Billy Mays represented everything I hate about advertising creative and everything I love about advertising principles. Save the occasional Little Giant DRTV program, I fear the pitchmen of the world are doomed.
From a creative standpoint, Direct Response TV (DRTV) isn’t meant to be flashy or compelling, but a big part of me always wanted it to be. It is the antithesis of everything most creatives aspire to make. For most, the allure of advertising as a profession is the ability to create the next big campaign. Part of that desire is the drive to outthink, outwit and out-awe your creative contemporaries. When Billy Mays or any other DRTV peddler disrupts the television canvas with rubbish creative, it burns the retinas, attacks the ears and distills the magic of television.
Still, you can’t hate Bearded Billy.
Billy’s commercials did what they needed to do – move product. More importantly, they demonstrated the effectiveness of simplicity. While shouting at you with his frenetic delivery, Mays’ commercials were able to show every need his products could fill in 60 seconds or less. Moreover, these spots featured the product in action. Sure other commercials use this tactic, but you have to applaud someone who can effectively sell the steak without selling the sizzle.
But the regime crumbles without Mays.
For an instant, there was a glimmer of hope. I’m speaking of Vince, who made the Sham-wow a part of our culture. With his boy-band microphone and the cadence of a Jersey shore Carney, Vince seemed to be the bona fide promise of a sustainable future for DRTV legitimacy. Sadly, Vince ruined it and not just by punching a hooker in Miami. (Sham-Pow!) His second commercial for the Slap Chop (the joke writes itself), proved that Vince’s sweet talking was nothing more than a contrived series of pick-up lines. Shag me once, Sham on your. Shag me twice…
Let’s get back to Billy.
During his life, there were moments when I prayed for silence or at least a TiVo. After his death, I’m sure there will be moments where I wish I could pitch products as pure and true to purpose as he did. Rest well Billy. When you get eternal life, I hope they double the offer.