Pitchmen, Pain and Positioning

April 27, 2009  

My new guilty pleasure is watching the Discovery Channel show “Pitchmen.”  On it are two pitchmen, Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan, who create and star in direct response ads.  These are TV commercials that sell you a product and entice you to call now.

Each week, inventors pitch their ideas to Billy and Anthony.  Two inventions are selected and the dynamic duo then create advertisements for these products.  Then they run the ads to see if they are successful.

It is interesting to watch which products the pitchmen select…and why.  It appears that there are two criteria:

  1. The product must be visually interesting to demo.  For example, using a hammer to smash Billy’s hand protected with a shock absorbent shoe insole.
  2. The product must solve a pain.  I discuss the need to solve a pain extensively in my previous articles, including one on why a blizzard was the catalyst for the success of the ATM and why the best selling cars are gas guzzlers.

This last point is addressed more fully in a recent newsletter from The Straight Dope. In an article on direct marketing advertisements (the “As Seen on TV” brands), they discuss why now is the best time for these commercials.

In a January article in the Newark Star-Ledger, Telebrands president A.K. Khubani says tough economic times create an ideal environment for his company’s MO: not only are ad rates down, more people are staying home and watching TV. Superstar TV pitchman Billy Mays suggests that many direct-marketed products sell well in a bad economy because they help (or at least promise to help) buyers save money somewhere else. The problem of wasted food is solved with this miracle bag-sealer system! Don’t throw away those torn pants – save them with this mending kit! Even the clothes-storage products, which have been around a while, seem particularly appropriate in a time when some people are downsizing to less roomy, more affordable housing.

The rest of the straight dope article discusses the psychology of the special offers and pricing.  In particular why the price point has to be low enough so that the viewer doesn’t think twice about impulse purchases.

This reinforces the point that I discuss often in my “innovation bell curve” articles…

In tough economic times, affordability and accessibility are king.  Provide a product with a high perceived value for low cost.  Perceived value is driven by the importance of the pain you solve.  If you can solve a significant pain for little money, your customers will be eager to buy…even when they are cutting back on spending in other areas.

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7 Responses to “Pitchmen, Pain and Positioning”

  1. Mimi on April 27th, 2009 5:40 pm

    What I found interesting about this latest Discovery Channel series is that the concept is brilliant. This is a SHOW about a COMMERCIAL (whose original intent was to try to imitate a SHOW). We have come full circle.

    Americans are the great consumers of the world. Because human beings are problem-solvers by nature, all it takes is for one genius to create a product which offers a perceived solution, air it during scientifically-planned and calculated time slots, and voila! Americans are once again separated from a portion of their weekly paycheck. Then double-dip by turning the experience into a “reality show” during which you can air the actual ads… and “Pitchmen” delivers. An A+ for Capitalism.

    I, too, am guilty of indulging in this show… and I hardly ever watch television. The stunning simplicity of it both frightens and fascinates me. Thank you for offering your informative perspective on yet another intriguing aspect of this series.

  2. Stephen Shapiro on May 22nd, 2009 9:32 am

    Thanks Mimi….as I watch the show I become even more amazed by it…and what becomes a big sellers. The last episode shocked me. The product that became a multi-million dollar seller was just an armband with magnets to hold your tools. Pretty blah in my opinion. The one which did not sell helped you unscrew stripped screws. I know of no solutions to that problem other than this product. I guess the difference is, everyone uses tools whereas not everyone is struggling with stripped screws.

  3. Steve Shapiro on June 29th, 2009 9:24 pm

    RIP Billy Mays.

  4. The Magic of Innovation | Business Innovation Speaker and Consultant Stephen Shapiro on June 30th, 2009 9:02 am

    [...] a previous blog entry, I discussed why watching “Pitchmen” (the Discovery TV show) can give you ideas on how to create more mar….  [Sadly Billy Mays, the show’s co-star, passed away the other [...]

  5. ryan on January 5th, 2010 9:45 pm

    how do i get into direct respose marketing acting aka pitcchman

  6. david rita on August 10th, 2010 2:13 am

    I have and idea already made it. but do not have the money to patent it. any ideas on how I can go about getting it patented without paying the thousands everyone asks thank you.

  7. Innovative Advertising - Business Innovation Speaker and Consultant Stephen Shapiro | Business Innovation Speaker and Consultant Stephen Shapiro on February 20th, 2012 10:49 pm

    [...] you look at infomercials (versus standard commercials), they ALWAYS focus on the pain they solve. In fact, these direct marketing companies typically won’t sell a product that does not solve [...]