They’re loud. They’re obnoxious. They’re mesmerizing. “Infomercials”— ads for silly household products have been a part of TV since the early 1970s, usually airing in the wee hours when ad time is cheapest. Here’s the story behind three memorable “as seen on TV” products.
Ginsu Knives. Marketers Barry Becher and Ed Valenti certainly didn’t invent kitchen knives but they did turn the product into an unlikely cultural phenomenon. In the ‘70s, the duo were struggling to find a way to improve sales of a knife called “Quikut.” To make the super-sharp knives sound more exotic and correlate them with sword-wielding samurai, they renamed Quikut “Ginsu” (a nonsense word that sounds Japanese), and hired a Japanese actor to play a chef in a series of infomercials that ran well into the 1980s. Apparently viewers couldn’t resist the Ginsu’s ability to slice through anything, even tin cans or a box of frozen peas—more than three million sets were sold between 1978 and 1984.
Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer. Electric juicers have been around for decades from dozens of manufacturers, but the one associated with the boundlessly energetic health expert on TV since the ‘50s is the one that’s a late-night TV staple. Tristar Products found a niche in the early 1990s as a purveyor of products via “direct response,” another name for “infomercial.” They’ve had a few big successes, such as the Ab Roller, the Genie Bra, and the Power Juicer. (LaLanne, who died in 2011 at age 97, had little to do with the juicer beyond endorsing it.) According to the juicer’s ads, its innovative “extraction technology” helps turn fruits and veggies into delicious and nutritious juice in seconds, so as to “unlock the power of juice!” There’s also a side tray built-in to catch pulp that you can turn into tasty salsa. While you can drink your way to health with one of these puppies, you’d better watch those fingers. Over 70,000 of LaLanne’s juicers were recalled in 1996 after 14 users injured themselves with them.
HeadOn. If you didn’t suffer from chronic headaches before HeadOn hit the market, there’s a good chance that the product’s surreal (and annoying) commercials gave you one. HeadOn ads debuted in 2006 and, unlike your average late-night infomercial, HeadOn ads were only a few seconds long and featured an announcer loudly repeating the words: “HEAD-ON! APPLY DIRECTLY TO THE FOREHEAD!” while a model did exactly that with a HeadOn applicator, which looked like a stick of deodorant. Despite the irritating ads, Miralus Healthcare, the Florida-based company responsible for HeadOn, sold more than 5 million tubes of the stuff in 2006 alone. Check out the looped, 10-hour version of the ad below…if you dare.