This week a different breed of TV star will be honored in San Diego, California, as the Direct Response Hall of Fame inducts a new crop of luminaries known for their mesmerizing pitches for home-cleaning products, exercise machines, and other gadgets you just cannot live without. This year the Hall of Fame inducted its second class—the tradition began in 2013 with a class that included faces you have probably seen on TV in the wee hours of the morning. OxiClean, the Clapper, Chia Pet, ThighMaster and spray on hair—they are all here.
To see complete lists of inductees, check out the website for the Response Expo.
Food dehydrators, pasta machines and even spray on hair are all soldiers in the empire Popeil has built with his direct response marketing campaigns. He has been pitching his products on TV since the 1950's. His company, RONCO, has sold a pocket fishing pole, a smokeless ashtray, a device that can scramble eggs inside their shells, and the countertop rotisserie machine that begat Popeil's catch phrase "Set it and forget it!" Other phrases attributed to Popeil include: "But wait, there's more," and "Now, how much would you pay?"
Here is one of Rob Popeil's iconic informercials for Great Looking Hair.
Guthy-Renker is mainly known for marketing the successful Proactiv line of skin-care products, along with the numerous celebrity endorsers they have recruited to plug the line, including Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Sean "Diddy" Combs.
Bill Guthy and Greg Renker became friends in the early 1980s over a mutual love of motivational and self-help books. Their infomercial business grew out of Guthy's cassette duplication business, and the first product they made was an audio version of a classic self-help book "Think and Grow Rich." They also made several self-help series with motivational speaker Tony Robbins, and have promoted products for Kris Jenner, Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum. The company brings in about $1.5 billion in annual revenue.
Here is Justin Bieber endorsing Proactiv.
Chia Pet, The Clapper, 'Ove' Glove and countless other products were staple infomercial fare through the '80s and '90s. They were all the work of San Francisco-based Joseph Enterprises, founded by Joe Pedott. Pedott had been an ad executive in Chicago and used his skills to market Chia Pet in 1977.
Although the name Chia Pet is trademarked, the invention itself is not patented. It is simply a terracotta planter that holds chia seeds, which grow gelatinous and sticky when moist. The original Chia Pet branched out into licensed versions that resemble popular fictional characters or celebrities, including everything from Hello Kitty to Homer Simpson to Mr. T. There is even a Barack Obama Chia Pet.
Here is the classic Chia Pet commercial.
"I'm not only the Hair Club president, I'm also a client," was the signature catch phrase Sy Sperling used to sign off his infomercials for the Hair Club for Men. Sperling founded the Hair Club in the 1970s to find a solution to his own baldness. The company's first commercials were shot on a tight budget, but Sperling enjoyed tremendous success after an endorsement from Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees. At its peak, the company was raking in $100 million in annual revenue. Sperling finally sold Hair Club to a private equity firm in 2000.
Here is one of the classic Hair Club commercials, with Sy Sperling's famous tagline.
The man who designed the "As Seen on TV" logo was also a direct response tycoon in his own right. After founding his company TELEBrands with his total life-savings of $20,000, he became the man behind the products PedEgg, OrGreenic, Pocket Hose, AeroKnife, Rabbit TV, InstaBulb, and Trusty Cane, among others. But it was the AmberVision sunglasses that stood out among the rest—netting $150 million total over the product's lifetime.
Here is a classic AmberVision commercial from the 1980s.
Little calls himself "America's Personal Trainer" and actually may be able to back that up. His infomercials have aired in 81 different countries, and he has sold 45 million fitness-related products, including exercise machines such as AbRider and the Gazelle. Little has picked up a few other awards in recent years, including an Entrepreneur of the Year award from Ernst and Young in 2009, and induction into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in 2006.
Here is one of Tony Little's classic informercials that confirms his international reach.
Somers was known for playing Chrissy Snow on 1970's sitcom "Three's Company," and Carol Lambert on "Step By Step" two decades later. In the 1980s she began acting as spokeswoman for the ThighMaster, and went on to build a thriving business selling branded makeup, handbags, health and longevity products, and, of course, exercise equipment. Somers courted some controversy after she discussed certain "alternative" cancer treatments in a self-help book she had written. But overall, she has been tremendously successful. The ThighMaster alone sold over 10 million units.
See Suzanne Somers' original ThighMaster commercial.
Billy Mays was the bearded guy hawking the mysterious powdered substance OxiClean, which seemed to magically take any stain out of anything. He began his career pitching a wood cleaner called Orange Glo after meeting its inventor at a trade show. He went on to pitch dozens of products, including Kaboom, The GripWrench, the Gopher grabbing arm, and the "Mighty" line of putties, epoxies and tape. He was one of the two hosts and judges of a Discovery Channel show called PitchMen, a reality show where contestants pitch their inventions to informercial veterans. Mays passed away of cardiac arrest in 2009, but he was inducted posthumously this year.
Here is Billy Mays demonstrating the wonders of Oxiclean.