The Pitch is the Product 📺

Ron Popeil’s legacy is fascinating to think about in the present day, because he probably wouldn’t have needed the kitchen appliance to sell if he was just coming up today.


Whew, the last couple of days have been pretty rough on the celebrity health/death front, haven’t they? Between Bob Odenkirk’s big scare (which I was totally freaked out about; I’ve been a fan since the days of Mr. Show) and the passing of Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, a lot of stuff has been out there.

But when I heard about the passing of Ron Popeil, I couldn’t help but make a joke about it, despite the way I felt about Odenkirk’s health scare just a few hours earlier. But after I got that out of my system, it hit me that Popeil’s passing is what I should talk about in this little time-limited column I call MidRange.

See, Popeil spent basically his entire adult life selling products in front of a camera; he was 86 years old, but his first appearance came 64 years older, when he showed off the Chop-O-Matic.

Eventually he turned this approach into a brand—Ronco—starting in the mid-1960s. And that brand eventually became predicated on paid commercial space on local and cable television stations the world over.

But while the devices he and his various companies sold over the year were of mixed value, I think the reason why we even cared about the products is because of Popeil himself. He was the product, and his sales pitch was the reason why you called and ordered.

The problem is, you couldn’t monetize a convincing individual very easily in the 1950s or 1960s, at least not on his own. 

So since they couldn’t sell Ron like they might have been able to get away with now, they sold products. And boy, some of those products were strange and novel, like the Pocket Fisherman (a portable fishing pole) and Mr. Microphone (a microphone that doubled as a radio transmitter).

His company was able to sell things to people that you’d think were impossible to sell—like the idea that his rotisserie chicken machine was the key element to a diet program.

All in all, he was able to get away with selling a lot of things on the sheer strength of his company’s pitch and messaging. If he had born a few decades later, maybe the stuff he was selling might have been his message—perhaps as a motivational speaker or influencer—rather than these unusual objects that stood out on a television set.

The informercial is a strange, purely American creation. If Ron didn’t come up with it, someone else most assuredly would have. But Ron was particularly adept with the form.

Maybe he was the perfect vessel for “set it and forget it.”

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 41 seconds, with an eight-hour sleep gap in-between

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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