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My Pitch For A Pitch Man: RIP Billy Mays

June 29, 2009

Modern advertising was born in 1905 when John E. Kennedy defined advertising as “salesmanship in print.”  Over the years, the media expanded, but the definition endured. In the 1960s, Bill Bernbach, the driving force behind the Creative Revolution, reminded us:  “Today everybody is talking ‘Creativity,’ and frankly, that’s got me worried. I fear lest we keep the good taste and lose the sell. . . I fear that we may be entering an age of phonies.”

I have been wondering how Billy Mays could sell so hard  and still be so likeable. I was wondering why, when a local package design firm asked me to come up with some package copy for a product of his, I thought: “Cool.” I was wondering why ESPN, which does some of the best advertising being created today, used him to introduce its internet offerings.

The answer is simple enough: Billy Mays was no phony.

He reminded me that the moral difference that really matters isn’t the difference between hard sell and soft sell.

The moral difference that matters is this: do you believe in your product or don’t you?

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