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Art of the Pitch

Arnold “The Knife” Morris was a legendary pitchman.

He got his nickname due to his success in pitching the Sharpcut, a precursor to the popular Ginsu knives of the late 1970s.

Even forty years later, Morris could recite the pitch for a product by heart.

Once, he was demoing a vegetable slicer that he wasn’t familiar with how to use. He was massacring the vegetables, but he still managed to make $200 from the pitch.

Morris would attribute his success to one thing.

Knowing how to ask for the money.

The point of marketing is to get customers to buy your product. When pitchmen such as Morris, Anthony Sullivan, and Ron Popeil brought the products they pitched to a wider audience through television, they were able to do even more effectively what they already did - make the product the star.

Marketing in the modern age is a procession of purchase funnels and case studies, where we give people the information we think they need to know about a product and track their interest.

This is a far cry from the vaudeville routine of the infomercial, which - despite being seen as a relic of the past and now ripe for parody - positioned what you were about to see with a bunch of enthusiastic superlatives: revolutionary, life-changing, amazing.

The kind of language that Steve Jobs used when unveiling the next big Apple product.

When people are genuinely convinced that a product is something that they need to have, they’re not going to hesitate to hand over their money.

It’s a shame that so much modern product advertising lacks enthusiasm - if you’re not enthusiastic about the product you’re trying to sell, you’re not going to be able to sell it, no matter how revolutionary, life-changing, or amazing it actually is.

A recent commercial I’ve really enjoyed is the droga5 spot for the Google Pixel 2. There’s an energy to it - it’s clever and fun - while still clearly showcasing the product benefits, and why those benefits would matter to regular people. Some people may not care about a voice-activated camera or smart home features, but there are doubtless many who wish their phones charged faster, or could understand their accents.

It would have been so easy to make an ad which just shows the phone - it’s a phone, Google makes it, what more do you need to know? - and it’s not unreasonable to think that a lot of people would want to buy it just based on those two factors, especially when modern smartphones are near indistinguishable from each other in terms of feature sets.

By not just explaining, but by taking the viewer on a journey of how the Pixel 2 is different from other phones, droga5 evoked the magic of the pitchman.

No matter what else is happening on screen, the product is the star.

Blog posts and social media campaigns are great ways to spread awareness, and they may help tip the scales for people on the fence, but you’re not going to convince someone to buy from zero.

Your marketing efforts may well be missing the point of marketing.

Matt