The Mood Ring, Pocket Fisherman and Philip Kives

Post from April 30, 2016

As seen on TVPhilip Kives died last week. You might not even realize that you know him, but you do. He invented the infomercial.  Some might call him the founder of direct response.  He revolutionized marketing.

He brought us these products:

You’re probably familiar with the ‘As Seen on TV Logo’. Yep. That’s Philip Kives.

Or do you remember those commercials where the greatest of hits of an era would play while the song list scrolled up your TV screen? You guessed it, Philip Kives.

He grew up poor, living with his parents on their farm in a tiny town in Canada. After graduating from high school, he successfully sold products door to door, such as vacuum cleaners and cookware, earning $29,000 in 1959, a small fortune. In his early 20s, he figured out that TV would be a more efficient way to reach people, and so the infomercial was born. And in 1963, Kives founded the company called K-tel International.

The very first infomercial ever produced was for a Teflon non-stick fry pan. And you guessed it – Philip Kives was the mind behind it. He was 32. Turned out that Teflon might help keep food from sticking, but it didn’t stick so well to the frying pan itself. So he looked for other products. He bought a bunch of products to sell from Seymour Popeil, father of Ron Popeil, the guy who coined the phrase:

“But wait, there’s more!”

Three years later, for no apparent reason, he traveled to Australia with an infomercial he had made himself, selling the Feather Touch Knife. In five months’ time, he had sold a million knives, earning $1 per knife for himself. Ironically, because Kives was so successful, Popeil decided to stop selling products to him, because he was getting too big.

That change forced Kives to start finding and developing his own products, and that’s when he hit on the jackpot: compilation hit song records. His company sold 500 million albums by 1983!

Kives perfected the all important call-to-action. His messages were simple: “Only available through this very special TV offer” and “Buy now while supplies last”, “Snap up one of the first 30,000 LPs”

Eamonn Forde, @Eamonn_Forde writing for theguardian summed up Kives style perfectly: “His approach to sales was unapologetically mainstream. The marketing language was simple and unswerving at a time when, as illustrated by Mad Men, the advertising industry was attempting to elevate itself to a level of erudition and sophistication that perhaps it didn’t quite deserve. For Kives, the sales message should have no space for indulgence or purple prose.”

We should all be so successful.


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