By Sue Brady
Philip Kives died last week. You might not realize that you know him, but you do. He revolutionized marketing by inventing the infomercial. Some in fact might call him the founder of direct response marketing.
Remember those commercials where the greatest hits of an era would play while the song list scrolled up your TV screen? You guessed it, Philip Kives. He had a great idea and he made millions with it.
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 30s, 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 it was produced by Kives. 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 Kives looked for other things to sell. He bought a bunch of products from Seymour Popeil, father of Ron Popeil, the guy who coined the phrase “but wait, there’s more,” and was successful using TV to sell huge volumes.
Three years later, for no apparent reason, he traveled to Australia with an infomercial he had made himself, selling the Feather Touch Knife, another product he bought from Popeil. In five months’ time, he had sold a million knives, earning $1 per knife for himself. Popeil decided to stop selling his products to Kives, instead selling his products himself through his son’s company, Ronco.
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 compelling and simple, and his audience responded. Tell your viewers what the product does and how it benefits them, create a sense of urgency, and encourage them to buy.
“Only available through this very special TV offer”
“Buy now while supplies last”
“Snap up one of the first 30,000 LPs”
“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.”
You’re probably familiar with the ‘As Seen on TV Logo’. Yep. That’s Philip Kives. For many years, this trademarked logo could only be used if you paid for the rights to do so (and you were selling a product that was sold in this way). Now this iconic image is considered a part of the public domain, so anyone is free to use it.
But wait, there’s more! Don’t we wish…