The Art Of The Pitch: Ron Popeil And Steve Jobs

July 12, 2007

A while back I read the book But Wait! There’s More! about Ron Popeil, the infomercial king. It contained one section called “The Art Of The Pitch” that broke down Ron’s finely honed sales presentations into discrete elements.

I was struck by how well Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations fit the Ronco template.

Note: This post isn’t meant to be a knock on Apple or Steve Jobs. Jobs lends a level of class and sophistication that is miles above Ronco, and Apple’s products are much more technically complex and expertly designed than the Ronco line of gimmicky tools. But what I mean to highlight is that perhaps the “reality distortion field” displayed at Apple keynote presentations is merely a distillation of expert salesmanship – something that has been around for quite some time.

Anyhow, what follows is a comparison of the Ronco infomercial for the Showtime Rotisserie Oven and the MacWorld 2007 keynote where he introduced the iPhone, using the pitch template from the aforementioned book. Enjoy.

1. Location, location, location

Roncommercial: Ron Popeil sells to people in the comfort of their own homes, late at night, on the television.

Stevenote: Steve Jobs stages his keynotes on friendly turf: MacWorld and WWDC conferences filled with Apple fans.

2. Build a crowd and hold ‘em

Roncommercial: Ron Popeil hosts a television audience in his studio.

Ronco

Stevenote: Steve Jobs fills the audience with an exclusive audience of Apple VIPs.

Steve Jobs

3. Make the product sound and look indispensable

Roncommercial: Ron Popeil is selling the Showtime Rotisserie Oven. Throughout his pitch, he runs down a long list of selling points, supported by information in chart form:

Ronco

Stevenote: Steve Jobs is selling the iPhone. He similarly amps up all the qualities of the iPhone with slick charts.

Steve Jobs

4. Say it again – and again

Roncommercial: Ron Popeil repeats catch phrases such as “set it and forget it!” and “cut the fat.”

Stevenote: Steve Jobs repeatedly says: “Boom” to emphasize a cool, easy action that gets an immediate result.

5. The amazing world of superlatives

Ronco: Listening to Ron Popeil, the Showtime Rotisserie Oven is so easy and fun to use you’d be an idiot not to buy it. I heard:

Stevenote: Steve Jobs has nothing but praise for the iPhone, said in a way that sounds matter of fact yet casual:

6. Get the audience involved

Roncommercial: Ron Popeil has the audience repeat the catch phrase “set it and forget it”. Audience members report how much weight they lost eating food prepared by it. Throughout the presentation, we see people smiling and looking hungry for the food being served from the oven.

Ronco

Stevenote: Steve Jobs addresses the audience occasionally. “Are you getting it?” He also seems to know when the audience is with him, as he pauses after each announcement to let the expected cheering come forth.

Steve Jobs

He also throws in some jokes to keep the audience on their toes.

Steve Jobs

7. Asking for the money – “the turn” (price is never revealed until the end of the pitch)

After reiterating the reasons why the oven is awesome, Ron Popeil goes through an elaborate routine where he starts from a high price ($400) and cuts it down in $25 increments. The implication is he’s offering us a great deal.

Ronco

The final price is: four easy payments of $39.95.

Steve Jobs

Stevenote: Steve Jobs does a similar cost-justification routine. He talks about how most people own both an iPod Nano and a cellphone. The iPhone does the job of both, plus video, widescreen, multi-touch, wi-fi, Safari, HTML email, and Cover Flow. The price of $499 is then revealed. He then assures us the price of $499 is totally reasonable when you think about all the additional stuff the iPhone can do above the cellphone and iPod Nano.

He then tacks on the $599 8 GB iPhone almost as an afterthought. This is interesting to note, because most people seem to be buying the 8 GB phone since it’s “only” a hundred dollars more for twice the Flash memory. But by upselling from the $499 model after the price justification pitch, he’s sold many people this $599 cell phone.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

8. But, wait! There’s more!

Roncommercial: At the last moment, Ron Popeil offers tons of crazy gadgets that are included with the oven: a nonstick basket, dual heating tray, instructional booklet and video, BBQ gloves, chicken ties, a solid flavor injector ($30 value), and marinade booklet. He then says, “But Wait There’s More!”: you get a five piece surgical steel stainless steel cutlery set, that you can keep even if you return the oven.

Steve Jobs

Stevenote: Steve Jobs sometimes ends his keynotes with his famous “One more thing,” which is usually a pitch for some awesome product in and of itself. According to Wikipedia, “one more thing” has been used to announce Apple’s return to profitability, the PowerBook G4, the Video iPod, and selling movies via the iTunes Store.

9. Your money back – no questions asked:

Roncommercial: Ron Popeil has a very generous money back guarantee: return the product within the thirty days – but keep the $50 knife set free no matter what.

Stevenote: Apple doesn’t exactly fit the Ronco model, but they do have a 14 day return policy.

Conclusion

I’m thinking Steve Jobs really should add a thirty money back guarantee to all Apple products, and include a solid flavor injector with the iPhone.

Just kidding.

Comments

  1. Webomatica says:

    Hi Phil – yeah I’d say it’s both. Jobs has definitely smoothed over and honed the presentation so it hardly sounds like a sales pitch, and Apple definitely creates way, way, cooler products.

  2. If it wasn’t for my hawking of my flavour injector, I don’t think my girlfriend would be dating me.

  3. Webomatica says:

    eng did you have a money back guarantee with that injector? Ah, you’re probably past the 30 days.