"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 12 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Dearth of a Salesman

"In Ireland I took a piss on the 
 Blarney Stone. It gave me a     
 strange feeling of boyhood      
 naughtiness to think of tourists
 kissing that place where I had  
 seen my own piss splashing off  
 so pretty and yellow."          

 - The Infomercial King          


In the early 1800s, when New

England's industrialists first

set up factories that could

produce more crap than people

actually needed, the task of

pushing these superfluidities on

a tight-fisted frontier market

fell to Yankee peddlers at

least as ingenious as their more

straight-forwardly productive

brethren. The tools they used

were the installment plan and

Try-Before-You-Buy. These cogs

were greased liberally with the

lubrication aids that have

existed since the dawn of retail:

facile-tongued assurance and

resourceful deceit.



The efforts of these heroic

hard-sell patriots led to the

richest nation history has ever



[American Flag]

So why, in their approach to the

Web, have otherwise pioneering

corporations ignored the

inspiring heritage of these

early American entrepreneurs?

Bequeathed with a technology

that could turn the wooden carts

of capitalism into rocketships,

companies seem content to shovel

out sites of nothing but

recycled information bins and

recreational diversions. Media

lapdogs herald this soft-sell

approach as a revolutionary

advance in customer service,

because it offers digital

tirekickers an opportunity to

view the kind of custom-tailored

information that will help them

purchase exactly what they need.



But this system, designed by

programmers, total quality

consultants, and business

professors, is exactly as weak

as its strongest point: as long

as the Web remains anchored in

the belief that people behave

rationally, it is doomed to

fail. Upon viewing the Web, a

modern-day peddler would be

quick to point out a nugget of

common sense that our Yankee

forbears polished to a

beacon-like shine: the biggest

profits come when people buy not

what they need, but rather what

they have no use for.


[Fat Blocker]

Luckily, more and more true

salespeople are migrating to the

Web, which for too long has been

cluttered with an underachieving

crew of clerks and order-takers.

Representative of the new breed

is Bill Sergio, whose

introductory blurb on Yahoo

speaks in the wonderfully

declarative patois of a

natural-born flimflam man: "I am

the handsome, multimillionaire

Infomercial King (tm). I am a

super wealthy television & movie



[Thomas Edison]

Egophobes may shudder at the glib

presumption of this preface, but

a visit to the King's site shows

that, if anything, he exhibits a

becoming measure of

self-restraint. Indeed, you may

not recognize Bill Sergio by

name, but if you've watched more

than ten hours of TV in the last

two decades, you undoubtedly

know his work. A

three-mints-in-one amalgamation

of Thomas Edison, Orson Welles, and

Zig Ziglar, Sergio has written,

produced, directed, starred in,

and invented the products for

hundreds of infomercials and

direct response TV spots. This

seminal figure in the

development of TV-induced

overconsumption has given us Fat

Blocker, THINale, Dick Gregory's

Bahamian Diet, The Japanese

Tomato Ring, The Belly Buster,

The Kitty Toilet Trainer, four

different impotency cures, and

so many other staples of our

post-necessity culture he could

open his own Costco-sized

department store.


[Orson Welles]

And now that Sergio has

graciously turned his attention

to the Web, we finally have an

antidote to sites that pester us

with puzzles, coloring books,

and other boring incidentals,

when we really just want to be

sold. The Infomercial King's

site delivers a dose of

unadulterated American

hucksterism, and it's something

the Web sorely needs more of.


[Edit Suite]

Unlike companies which live in

fear of agitating

commerce-sensitive mallrats,

Sergio holds nothing back; his

site is one glorious

rainbow-colored entrepreneurial

puke. He's selling how-to

infomercial courses and

infomercial business software,

he's seeking investors for an

Internet infomercial, he's

plugging the desktop editing

equipment he uses, he's even

hyping a kind of organic virtual

reality he's discovered known as

Lucid Dreaming.



At first glance, the King's site

looks pretty terrible. The text

is pockmarked with typos, the

hideous hippie-manque grafix

repel all but the most cursory

reading, and the information

design hardly qualifies as a



And at second glance... it still

looks pretty terrible.


[Mailing Lists Galore!]

But when you sink a little deeper

into the muck, you begin to

realize that it's all purely

intentional. You see, the

Infomercial King isn't paying

his service provider 20 bucks a

month to educate or entertain

you. He's here to sell you. And

after years of persuading ugly

insomniacs to buy scalp

spray paint (marketed under the

dangerously and deliciously

familiar moniker "I Can't

Believe It's Not Hair!") and

phony boobs, he knows a thing or

two about closing a deal. He

knows, for example, that neither

"slick" nor "startling"

necessarily sells. What else

would explain the

disproportionate presence of

sub-celebrity Lyle Waggoner in

Sergio's ads, but the

understanding that an audience

doesn't want to be impressed by

stardom so much as lulled by

familiarity. That's why he's put

so many typos into his site -

they're actually credibility

enhancers. Awing the masses

with "tasteful" graphics and

compelling content would only

distract consumers from the real

business at hand: assimilating

the sales message.


[Interesting Stuff]

But, most of all, Sergio

understands that a database of

rationalized product information

isn't what makes people buy.


Emotion makes people buy. The

promise of change makes people

buy. Salespeople, who can

manipulate the emotions of their

marks through inexplicably

convincing promises of

preposterous metamorphosis, make

people buy. Indeed, the King has

based his whole career on the

principals of reduction (of

waistlines, golf scores, and

bald spots) and enlargement (of

breasts, penises, and bank

accounts). And he understands

that the Web, with its vastness

and flexibility, is the ultimate

change machine: "I can make the

Internet seem like the answer

and solution to every problem

that every viewer has! This a

personal success show, a

financial opportunity show, a

beauty products show, an

exercise products show, and

much more all rolled into one!"



Ignore the lousy proofreading;

the King knows what he's talking

about. And any company that

wants to morph its Web site from

money-pit to money-tit should

start listening.


While some people blanch at the

King's vision of


connoisseurs of the genre

eagerly await its fulfillment.

In fact, this camp believes that

a Golden Age of infomercials is

nigh upon us. Not entirely by

coincidence, those same

thrilling days of yesteryear

that brought us the first

hucksters begat Western

melodramas as well. That genre

floundered on stage and in print

until finding its niche in

Saturday afternoon movie

matinees - film gave the Western

the scope and kinesis that it

needed. And so, too, will the

infomercial - so reliant upon on

niche marketing, direct

response, and utter desperation -

reach its full flower on the



[Clint Eastwood]

With trailblazers like the

Infomercial King firmly in

the saddle, it's definitely time

to light out for the Territory.

courtesy of St. Huck