Before YouTube and Instagram ads, we had infomercials — long-form television advertisements designed to pitch a good or service. And before modern-day social media influencers, we had Ron Popeil — the “king of the TV pitchmen.”
Popeil, who died on July 28, created TV’s first infomercials and commercials; in 1959, he made his first TV commercial — a 3 ½-minute spot for the Chop-O-Matic. After forming his own company, Ronco, in 1964, Popeil and his late-night infomercials became a staple of television. “Call now!” and “But wait, there’s more!” became familiar catchphrases.
In addition to the Chop-O-Matic, Popeil’s products included Mr. Microphone (the first karaoke machine), the Veg-o-Matic, Popeil’s Electric Food Dehydrator, GLH-9 (Great Looking Hair Formula #9) Hair in a Can Spray, the Rhinestone stud setter (later called the Bedazzler), the Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker and the Ronco Electric Food Dehydrator.
Learn how other entrepreneurs are reaching customers on our Retail Gets Real podcast.
Popeil changed the retail industry forever, spearheading the direct-to-consumer model that bypassed retailers and sold directly to shoppers. While a few of his products were available in stores, most were sold by direct mail from commercials and infomercials that featured Popeil demonstrating how the items worked. Popeil later became a regular on QVC, showcasing his Showtime Rotisserie — which reportedly broke sales records for the television network.
While Popeil is no longer with us, his legacy remains: Retail industry professionals will always remember him for pioneering infomercials and changing the way consumers buy products. And many Americans will never forget his ability to sell us things we never knew we needed.