EDITORIAL: Operators Are Standing By

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The Arts & Entertainment Network's "Top 10" weekly series showcased the "Top 10 Wackiest TV Products" recently (repeating it late at night several times, a typical slot for many of the featured products). What stood out is that just about any product can be successful with the right marketing message. The question is: Is it an honor to be deemed the No. 1 wackiest product? Wacky or not, no one can deny that this collection of items has made a great deal of money for the inventors and marketers.

Interviewed throughout the hourlong segment was Ronco Inc.'s Ron Popeil, who marketed three of the products listed: the Pocket Fisherman, Veg-O-Matic and GLH Formula No. 9, which is the spray-on hair that lets men try to fill in their bald spots (it's basically hair spray with colored powder). Inflation hasn't been too harsh on some of these items either. The Pocket Fisherman, introduced 28 years ago, has increased only $10, to $29.95.

A&E mixed in some infomercial tidbits with the Top 10 list, including that more than 100 operators each field 250 calls a day at Promotions Distributor Services Corp. and that the top-selling product category in direct response TV advertising is music. Greg Renker, co-founder of Guthy-Renker, said 80 percent of all infomercial products fail because they cannot hold the consumer's attention.

Here is what made A&E's list:

10. Hairdini. Two pieces of foam and some wire that could create 12 different hairstyles for women. Yes, big '80s hair.

9. Rotato. "We watch TV and it puts us kinda in a trance right before we go to sleep and then we see something: 'Hey, I need to rotate my potato! Send me one of them,'" said comedian Gallagher, another of the show's panelists.

8. GLH Formula No. 9. What's GLH stand for? Great-looking hair, Popeil said. "The No. 9, I pulled it right out of the air."

7. Veg-O-Matic. Before food processors came along, there was the Veg-O-Matic. Introduced in 1961, it sold for $7.77. To date, it's brought in more than $85 million.

6. ThighMaster. Originally called the V-toner, Suzanne Somers helped marketer Peter Bieler rocket the product to infomercial superstardom. "The price was right [$19.95], and it was very impulse-driven," Renker said.

5. The Clapper. You can't get the jingle out of your head: "Clap on. Clap off." "You can order it on a lark and still have a good time with it," Renker said.

4. Ginsu Knives. Ah, the commercial many of us couldn't avoid. Marketers Ed Valenti and Barry Becher revealed the secret that there's nothing special about the knives. They found them in a supermarket. "We just gave it a name and created tremendous excitement by making it highly demonstrable," Valenti said.

3. Pocket Fisherman. The fishing market was huge. Popeil jumped on it and made a fortune.

2. Flowbee Precision Haircutting System. There have been more than 1 million Flowbees sold, which is remarkable since they used to sell for $150 each.

1. Chia Pet. Hard to imagine, but this silly thing has been around for 28 years. Interesting, too, that it was the only product on A&E's list that had no practical use.

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