It's very easy to dismiss Billy Mays. He was loud. He was boisterous. He did things that most brand-based advertisers cringe over. And even your humble host of The BeanCast would have to admit that his style would have been ill-suited for the Applesand Nikes of the world.
But to dismiss him out of hand would be ignoring a few important truths about the man. And since we won't be recording a new episode of our marketing podcast this coming week, I thought it worthwhile to spend a few minutes honoring what was great about the master pitchman.
Billy Was Genuine
How often do we hear the word "genuine" these days? We hear about "trust agents" and "authenticity" until we're sick of the words. Yet prior to the popularity of the social networks that have brought this terminology into fashion again, Billy built this kind of genuine authority with his audience. He was a true trust agent. He could move from product to product without a blink and people immediately felt the claims were legitimate. And from this we learn again that building trust with your audience is not about the tools, but about the people using the tools.
Billy Understood His Tools
Even though Billy's true success resting in the man himself, he was undoubtedly a master of the tools he did use. He was one of the very few people alive who actually understood there is a dramatic difference between a long-form direct-response commercial and an infomercial. He knew that the pitch was different when you were live on Home Shopping and when you were recording a spot. He knew how to work the camera perfectly to affect emotional responses. And he was always telling a story that was right for his audience. In the world of direct response advertising, he was a master.
Billy Wasn't Afraid To Sell
If you read this blog, you've read what I have to say about this topic many times before. Billy knew that selling was part of the picture. And while he built up the appeal of a product, he always did so in a way that made it easy for people to buy. For all his shouting, he never berated. He was excited. And people became excited right along with him -- right to the point of pulling out their wallets.
Billy Was The Brand
Don't be fooled. Don't let anyone tell you that Billy didn't believe in branding. He just knew something that many of today's social marketing experts are just figuring out. Billy was the brand. Above any of the brands he represented, the people who bought were also buying into what he himself represented. That's the real secret behind the success of social marketing success stories like Zappos. It just seems cooler when Tony Hsieh builds his trust quietly on the Internet. But essentially there is no difference, because in the end we are buying into the mystique of Tony's vision as much as that of Zappos' product.
So rest in peace, Billy. I for one know that you knew a lot more about the business of marketing than many of the rest of us will ever hope to learn.