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Do you remember direct response television? You probably recognize them as infomercials. You may have bought something from them—something you might have loved, something you didn’t need or something that didn’t work the way it was supposed to with your spouse’s credit card. You may have even prank-called their 800 toll-free numbers at three in the morning during your youth. This type of marketing first applied itself through the antennas of America back in 1978 when the Ginsu knife came through the airwaves and into our consciousness. And even today the phrase, “In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife…but this method doesn’t work with a tomato”, echoes through the perception of today’s direct marketing television.
While no one to this day has successfully karate-chopped a tomato, or kicked a watermelon rather, symmetrically, the partnership of Barry Becher and Ed Valenti set new standards in business with the launch of their direct-response company, Dial Media. Barry Becher, the man who sliced tin cans on television, recently passed away at 71 leaving behind a legacy spanning beyond the blade. The original purpose of Dial Media was to market products through two-minute television ads instructing potential consumers to dial their toll-free 800 number with their credit card number ready. They even coined the phrase, “operators are standing by!"
Though the Ginsu wasn’t their first product, it actually came about three years later, when an Ohio-based company, Quikut, had pitchmen shilling the knives at working fairs and home shows. Upon rebranding the line of knives, Mr. Becher would tell people that Ginsu was Japanese for, “I’ll never have to work again!” The knife company, though bought by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, still remains true to their 50-year guarantee. And Dial Media later became PriMedia, a direct-response media agency still operational today.
The greatness of Ginsu is how Mr. Becher’s techniques are still a time-honored tradition used by the likes of the late Billy Mays, the ShamWOW guy, and arguably every advertisement showing off their 800 toll-free numbers. Direct-marketing is still a booming business today, especially in the field of non-profit organizations. And they’ll probably stick around longer than that 50-year guarantee, slicing through frozen food like it was butter. Not even a tin can—or time—can dull direct response marketing.