Infomercials lack starpower after Billy Mays death

Mon Jun 29, 2009 5:13pm EDT
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By Sinead Carew

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After starting out selling household wares on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, Billy Mays made it big in advertising when he took his sales skills to television to promote a stain remover.

Now the infomercial industry is in need of a new star after the death on Sunday of Mays, 50, its most famous pitchman -- known for his blue shirts, black beard and a tendency to shout out his wares.

Mays' "regular guy" approach was his biggest asset for convincing viewers to buy things they never knew they needed.

"The thing about Billy was that he was an average guy so he could relate to the average guy," said A.J. Khubani, chief executive of product marketer TelleBrands, which often hired Mays. He said Mays picked up a lot of his sales skills by taking note of the reactions of customers he met in person.

Khubani said he plans to go ahead with a new marketing campaign due to start next Monday for an in-car gadget, which he hopes will be Mays' most successful TelleBrands pitch. But he said it was unclear how his death would affect sales.

Mays, also a star in Discovery Channel's PitchMen reality TV show that documents his search for new inventions, became a familiar face through infomercials -- known in the industry as direct response ads, where viewers are promised discounts if they call to make a purchase immediately after a commercial.

A Florida medical examiner said Mays had heart disease, which could have caused his sudden death at his home in Tampa, Florida.

"It was his enthusiasm. When he found a product he could believe in he was very, very enthusiastic. That was infectious to the buyers," said Bill Kittel, president of Barry Marketing Group, a consulting firm that produces infomercials.   Continued...