Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Act Now!

Thanks to the economic downturn, loudmouth commercials shilling tchotchkes are hitting prime time TV.

It won’t make most economists’ radar screens, but the rise of such ads might be a leading economic indicator. A combination of the traditional post-holidays sales lull and a tanking economy has sent prices for airtime plummeting on local stations and some networks. The result is that peddlers of $19.95 gimcracks (“Act now!”) and other 800-number come-ons have become some of TV’s most prominent sponsors.

More than a few viewers, for instance, have recently become acquainted with Vince Offer, the headset-wearing huckster for ShamWow, a dishrag that “holds 20 times its weight in liquid.” Offer’s two-minute spot has been on and off the air for the better part of a year; it’s now a classic, with YouTube parodies and untold numbers of fans. But Offer seems as relentless as rain now, and just as inescapable. Morning until night, you can watch him mopping up spills with the confident demeanor and rapid-fire patter of a carnival barker: “Dis is for da house, da car,” he says in his distinctive New Yawk accent. “Are you gettin’ dis, camera guy?”

Offer and ShamWow are ubiquitous because it’s affordable: Ad time on the Super Bowl might still be going for record prices (some 30-second spots have sold for $3 million), but just about everything else has become dirt cheap.

Listening to Vince and his screaming counterpart, Billy Mays, gives me a headache and Head-On — applied directly to the forehead — doesn’t help. By the way, how long did it take you to figure out that you already have a “Snuggie” in your closet? Just put your bathrobe on backwards.

One of the best reasons for Congress to pass the stimulus package would be for the economy to get back on its feet so Vince and Billy can go back to their late-night lairs.