November 15, 2009

How Ron Popeil pitched “It slices! It dices!” into our language – and inspired Dan Aykroyd's classic "Bass-O-Matic" SNL sketch

Decades before the late Billy Mays started his pitchman career, Ron Popeil was pioneering the “As Seen on TV” product market.

Popeil, born in New York City in 1935, was the son of inventor Samuel Popeil, who created the Chop-O-Matic and it’s ultimately more famous relative, the Veg-O-Matic.

Ron started out selling these kitchen wonders and other gadgets invented by his father in live demonstrations at stores in the 1950s. He had a knack for it and sold thousands of units.

By 1960 the Popeil-coined name “Veg-O-Matic” was on its way to becoming a household word. And, on November 15, 1960, the family received a trademark registration for it.

To go along with the catchy name, Popeil used and popularized the catchy slogan: “It slices! It dices!”

Around that time, Popeil realized there was a huge potential for marketing his products on television. He created the Ronco company and developed TV “infomercial” versions of his product demonstrations. Some featured him doing the same kind of pitches he’d used in stores. Others were voiceover style demos.

In the 1960s and 1970s, spots featuring Popeil and other Ronco ads sold millions of dollars worth of products.

If you were around at the time, you may have bought something from Ronco, like Mr. Microphone, the Ronco Bottle and Jar Cutter, the Buttoneer, the Pocket Fisherman, the Smokeless Ashtray, the Salad Spinner, or the famed Veg-O-Matic.

I admit that I bought a few Ronco gadgets myself. I also admit that I can never think of the Veg-O-Matic without also thinking of one of the greatest Saturday Night Live faux ads, Dan Aykroyd’s 1976 “Bass-O-Matic” sketch. It’s a hilarious send-up of Popeil-style demo ads.

In addition to inspiring that classic spoof, Popeil’s pioneering TV ads led the way for other famous infomercial pitchmen like Billy Mays and Anthony "Sully" Sullivan.

Some of the products Ron Popeil and Ronco sold over the years may have been a little, er, dicey. But I respect Popeil’s genius as a marketer and as a coiner of product names and slogans.

If you’re interested in learning more about him, Ron wrote an autobiography, humbly titled Ron Popeil: The Salesman of the Century. (Hey, he’s a pitchman.)

As the description explains:

“The Ronco Veg-O-Matic is the one kitchen appliance you'll wonder how you ever did without! It slices, it dices, and so much more!”

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