This post not available in stores

With the poor economy continuing to affect TV advertising revenue, you see more and more direct marketing commercials selling items that are “not available in stores.” These ads typically feature extremely agitated pitchmen, a toll-free order number, a price that’s typically $19.95, and tiny-font shipping and handling charges that run you another $12. If you order now you can get two, and don’t forget that these items are not available in stores, probably because the idea behind stores is that they offer products people actually want and need to buy.

It used to be that you only saw these commercials late at night, when you were so worried about how you’d deal with sudden urges to fish that you couldn’t sleep. And mercifully, there would be an ad for the “pocket fisherman.” Now you’re likely to see these kinds of spots any time of the day or night. An NPR report recently explained the trend: as traditional advertisers reduce their budgets, local stations make leftover air time available to these low-end buyers at drastically reduced rates. One ad buyer interviewed admitted he was a “bottom feeder,” which I think would be an excellent name for a product: Try the BottomFeeder! You’ll never need to buy bathroom tissue again!

A lot of the trailblazers in this industry have unfortunately been made archaic by modern technology. The Ginsu Knives, famous for cutting through a can, were so sharp and awkward to use that most of their purchasers accidentally slashed their wrists. The Medic Alert bracelet, for when you’ve fallen and can’t (or simply don’t want to) get up, was antiquated by the cell phone. The Clapper, which allowed you to turn stuff on from across the room, was discontinued when seniors began using the Segway to travel effortlessly about their homes from light switch to light switch.

One of the promoters currently most in demand for these frenetic spiels is a bearded, raspy-voiced fellow named Billy Mays. Son of baseball’s Willie Mays, who roamed centerfield for the San Francisco Giants for over two decades on his way to 12 Golden Gloves and the Hall of Fame, Billy wanted to get out from the shadow of his famous father. His big break came in the ‘90s when he was selected to be spokesman for the Bedazzler, a tool that embedded plastic gems into jackets, jeans and that household pet desperately in need of a makeover. He later sold items like OxiClean, the Mantis Tiller and Miracle Whip (I can’t remember ever seeing him hawk the well-known mayonnaise substitute, so I can only guess this product was instead some kind of domination device).

Described by The Washington Post as having a “signature yelling approach” and being “known for screaming in lieu of talking during infomercials … a full-volume pitchman, amped up like a candidate for a tranquilizer-gun takedown,” Mays was last seen branching out into the service economy. He was recently named the new voice of iCan Benefit Group, “the first company offering health insurance Billy Mays has been excited to endorse.” (He’s endorsed many other insurance plans, but steadfastly refused to be excited by them until now.) I anticipate a not-too-distant future in which Billy sells everything from mutual funds to cremation services in his classic manic shriek.

Mays is not affiliated with the infomercial product that most recently has been all over the airwaves — I mentioned him mainly because I wanted to see how many readers would buy the Willie Mays connection. I’m talking here about the “Loud and Clear” sound-amplifying device that fits in your ear like a Blutooth cell phone apparatus. No longer will your difficulties interpreting sound be obvious to all who can see the electroacoustic device in your ear; now, they’ll think you’re just another self-absorbed tool enamored with pointless technology that hangs off the side of your head. I can hardly wait for the next-gen app that enhances your smelling abilities with the brushed-steel device that protrudes from your nose.

Rather than using a spokesperson, the Loud and Clear commercials feature actors pretending to go through their daily routines enjoying the life-enhancing properties of a monstrous hearing aid. There’s a guy in bed next to his annoyed wife, who’s giving him dirty looks because the TV is too loud for her to sleep, until he discovers the Loud and Clear and can turn that damn thing down. There’s a woman rocking out to the kitchen radio while her husband tries but fails to concentrate on his laptop work. Rather than asking him to get his stupid computer off the kitchen table, she’s seen moments later happily accessorized in her Loud and Clear. Others are involved in a number of activities designed to demonstrate that today’s seniors aren’t your father’s old people – they’re energetically playing bingo, strolling through the woods in tight jeans, and listening in on two neighbors having a private discussion across the street.

This last example hints at the more malicious uses of the Loud and Clear, which are also illustrated in the commercial with a surprising lack of guilt. One scene shows a guy, hopefully a private detective, sitting at the wheel of his parked car with the amplifier in his ear and a camera in his hands. He becomes suddenly attentive, clicks the camera at some off-screen scene, then nods in quiet satisfaction at how easily he was able to get naked pictures of his kid’s hot teacher. I’m not sure how the hearing device helped with this, unless maybe it keeps him on guard for the piercing sirens of approaching squad cars.

Generally, though, the Loud and Clear is shown engaging in harmless fun. There’s a party scene where a trio of attractive women are chatting, then the shot widens to show the eavesdropping stud who’s delighted to learn they’re talking about him. There’s a hunter in the woods — hopefully not the same woods with the tight-jeaned woman — using the hearing enhancer to listen for the rustle of live game. I only hope the L&C has a volume control handy, because when he lets loose with that shotgun, he’s going to get way more amplification than he bargained for. There’s a quiet conversation at home with the family, above a caption that reads “HEAR PEOPLE AROUND YOU!”

Probably the worst, most devious thing about this product is that I want one. I can tell that my hearing has declined in recent years, and I recognize that it would be nice to watch television and have some idea of why Howie Mandell is beating that guy over the head with a baseball bat. My world could be so much richer.

Actually, I think I’d like to have two, one protruding out of each ear. Maybe if I order now…


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4 Responses to “This post not available in stores”

  1. nocturnalrudy Says:

    Fantastic! I love the fact that billy mays is a descendant of Willy Mays and the fake quotes about him…you are forgetting one thing though!

    Vince and the Shamwow!

  2. viv66 Says:

    What worries me most about myself is my capacity to invent, in my head at least, fantastic spoof therapies (Mayan heart retrieval, muso-rectal therapy, Egyptian rejuvenation system). My daughter says the world has lost a great con-merchant because I have either too many ethics or an insufficient ability to keep a straight face.
    Viv (from Cafe Crem)

  3. Princess Says:

    LOL Miracle Whip is some sort of salad dressing, not a dessert topping.
    Billy Mays is so annoying.
    I really enjoyed reading this

  4. Miscellaneous Monday « DavisW’s Blog Says:

    […] To read more about the life of TV pitchman Billy Mays, take a look at […]

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