Ed Valenti with his partner Barry Becher, the marketing experts credited with the formation of the infomercial, or "long-form" (two-minute) advertising format.
Dial Media, Inc. founded by the pair in Warwick, RI in 1975, irreversibly changed the way products were sold on television. Valenti's infomercials first aired in the mid-1970s and aimed to sell the Miracle Slicer, Miracle Duster, Miracle Painter and Ginsu knife. The success of the Ginsu campaign led to widespread adoption of the format for a variety of products, including jewelry (Chainge adjustable necklace), cookware (Armourcote cookware), mixing bowls (Royal DuraSteel), food storage containers (VacuFresh and VacuClear) and watches (MultiChron, Westport), among others, and it eventually led to the formation of Home Shopping Channels QVC and HSN.
The Birth of the Infomercial
Working with his partner Barry Becher, Valenti developed many of the best known catch phrases and product demonstrations, as well as the standard format of the long-form (two minute, 90 second) advertisement. In contrast to traditional short-form or "brand" advertising, such as the 30-second or 60-second spot, Valenti's long-form advertisements were the precursors of the full half-hour television program length (half-hour) infomercials that eventually came into common usage to sell a variety of products and services on television. The intent of this new format was to elevate a particular product to the role of protagonist, showing the product benefits and a variety of uses through attention grabbing demonstrations, hopefully leading to direct sales of the product. Such products were often only available through consumers's direct orders and could not be purchased in stores. Ironically, this "direct response" long form commercial format, intended to primarily sell products directly to consumers, created at the same time one of the most recognizable, memorable, and long lasting "brands" in advertising history: Ginsu Knives.
The first such product marketed by Valenti to achieve multi-million dollar sales was also the first product he and Becher ever marketed: The Miracle Painter, promoted with the tagline, "This man is painting a swirled ceiling in a tuxedo!" It was soon followed by the Miracle Duster and Miracle Slicer. Easily the best known of Valenti's products was (and still is) the Ginsu Knife. The most profitable was Armourcote Cookware, with sales exceeding $80 million.
But Wait! There's More!
Valenti's contributions to the long-form advertisement and the Direct Response Television advertising industry included the inauguration, and/or use, of some such now well known catch-phrases (originally used by JAM Auctioneers at State Fairs*) as "But Wait! There's More*!", "NOW How Much Would You Pay*?", "You get it all for the incredible low price of only $19.99!", "But this is a limited time offer, so call now!", and variations thereof. Such statements were intended to suggest to viewers that they were taking part in a live marketplace experience in which the vendor continuously offered the buyer more items at the same purchase price as an escalating enticement, with bonus items for immediate action/purchase; this was otherwise known as a(n) (Atlantic City) "boardwalk product pitch." He and partner Barry Becher also pioneered the use of toll-free telephone numbers in television ads and the use of credit cards to order the products they sold in "spot" markets nationwide.
Valenti realized that, in order for the long-form commercial to be successful at driving immediate sales, viewers would need to be advised to make an immediate purchase. To satisfy this need, he and Barry Becher created 1-800 "toll-free" numbers with phone banks ready to take orders the moment the infomercial aired on a 24 hour basis, days, and even weeks after the initial spot aired. In order to add a sense of urgency to the purchase, the viewer was advised to order the item immediately ("Call now!") rather than postponing it. This "call to action," like the use of toll free numbers and credit cards, was quick to become a standard component of successful direct response advertising over the years.
In order to further generate immediate response, Valenti coined the phrase "Call now, and we'll also include..." The phrase often offered a "special price" or "FREE bonus" item that would only be included in the purchase if the viewer responded within the few minutes following the infomercial. A cautionary phrase was usually included, warning viewers that "Supplies are limited, so call now!" or "Call now, this is a limited time BONUS offer!" In a presentation to sociology students at Harvard University, Valenti admitted that such phrases were hyperbole: The products WERE limited to the amount that had been produced, but with careful planning would never actually run out, and bonus items, although part of a "limited time" offer, would usually be awarded at the seller's discretion, no matter how long a caller waited to order after the end of the infomercial.
Valenti also developed the idea that infomercials ought to demonstrate the featured product being used in ways for which the average consumer would probably never find a regular need. This measure was intended to increase the perceived value and utility of the product. It was for this reason that the Ginsu knife was often shown cutting through metal cans, a nail, a radiator hose, or a tree trunk, before cleanly cutting a paper thin slice of tomato, though few consumers would ever find a need to do all of those things, especially in rapid succession. This, along with grease copy and humor, helped to break through the clutter of advertising to make the Ginsu knives one of the most memorable and recalled spots of its time.
Today, Ed Valenti is the Founder and Chief Operating Officer of PriMedia Inc., national media buying and marketing services in Warwick, Rhode Island "Outside Providence" and he oversees the purchasing of ad time for a variety of products via general, direct response, and "brand direct" advertising campaigns. With his success as a marketing guru, Valenti has moved into publishing. His career/life guide The Wisdom Of Ginsu (2005 Career Press) uses metaphors from the "Ginsu Years" and his 30 plus years in business as a way of imparting self-help advice designed to assist others both personally and professionally.
Mr. Valenti is also a much in demand educational and motivational public speaker at Universities and major business conferences.
- "Legislator's Sharp Idea: Name Street Ginsu Way" by Michael McKinney, The Providence Journal
- "30 years later, this iconic knife still carving its name" by Isabel Gottlieb, The Brown Daily Herald
- Ginsu Hollywood Clips
- Original Ginsu Ad
- Original Ginsu II Ad
- The Wisdom of Ginsu- Ed Valenti as keynote speaker at the Measurement Science Conference - Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim, CA.
- Barry Becher & Edward Valenti, The Wisdom of Ginsu: Carve Yourself a Piece of the American Dream
- Ed Valenti bio at PriMediaHQ.com.
- Sociology Lives, Harvard University Department of Sociology, Volume 18, Number 1, Fall 2003.