial parody. Popeil understood it was free publicity just like he did when “Weird Al Yankovic” recorded a parody song.
He gave his infomercial content away to moviemakers who were looking for something to play on their TVs as background music to their movies. He was able to increase his ubiquity and wink-nudge pop culture brand by giving away his infomercial content for free. He did the work of others, and the eyes were on him.
Popeil maintained that his desire to invent was more than just a mercantile drive, even after bankruptcy and another chapter of success. “I have enough money today,” he told this reporter for a 1997 Associated Press profile. “But I can’t stop. If I have to, these are the things that I will use.
Popeil showed how “GLH-9,” after several hours of work, was able to tame the bald spot on his back. He did this while he was watching a television channel with intense lights. Popeil exhorted the journalist to touch it, but it didn’t make the final cut. It feels real.” The journalist agreed, and it did.
Interludes such as that — in-person interactions which felt like moments in an infomercial – help to explain the opposite: moments in his infomercials, that felt like in person interactions – are moments that feel like they were in person. These were Popeil’s stocks in trade. You can feel that the best performers, which includes top salespeople, are not performing well.
In the 1970s, Mr. You believed that a microphone could be used to open up all kinds of doors to impress your opposite sex. You believed that Ron Popeil could make a delicious sausage out of fresh salmon, dill and soy in just two minutes on set of his infomercial.
You believed. This belief has been the foundation of successful sales. You believed that this man, a garrulous man, who was both nationally recognized and RIGHT THERE in you room at 2 AM, clearly speaking to you, would continue visiting you at night with items you didn’t know you needed.
Popeil loved to tell us, “Wait, there’s more!” Ron Popeil’s feet were planted at the intersection between Edison and Barnum for his belief that there was always been.