R. Paul Wilson On: The Art of a Great Pitch

I’m a sucker for a good pitch.

In my late teens, I toured the UK pitching Svengali playing cards, a magic deck of cards that can seemingly perform miracles.

I learned how to present the cards, build a crowd and close the sale with dozens of people every time I pitched. With clever psychology and long-proven techniques, I was able to get passersby to stop and buy something they would never have picked off a shelf.

Years later, I see those same techniques used in online marketing, social media and propaganda campaigns. If you want to improve your grift sense, I highly recommend taking a few moments to appreciate the art of a good pitchman.

Ron Popeil
Ron Popeil [Image Credit: Reddit]

You Name it, They’ll Sell it.

Knives that cut tin cans, electric ovens that cook whole chickens in a flash, tapes that make you happy, CDs that make you rich and DVDs that will change your life – I love them all but I wouldn’t buy any of them.

It’s not the products I love; it’s how they’re sold.

Late night infomercials were my favourite.

Ron, Billy and friends are masters of “bigging up” their products. Whether it’s a dust-cloth, a detergent or toaster, these guys know how to sell it to us.

No stone is left unturned in their search for every conceivable way that their gadget, gizmo or snake oil can improve our lives. It’s a tidal wave of positivity that gradually wears away doubt and ignites our interest until we make the call and wait for the mail to arrive (up to 28 days).

I can watch these for hours.

Knives used to be my favourite but these days I’m always on the lookout for a good fitness thing-a-ma-bob. Not to buy or use (obviously), just to enjoy as the perfect salespeople describe every muscle or joint that’s being “targeted” by their ridiculous device.

And the sillier the product, the better.

Chuck Norris sells a miniature gym that seems to make perfect sense and is probably an excellent product – that’s no good. I want four idiots standing in a semi-circle, jiggling large plastic helicopter blades in various ways while trying to maintain a pre-scripted conversation.

And what a conversation.

Every possible benefit of owning a “body blade” is discussed and clearly illustrated in every way imaginable.

The only thing they fail to mention is that you’ll look like an idiot trying to use it (though, after a few whiskeys, even I might make that call).

The late-night shows are still there, occupying the unused hours of TV and home shopping networks still seem to thrive, but online videos and social media clips have taken over the broadcast shows.

This means everything they make is quick and to the point and we lose the long-form con that featured elements of full-blown scams like the Jam Auction.

In fact, like auction scams, the longer shows wore down your defenses, until your hand drifted to your wallet.

Is it a Scam?

In the wrong hands, it could be, but in my opinion, it’s merely a clever sales pitch that rewards the seller with a higher than normal profit margin.

Those knives that cut through tin cans “like butter”? They’re not the best knives money can buy and, chances are, they’re not even the best knives you can buy at two o’clock in the morning.

On an episode of The Real Hustle, I had far too much fun recreating an infomercial for our own “Wonder Blade Pro 3”:

We highlighted and exaggerated every detail of the knives we were selling to show how easily people can be convinced. I even sliced tomatoes in thin air like a samurai; the way no one does at home!

Talking to buyers afterward, they were able to recall almost all of the points that convinced them to buy. That alone is worth remembering whether you intend to make a purchase or make a living from sales.

Why it Works

Infomercials illustrate how a positive presentation can have a remarkable effect on people. The message is repeated over and over, in different ways until every positive aspect has been clearly demonstrated.

But the real secret isn’t in the pitch – it’s in us.

Infomercials sell products that answer a specific but often powerful human desire.

Ron Popeil [Image Credit: YouTube]
A leaner figure with an easier regime, a full head of hair in a can, products that cut cleaning time in half or gadgets that make life easier or more fun.

These all answer long-established human needs.

The pitch works because it speaks directly to our internal wish-list and offers the solution for three “easy payments” of just $39.99.

In fact, it depends on very similar principles to a full-blown con game by preying on what people want and promising more than their product can actually deliver (or cleverly suggesting the impossible).

I don’t believe the pitch is a scam, but it uses similar tools to achieve similar results.

Most customers of infomercials are relatively happy with their purchase, even if they never use it. The price might be higher than it could be but no-one is actually being ripped off (most of the time).

The Lesson

While a pitch might leave the buyer with a questionably useful set of thin kitchen knives, a scam crosses the line and leaves its victims with much less than they hoped for.

Both depend on the promise of something the target wants. But the pitch is all about focusing potential buyers on every conceivable advantage to owning whatever they’re selling.

An appreciation for these methods is valuable to anyone looking to avoid being deceived because the pitch walks a thin line between honest sale and crooked scam.