I was once again reflecting on the fairly recent loss of Billy Mays, uber pitchman for so many “As Seen On TV” products. Say what you will about him, but that guy could sell.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch his show, Pitchmen, you’d see that there is an art to what otherwise looks like exaggerated excitement paired with exuberant flailing of the hands.
There was a time when we Southeastern Wisconsinites had our own Billy Mays – several, in fact. One of the most memorable is Len “Crazy TV Lenny” Mattioli from American TV. “Get a bike, get a bike, get a bike!” His excitement was palpable, his craziness certifiable. He believed water skiing on a recliner would sell more recliners. Was he right? Who cares, he sure grew sales. Does American make an impact on you anymore? One blogger, in 2007, named American “the most boring store in Wisconsin.”
“Say it with me … The Exclusive – Company!” Did those radio spots leave you thinking, “What the –“? That guy was absolutely freaky, but when I thought of purchasing music, that’s where I went. Chris Kegel of Wheel and Sprocket used to be sort of crazy. I liked how he punctuated each commercial with the quaint, “Everybody wants a bike from Wheel and Sprocket … and so … do you.” (Ah, that delicious pause.) For me, at least, he was right. Even the Menard’s guy, Ray Szmanda, seemed like he lost control of his high when he beamed, “At Menards!” And that’s good. Those words would ring in my ears the entire car ride to the old location on 76th Street.
The Greater Milwaukee Area flies its “quirky flag” proudly, an industrial-factory-meets-art-&-music-meets-excessive-eating-&-drinking kind of world that shapes us unlike just about anywhere else. So why are we losing our memorable pitchmen? Seems like our local advertising is becoming tired. Bland. Is this a case of middle-aged melancholy, or am I on to something here?
Let’s remember who we are. We’re off kilter and damned proud of it. Any person who willingly walks around wearing a wedge of cheese for a hat, any rational human being who scrapes a windshield in a 20-below deep freeze for 15 minutes to drive 5 minutes, any consumer who would buy a Barcalounger because a crazy Italian is water skiing on one – is one flailing hand gesture away from buying what you’re selling.