The “Licorice” Brand

I remember the first time I saw my wife (v2.0) read the Sunday newspaper. Much as I would read the paper, she separated out the advertisement inserts. Then she did something I never even considered possible. She set the paper aside and began to read the inserts…first. The concept was so foriegn to me that I had trouble finding a handle on how to process it.

Such a fundamental difference also occurs with one of the few non-proprietary brands we see in marketing as well – “As seen on TV.” It’s like licorice, evoking strong feelings in almost everyone who sees it, either positive or negative. There really isn’t a middle ground.

When I see the brand applied, I think of shoddy goods that aren’t bought on their own merits, but must be sold. Sort of like a plastic version of term life insurance. On the other hand, my wife (v2.0) will (I surmise) think of a product conceived in revolutionary brilliance that promises innovative solutions to the everyday problems that confront her, the type of solution that mythical “They” don’t want you to know about.

The Scarf Tube - Made popular by Ann Cahill Collections - Markets Unlimited, Inc.As with many things, the truth lies somewhat more in the middle. The art of the infomercial is that it allows time to actually sell the product, and some products really need to be sold in order to make the value proposition known. Personally, I think back to when I owned Markets Unlimited, Inc., who manufactured scarf tubes under the brand “The Ann Cahill Collection.” This was a product which had to be sold, because the public had to be instructed on its use to see the benefit, and the value of the product. To that end, we sold the product with brochures explaining its use, offered instructive videos for use in department stores, and a display case that showed how the product could be used.

Kathy LevineI can’t take credit for the idea, it was actually a product found in a cut out bin by my ex-wife Nancy (wife v1.0), who immediately saw that it was being marketed improperly. Over the next year, we set about pulling all the bits together needed to take the product to market correctly. Within that year, we secured our first contract with QVC Network, which was assembled in my ex-Mother In Law’s living room. That order sold out on QVC in 20 minutes, and set us on our way. During the next couple years, the Ex appeared on QVC with Kathy Levine many times, selling the product out almost always. They outsold the department stores (all of them) by about 2 to 1. However, we’d have never considered using the “As seen on TV” logo on any of our products.

Today we’ve come to the point that the informercial has become completely formulaic. You’ve got your salesman, a jovial chap almost always with a British or Australian accent to add a bit of spice and the rube, who plays straight man. “Gee Nigel, can it really do all that?”

Of course it can, that and more. If you ever need to be able to pick a bowling ball up with a vacuum, you’re all set. Want to grind cinder blocks in the blender, we gotcha covered.

Billy Mays - OxycleanOn the other side, there are products that have entered into general acceptance, like OXIClean which even a jaded cynic like myself will probably agree do the job as described. Or perhaps the George Foreman Grille, which has become standard equipment in the US kitchen.

So I noticed recently that a lot of new devices are showing up around the house. The wife (v 2.0) has been shopping and we’re now prepared for those nasty bowling ball related events (I guess I may have to break down and buy a bowling ball then). It amazes me how she can see the “As seen on TV” as a positive brand promising a solution to her problems, where as I see my dollars spent on a pig in a poke. But then the products she’s buying aren’t meant to appeal to me.

It’s licorice – no middle ground – you either love it or hate it and that’s it. But “As seen on TV” is a strong, if tarnished, brand, and it’s open for use by anyone.

(Postscript: for laughs, I did a search on “Ann Cahill Collection” – apparently our products are now considered collectibles…check out this ebay listing. Perhaps some more on the story is needed, like where the name “The Ann Cahill Collection” comes from; hint: she’s sitting next to me and just coughed up a hairball…)

4 Replies to “The “Licorice” Brand”

  1. Hey, I think I own one of those scarf thingies. I believe my mother got them one Xmas for all “the girls”.

    But I’m on the side of “As Seen on TV” as being a mark against something. I immediately think “piece of crap.” By all means advertise on TV – even in an infomercial if you must – just leave off the little red logo, which to me is a turnoff.

  2. The first thing I think of when I see that red “As Seen on TV” logo, is that it’s probably a gimmick-y piece of junk that isn’t worth my hard earned money. Sure, infomercials sometimes suck me in (who doesn’t remember the Ginsu Chef that could cut through cans!). But for the record, it doesn’t make me think that they’re any better just because they were on an infomercial.

  3. Sure enough, there was a huge box in the driveway when I returned home last night, an on it, there’s that dreaded red label.

    Wife v2.0 bought a little 50th birthday present for herself – an elliptical trainer – but the real present as she tells me is that I am to use for 60 minutes a day for the next year.

    Nice idea, but she probably could have delivered the message a little better than that. Now, were did I put my socket wrenches…

  4. Usually when those things get delivered, they have this amazing piece of paper included called a “return” label! Fill it out, slap it on the box and you’re good to go! Hmmm… if it were the Price is Right, which one would you choose: Showcase 1 complete with Elliptical Trainer or Showcase 2 complete with trip to Florida?!!? Bob, I’ll take Showcase 2!!

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