Pitchmen

In the obituaries yesterday (NYT, 6/29/09, p. A17): “Billy Mays, 50, Enthusiastic TV Pitchman” (by Julie Creswell):

Billy Mays, a beloved and parodied pitchman who became a pop-culture figure through his commercials for cleaning products like Orange Glo, OxiClean and Kaboom, died Sunday at his home in Tampa, Fla.

… With his twinkling eyes, distinctive, bushy beard and booming voice, Mr. Mays energetically scrubbed away stains on his way to becoming an infomercial star.

Born in McKees Rock, Pa., Mr. Mays learned his craft on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, where he drew crowds as he hawked his mops and other wares.

The Atlantic City “boardwalk product pitch” plays a big role in the development of the television infomercial, from its beginnings with Ed Valenti and his business partner (Ginsu knives, “But wait! There’s more!”, and “Call now!”, among other things) through Ronco’s endlessly inventive Ron Popeil (the Chop-O-Matic, among other things), Billy Mays, and Offer “Vince” Shlomi (aka Vince Offer, peddling ShamWow! absorbent towels and the Slap Chop food chopper; as I was typing up this posting, he came by on television wielding the Slap Chop and talking a mile a minute, punchily).

I don’t know if anyone’s studied the speech style and rhetorical structure of the boardwalk pitch, but it might make a good subject for someone who specializes in such things. (“Boardwalk pitches” aren’t confined to boardwalks and television infomercials, of course. I first experienced them at county fairs when I was a child.) Certainly, other styles and forms, used by people from preachers to auctioneers, have gotten attention.

One Response to “Pitchmen”

  1. Annals of phraseology | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (For another posting on relentless pitchmen, see here.) […]

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