Remembering the Ronco Infomercial

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to show you the greatest kitchen product ever made.”

It’s a credit to the strength of TV memory (to coin a phrase) that there’s hardly anyone who was conscious during the 1960s and onward who can’t identify Ron Popeil as the speaker of those words or the products that they so dramatically introduced.

Popeil founded his legendary “Ronco” brand in 1964, with a flurry of novel TV ads pitching an array of kitchen gadgets and newfangled domestic products. He got the ball rolling with Chop-O-Matic, a rather ingenious food-mincing tool that took the American TV-watching public by storm. Millions of housewives answered pitchman Popeil’s call to mailorder their very own Chop-O-Matic for $3.98 and the price of postage. What followed were scores of products—pasta makers, countertop rotisserie ovens, food dehydrators—and decades of commercials that promoted them.

Popeil’s television persona was quirky and memorable. Watching his earlier ads, you can’t help but smile at his unusual sales patter and the compelling, hands-on demos of his products that he mastered. It wasn’t long before the names Ronco and his ubiquitous catchphrase “But wait! There’s more!” became emblems of American popular culture. So pervasive were the commercials that they—and Popeil—eventually became fodder for comedic routines. Who can forget the brilliant “Saturday Night Live” send-ups of Popeil with comedian Dan Aykroyd hawking his hilarious Bass-O-Matic blender?

As entertaining as the TV ads were, what most of us never considered was how ingenious Popeil’s pitch-making formula actually was—and that he recognized very early in TV’s history how the medium could be exploited and manipulated to generate a lot of attention on products that otherwise might have been overlooked.

Fifty years and $2 billion in sales later, Ronco—and Popeil himself— remains a legendary force in the television-marketing business. Although he sold his company several years ago, his name lives on as a prime example of the power of television.

That’s why, as many of us are helping clean out our parents’ and grandparents’ attics, we’re often finding—still intact— those curious little kitchen gadgets that helped launch a new age of advertising way back when.


Did You Know?

Although Ron Popeil turns 80 this year, the inveterate inventor is still at it, dreaming up new products and pitching them in legendary fashion to new generations of consumers. After countless attempts to come up with a safe, hassle-free device to deep-fry turkeys, Popeil’s 5in1 Cooking System is now available online with his personal guarantee of flawless performance.

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