2009.12.16 As seen on TV gadgets fight for Christmas supremacy

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

The death of television pitchman Billy Mays earlier this year seems to have sparked a growth industry in both strange items mass marketed on television at a frequency matched only by last-minute political ads and a crop of presenters, old and new, trying to grab that undisputed “King of Salesmen” spot that once belonged to Mays. And I suspect it’s only going to get worse as Christmas nears.

Is it just my imagination, or does about every other store you go into these days have a display of “As seen on TV” items for sale? I’m still trying to figure out the logic of this. If I’ve managed to not fall victim to the siren song of the TV advertisement and its babbling pitchperson and order by phone with one of those operators who always seem to be standing by, why would I succumb when I see a benign display in a store?

Do they think, given a second chance, that I would actually buy a Snuggie? Has anyone really bought one? A blanket with sleeves?  The box says that it “Keeps you warm and your hands free!” Really? When I want to be warm and keep my hands free, I put on a sweater. Is that not good enough anymore? Instead, I’m suppose to mummify myself in a blanket, but that’s OK because my hands are free? 

And where did they hire all those people they show in the ads wearing a Snuggie while doing outside activities? Wouldn’t a coat be more suitable than walking around wrapped in a blanket as if you had just escaped from some disaster? I’m not surprised it didn’t take them long to introduce a smaller-size Snuggie for pets. Might as well allow the suckers who bought a Snuggie let their pets share in their lack of good sense, too.

Or maybe you’d prefer a Turbo Snake, a Big Top Cupcake maker or a Smart Mop. Actually, I think I’ll stick with my dumb broom.

The late Mr. Mays lives on in advertisements for Mighty Putty and the Grabit damaged screw removal system. Someone named Anthony Sullivan has replaced Mays in some of the others, including the ad for the Jupiter Jack cellphone device, in which Sullivan is now heading to the same production meeting that Mays used to be traveling to until he met his maker.

Also joining the ranks of the television pitchpeople is former talk show host Montel Williams, who now is pushing his own brand of juicing machine. Not only does it appear to be a copy of the juicer advertised for years by fitness expert Jack LaLanne, Montel’s sidekick in the spot is the same woman who used to appear in LaLanne’s ads.

But 2009’s rookie of the year award for television pitchman must go to Vince (no last name as yet), the front man for not only the Shamwow, but the Slap Chop and its free bonus, the Graty, as well. “Linguini, fettuccine, martini, bikini?” What the heck are you talking about, Vince?

Of course, not all dumb Christmas ideas are advertised on television. I’m still shaking my head over a newspaper advertisement for Little Umi, “The most incredibly lifelike baby monkey ever!” This ad claims that “Actual size is 14’’ long, the size of a real baby!” 

Who would actually buy a doll of a baby orangutan, even one whose “gentle eyes, with thick, dark lashes look lovingly and trustingly right into yours”? Not me, especially for a total, including shipping, of $155.98. Couldn’t some charity make much better use of that money?

Some stupid gift ideas just seem to come back every year like the Clapper and Ronco’s knives and other various items. But the folks behind the Chia Pet, Chia Tree and Chia SpongeBob have introduced a new product, one sure to be put at the top of all Christmas lists: the Chia Obama.

Yes, the president of the United States has now been honored in Chia form. Just spread the Chia seeds evenly over the president’s clay head, water as directed, and in a few days, he grows a handsome green, sprouty afro. That’s the kind of tribute to make a Nobel Prize pale in comparison, isn’t it?

Surprisingly, the Chia Obama hasn’t received that much publicity and seems to have gotten lost among all the other items offered up as Christmas gifts. Maybe the Chia folks can talk him into doing a few television ads. Who knows, maybe he could be the one to replace Billy Mays.

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