If you’re one who happens to tune in late at night to the cable news channels or in the a.m. hours to your local stations on weekends, you’ve probably seen the most recent infomercials featuring a diabolical-looking fast-talking guy hawking an absorbent towel called a ShamWow and food chopper called a SlamChop. You probably at least stopped to see what in the world this guy was selling, mainly because he has an outrageous style, yet still oddly accessible. Of course, as these infomercials do, they give the subtle impression that the person is already known and you should know who they are. Well, even though this guy has done some things in the entertainment industry, a lot of people probably have no idea who he is.
His name is Vince Offer, and perhaps has the most ironic name ever for an infomercial pitchman. Yes, it does sound like a showbiz name, but what else is new–especially for a commercial actor? Offer is a bit of a surprise, though, because his background belies the brilliant selling techniques he’s developed that about bests any other loud and annoying pitchman on TV today. Even some of the media wasn’t afraid to analyze the infomercial universe and give the guy some praise.
If you look at Offer’s background, you wouldn’t have guessed he’d end up becoming one of America’s best TV salesmen. Based on his appearance and style, though, it’s probably not surprising to anybody he was a comedian. To make it more unusual, he was a comedian who happened to be a Scientologist. Not that there aren’t other comedians who decided to become Scientologists. It’s just that there haven’t been any directly blacklisted by the church because a comedy movie you made was considered to be beyond acceptability of the church’s philosophy.
From all reports, Offer didn’t think the Scientology church would be all that offended when he made a comedy movie that delved into subject matter that would break the bank in fines by the FCC if aired on commercial TV. Called “The Underground Comedy Movie”, it lived up to its name later on…as well as possibly and indirectly influencing all of the crude humor you see in comedy movies today.
Yes, there’s a very good chance Offer’s decision to use the grossest and crudest concepts he could dream up for his movie was assimilated somewhat by the Farrelly Brothers who produced “There’s Something About Mary.” Before he even finished his “Underground Comedy Movie”, Offer sued the Brothers Farrelly in the late 90’s claiming they lifted myriad scenes from Offer’s movie and deftly incorporated them into “Mary.” When you see the concepts Offer created (everything from the use of sexual body fluids to people getting brutally hurt), you have to wonder if there wasn’t an indirect influence if not some subtle Hollywood highway robbery.
Should you consider that a valuable asset to entertainment, then you’re likely not alone. Even so, some will tell you (including myself) it irrevocably ruined movie comedies. The Church of Scientology didn’t want it permeating or have it be off-handedly associated with them–hence taking unprecedented steps to ruin Offer’s career before it started. When they nearly succeeded a few years later, Offer went back to something he did well: Doing quick and efficient food preparation demonstrations without cutting his fingers off a la Julia Child…
All comedians obviously need some other career to fall back on, and Offer’s career alternative wasn’t accounting. He just happened to have a quicksilver ability to prepare food and effectively demonstrate various kitchen utensils. Ultimately, selling those utensils at swap meets around the country provided him enough money to successfully sell his “Underground Comedy Movie” through an infomercial as well as doling out money to lawyers to sue the Church of Scientology for their personal blackballing.
Yep, now you can see why the makers of those ShamWow and SlamChop products wanted this guy as their pitchman. The demand for Offer only increases when you realize he managed to sell a crude comedy movie on DVD through an infomercial when he was barely known to the American populace. Sure, crude humor sells well in some circles, but it was Offer’s unique selling ability that made the sale.
And that’s where Offer is starting to change how we view the pitchman on TV. As noted by Slate Magazine last year (see source link), Offer is bringing a more confrontational and deliberately slick style to selling products that immediately garners your attention…while also poking fun at the old huckster vibe. Offer manages to create a tongue-in-cheek concept to the pitchman that rips apart the idea you have to be overly well-meaning in a pitch for a product as we’ve seen in the world of infomercials since the beginning of their existence. On a psychological level, Offer’s style makes the product pitch more believable because the pitchman isn’t taking himself seriously, yet still taking the product seriously.
If you don’t think this style doesn’t work, then watch how Offer shows the easy cleaning method of the SlamChop (followed by throwing an inferior product behind him that smashes into a sink in the background) and not think it’s an amazing product, at least at first viewing.
The trouble with this style is that it makes people quickly forget that other products just like the ones Offer is pitching have been sold before on TV and likely have a few less desirable things about them you can deduce if you take a closer look at the infomercials. Questions might arise such as how long it actually takes for fluids on a carpet to dry thoroughly after using a ShamWow or wondering just how durable the complicated parts of a SlamChop really are after continual use and while making our lives supposedly less boring.
Offer seems to be so quick, he’ll probably be selling you another product on TV before you even have time to think about it. This guy will be on every infomercial in existence in the future, so take out those earplugs after Billy Mays is done pitching whatever OxiClean variant product and watch a new dynamic star who may actually sell you dirt or a bridge outside of Brooklyn…