Video Production Lessons From Ron Popeil

Ron Popeil is the absolute master of selling on television. Can anyone else claim to have sold over two billion dollars worth of products? He recently sold over 7,900 Showtime RotesseriesTM in a single hour on QVC at $127 each.

You do the math.

Popeil did the basics better than anyone.

Basics? Yes. There are only four.

Popeil’s Basic Number One: The words you use are critical.

Ron learned his craft pitching knives and kitchen gadgets on Maxwell Street’s open air markets in Chicago. The concept is simple. If he was persuasive, people bought. If not, they didn’t.

Study his presentations and you’ll notice two things consistently. Popeil’s catch phrases (“Set it and forget it.” “But wait, there’s more!” “It slices. It dices.”) get said again, and again, and his use of rhetorical questions gets the audience involved. “Isn’t this amazing?

By working in front of real people and dealing with their questions, he learned to anticipate common objections and build the answers to common questions into his presentation.

As important as the pitch was, he never scripted his famous TV ads. “If I’ve been chopping away for 10 hours a day, giving the same pitch over and over again, refining it a little bit each time, why would I need a script?

Popeil’s Basic Number Two: Noting is more important than the product.

When Michael Jordan pitches Haines, Michael is the star. When Ron Popeil pitched the Showtime Rotisserie, the broadcast opened with a series of shots of meat and poultry roasted to perfection and rotating in the Showtime. The offstage announcer described a “mouthwatering pork-loin roast,” or a “delicious six-pound chicken.”

Not until our interests and our appetites were whetted, does Popeil even enter the stage. Watch any of his infomercials. You don’t see much of Popeil, but you see the product solving problems and making life easier for consumers.

Popeil’s Basic Number Three: Show, don’t just tell.

Ron Popeil never simply told us what the Veg-O-Matic would do. He showed us.

He showed how easily the product worked and how quickly it got results. There were no complicated settings, no buttons to press, no hidden gears, just a simple device that worked flawlessly each time.

Through close ups we saw an onion sliced into uniform thicknesses with one motion, whole tomatoes sliced with every seed in place, a whole can of Spam sliced at once. He showed us how to turn the dial to make thin slices of cheese.

Popeil also showed us the effect his products had on other people. He used to stand at the enterance and asked each member of the audience if they’d had a big breakfast. He wanted all of the hungry members in front when the food came out.

Popeil’s Basic Number Four: You can’t fake passion.

If you’re genuinely thrilled with the product you’re selling, selling it becomes the easy part. If you’re not excited about your offer, its time to find a new offer. Or a new career.

Popeil’s autobiography, Salesman of the Century, has fallen out of favor, which is a good thing if you’ve never read it. Pick up a cheap copy and let the man tell you in his own words how to do what he does.


Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who works with professional practices and owner operated businesses. Questions about producing effective television advertisements may be directed to [email protected].