Become a Pitchman: Marketing the Billy Mays Way

04 Aug 2009


You’re all aware of the mega success that the Pitchmen star and TV sales guru Billy Mays achieved in his lifetime. I recently came across a post from Big Wave Blog that analyzes exactly how Billy Mays was able to get people to buy his products over and over and over again.

Marketing Lessons From Billy Mays: How to Be Your Own Pitchman explores the three secrets that Billy Mays used to sell his products every time – whether it was OxiClean or Mighty Putty or the Hercules Hook. Anyone involved in sales – whether you’re a business owner or a marketer or a copywriter – should read this blog. It’s got lessons that we can all use, no matter what industry we’re in.

For the copywriters out there, this blog reminds us of four key lessons straight from Billy Mays that can all be incorporated into sales copy. These rules can apply to any type of sales copy – a direct mail piece, an email sales letter, your website, and even promotional brochures:

1. Is it clear that the product or service you’re selling is beneficial to your audience? Time to do your research: Who are you talking to? What kinds of things does your audience need or want? For instance, OxiClean was a product that was marketed to people looking for a quick fix to laundry and household stains: people like moms and single men and women. Once you’ve found your target audience, aim your copy to their needs: Do they want to save time with your product or service? Money? The Billy Mays key to a good sales pitch is knowing who your audience is and then speaking directly to their needs.

2. Have you used concrete examples to show the benefits? Billy’s product demonstrations were known for their “wow” factor. Take his Mighty Putty demonstration: he used Mighty Putty to connect the 500-ton HMS Bounty to a tugboat — and then towed the ship through water. It’s a great illustration of the amazing strength of Mighty Putty – and that’s not to mention the demos where he uses Mighty Putty to repair chairs, dressers, cars and appliances. In the same way, your copy needs to have that “wow” factor – it needs to show, not tell. We’re talking the difference between features and benefits here: strong copy has good, specific benefits that explain the features. It’s the difference between saying something like “Mighty Putty is a strong household epoxy” and “Mighty Putty’s holding power can be used to stick any two objects together with the force of 12,000 pounds.” For a refresher, see our previous post about Features vs. Benefits.

And Check out Billy’s Mighty Putty commercial here:

3. Does your copy have clear, immediate calls to action? We’re all familiar with Billy’s calls to action: Buy Now! Call in the next 10 minutes! It’s important that your call to action tells your audience exactly what to do. So it’s time to decide: what action do you want your clients to take? Do you want them to call you up to learn more, buy your product now, or sign up for your email newsletter? You need to be specific in your calls to action –
if it’s not clear exactly what action you want your audience to take, it’s not a good call to action.

4. Have you considered an added value? It’s a classic marketing idea, and Billy Mays was king at it: Order today and get an extra Samurai Shark PLUS Bonus Samurai Shears! Added values can make your call to action more urgent – giving your audience incentive to buy/call/signup/whatever NOW, since they’re getting a limited-time deal or offer. Consider a coupon, a free gift, or a discount on your product or service to make your call to action stronger. Of course, this might not work for every business, but it sure did work for Billy.

Thoughts? Do you love Billy Mays’ sales style – or could you leave it? Let us know what you think!

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2 thoughts on “Become a Pitchman: Marketing the Billy Mays Way

  1. Hi Ryan,

    Honestly, I’m not sure. But I suppose you might consider looking for open casting calls. If you type into google “casting calls [insert your city name]” you’re likely to get some good leads. Then I’d look for ones that are specifically listing positions you’re interested in. My guess is, if you don’t have much experience, you might not get the first few parts, but I imagine just showing up and visiting with the other actors/pitchmen would give you some good ideas on how to proceed.

    Hope that helps!

  2. Well, to tell you the truth, our expertise really lies more in the written word, than in verbal sales pitches.

    However, thinking back to a lot of the booths at fairs where I’ve tended to buy things…it seems that running a “buy two get one free” special is pretty common. It also seems to work pretty well.

    Also, people tend to try to add value to their products, so last time I ended up buying some fairly expensive hand cream, for example, the lady put it on, demonstrated it, and then started breaking down the price. “Well, you’d pay $4.50 or $6.50 for a regular hand cream right? Well, this is $24.00, but you only need this one little dab, and look how far it goes…This bottle is $24.00, but it’s a six month’s supply.” etc. etc.

    Then, she mentioned that if I bought the hand cream and the sea salt, I could pick one other product for free(back to the two for one special idea). “And wouldn’t they make great gifts? Look…you can cross off half your Christmas list right here.”

    So, suggesting other ways people might use the product (i.e. gifts), seems to a pretty good tactic too.

    Hope that helps!

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