Fair Pitches
June 5, 2015 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Sales Pitches at the Fair (1985) Product pitches - a form of performance art, a secular evangelism (1979), and a time-honored fair tradition. You won't believe your eyes when you see the Micro Steamer, Grill Mat, EZMop, ShopSmith, Salsa Maker, Squirmles, Shu Nu, Ultimate Hose, Steam Mop Plus, VitaMix, Slushy Magic...
posted by Miko (23 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I saw some amazing huckstering from a guy hawking fry pans once. Had to watch a couple times the guy's timing was so perfect down to the smiles & eye contact. He could've been a robot.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:18 PM on June 5, 2015

They're still hawking Vita-Mix? They were pushing that thing at the state fair when I was a kid. In the 1960's!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2015

Most sidewalk-type pitches are pretty easy to ignore, but sometimes you do encounter people who have elevated them to an artform. My dad (who started out in industrial sales himself) and I once went to a home expo and got reeled in by a guy who was selling rubber brooms like this one. They actually do work pretty much as advertised, but that guy's patter and routine really left you feeling like you couldn't stand to exist another day without one of those wonderful devices. My dad bought two, and afterwords said it wasn't so much the brooms themselves, but sheer admiration for the guy's salesmanship.

Obligatory Kids in the Hall monologue: "Sir, you need a minimum of seven plungers."
posted by usonian at 2:24 PM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think VitaMix has a new lease on life with the popularity of juicing.

I've loved these pitches since I was a kid. They really are showmanship - a 101 in how to get and keep attention. It's interesting to watch one person several times and watch them re-use the same jokes and engagement tricks. It's old-fashioned live performance and a lot of fun for me. I don't think I've ever bought any of these things, though.
posted by Miko at 2:25 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, Thorzdad. They were at the Topsfield fair last year. Just saw one the other day at a Costco.

One of the few products bought from these hucksters that is actually high quality and good.
posted by Melismata at 2:26 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love the pitch tradition handed down over the years. It's a shame that the show Pitchmen, featuring the late Billy Mays, doesn't appear to be online. In one episode he gives an explanation of how pitching works that really opened my eyes to the history and artistry of it.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:26 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

You didn't think the Infomercial Pitch Style came out of nothing, did you? TV from 1-5AM is the New State Fair.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, Ron Popeil took it to TV before even that!
posted by Miko at 2:29 PM on June 5, 2015

Help me, Mr. Popeil!
posted by Melismata at 2:30 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

The teeth whitening booth in this video @ 1:05 with the open UVB lamps all over the place? Oh hell no. That one should be shut down.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:32 PM on June 5, 2015

Mays explains some of what I mean in this clip:

“Pitch Perfect”On The Media, 22 May 2009
It seems the lowly infomercial is finally enjoying its moment in the sun. So far this year it has garnered a book, a reality show and even a television documentary by CNBC. We asked our producer Mike Vuolo to find out what is so compelling about the hard sell.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2015

The salespitch people are a highlight at the New York State Fair. I enjoy watching a really good salesperson at work and do own my share of Sharp-Kut Knives and Dryer Balls (both of which work beautifully, thank you). Hucksters are like the last vestiges of vaudeville and can be every bit as entertaining--especially when they conclude with everyone enjoying free fresh salsa or receiving a hand massage.

There is nothing worse, however, than a burnt-out huckster reciting his dirge tonelessly to a listless crowd, something which does happen, especially when temps rise into the 90s and crowds get restless.
posted by kinnakeet at 2:38 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love watching these at the MN state fair. It's quite a show but I never buy anything. My father in law used to buy all kinds of things. I thought he was crazy and wasting his money but now that he's gone I can't see an overpriced juicer, vita-mix, or Ladder Of the Future (he had many ladders because he KNEW he couldn't live without the new one the guy was pitching that year) without thinking of him fondly for his love of the pitchmen.

Nice collection of these - thanks.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 2:39 PM on June 5, 2015

“The Pitchman,” Malclom Gladwell, 30 October 2000
posted by ob1quixote at 2:39 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

My favorite was always Kitchencraft Cookware. Nice stuff, but three times as expensive as it should be.
posted by Melismata at 2:42 PM on June 5, 2015

DJ Steve Porter: Slap Chop
posted by Splunge at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2015

"Tell me..." (*twists torture implement*) "...are you familiar with the works of..." (*twists it some more*) "...Shu Nu?"
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:52 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of my absolutely favorite pitchmen is Joseph Ades, the "Gentleman Peeler," who became a multi-millionaire by selling $5 potato skinners on the mean streets of NYC.
posted by Schadenfreude at 3:24 PM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Madman Muntz
posted by clavdivs at 3:48 PM on June 5, 2015

But can it core a apple?
posted by symbioid at 4:10 PM on June 5, 2015

For the record, the son of Madman Muntz was one of my middle-school classmates (Madman was divorced from his mother who was raising him with a different last name). One of the nicer classmates in the overpriced 'Rotten Rich Kids' private school my parents put me into to avoid bullying in an L.A. Public School (and I encountered a much higher socioeconomic class of bully, including one of the sons of an early TV legend). Anyway, the 'Son of Muntz' was cool and I learned much about his crazy pitchman/entrepreneur dad, including how much he picked up from State Fair pitchmen 40+ years before the examples in the main post. A long semi-proud tradition that was big at The Fair long before even the Madman hit TV.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:24 PM on June 5, 2015

I always detested this, mostly because I was a shrewd kid and saw through them all... but my parents were gullible as Hell and fell for every one. Every. One. We had to own fifteen different sets of useless books; "never dull" knives that were dull the minute you opened the package; remnants from half a dozen sets of unbreakable glassware... terrible.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:22 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Omigod yesssssss!

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a booth in the commercial building at the State Fair every year (they sold pianos). Somehow my annual summer-vacation trip to visit them always got scheduled for that time (because OF COURSE IT DID) and Grandma generally figured that the easiest way to entertain me was to give me a $20 bill and tell me to go see who else was exhibiting.

Punch-needle embroidery! Rosette fried dough things! VitaMixes! Yay yay yay!

I turn 45 this summer and my VitaMix is one of my cherished possessions. Not so much into the punch-needle embroidery or deep-fried dough desserts, though.
posted by Lexica at 9:37 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

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