MR. RAY'S Hairweave still hasn't called back. The Late-Night TV Casbah isn't what is used to be. Four years ago, a 2 a.m. called placed to the Dyna-Gym folks got a response before noon the next day. Before I knew it, this muscular young fellow was in my living room instructing me how to lose pounds and gain strength just by hauling myself up and down on $415 worth of pulleys. Of course I didn't buy, but I appreciated the experience.
And I don't have "short frizzy hair" like the woman on Mr. Ray's ad, nor am I "going bald" like the man, but maybe someday. . . A voice from the TV said "call this number now," so I did. A recording answered and asked me to leave my name and number. I did. They never called back. I guess I didn't sound bald.
Then a few minutes later, after Frankenstein had transplanted a brain on the Channedl 5 All-Night Movie, Reginald's of London promised to weave my hair back together. Call now, said Reginald. I did, but it was busy. I was not alone! I tried the number again 10 minutes later. No answer. I'm bitter.
Four years ago, when I stayed up all night shopping it seemed I was dialing every half hour, talking to breathless operators. Brace yourself for late-night TV nostalgia. I bought: Jokari! Loofah and nemesis of cellulite!, information on the Computer Learning Center, the Specer Cycle, a free home demo of Dyna-Gym, and, of course, the king . (Elvis was alive then. He's gone now. Maybe that's why late-night TV just doesn't seem the same.)
This year on Saturday morning from 12:30 a.m to 4:30 I got a three-record set of the Temptations and a cold shoulder from Mr. Ray. Somebody tried ti sell me a pot and pan set for $19.95, but to buy by phone I had to have a credit card. If I had a credit card would I be lying on my back watching Frankenstein do brain transplants at 2 in the morning?
I tried to buy again the next weekend. Things picked up. I bought Zodiac Sunglasses. This is the ad in which a big sheep dog wearing gunglasses with a sign of the zodiac on the lenses says, "I'm a wild and crazy dog. . . "
With a bounce in my stride, a smile on my lips, tingling in my fingers, I started dialing. Late-night, call-now ads are not bargains or exceptional values, they are invitations to zaniness. I expected some joy-boy to answer the phone and go "Rufffff! So you want to be a wild and crazy dog too!"
Instead, the phone rang seven times and then this bored voice said "Hello." Period. I finally asked him, "Can I buy the sunglasses?" He yawned and asked "What sign?" I'm a closet Virgo so I asked for Scorpio sunglasses. Then the weisenheimer asked me what my birthday was.
There is was the Hour of the Rat and I'm stammering, "Oh, ah, I don't, uh, well, I'm buying 'em for my gir. She's a Scorpio." I guess I did all right because he let me have the glasses. He assured me that someone would call me back in 10 minutes to confirm my order.
No one called in 10 minutes. I finally went to bed, but kept my socks on so I wouldn't get cold feet when I got up to confirm my order. No call. I felt like an orphan in the global village.
On the afternoon of the day after I was sitting at my piano, tripping over a Bach Prelude, resolving to forget Mr. Ray and the fickle sheepdog and devote my life solely tothe classics. Then the phone rang and this woman asked if I really wanted the Zodiac sunglasses. Pavlov never sa a happier critter. Maybe the Midnight Casbah isn't what is used to be, but it's still there.
After there long nights at the tube all I bought were the Zodiac glasses, Garden Genie and the Temptations. I could have dialed for Truckers and Solid Gold Hits (and rats, the Sessions Rolling Stones album just hit Perry Mason ad slots on WTTG). But I have plenty of records. I wanted more gizmos. Maybe I was just unlucky.
On the back of a check I got from buying a call-now gizmo from Media Marketing, the deposit stamp listed a mouth-watering array of products: "Thermo-melter, Rex Pharmical, Snow Blower, Insect Control Co., Pure Water Systems, Unique Ideas, Disco Shaper, Garden Genie, Age Erasor, Home Jogger, Home Brewmeister, Poly-Coat and Reducing Pajamas." I bought the Garden Genie, But I wished it was Home Brewmeister.
In the marketing and advertising business, call-now TV ads are termed "direct-response marketing." The genre (I prefer that word to describe this video art form, rather than some others that might come to mind) began back in 1940 when an excarnival pitchman gave a 30-minute soliloquy to inspire the folks to dial the phone and buy a blender. From that beginning, objects like Veg-a-Matic and the Miracle Silver have made millions for a few and brought joy to many.
According to Jerry Schemann of Tele-Mark, "around $500 to $600 million" change hands yearly thanks to call-now pitchmen, and that excludes magazine subscriptions. But don't let the big numbers scare you. To play to direct-response game, $1,200 a zany product and a dog bone might be all you'll need.
Herb Ressing worked in political campaigns, worked for the FTC, worked for Martin Marietta, and then he yearned for bossdom. He bought a little company in Alexandria, Va., called Design Specs.
Design Specs is one of the many contributions to down-to-earth life made by the high-flying space program. To prevent astronauts from getting their eyeballs fried, NASA needed visors that filtered out the glaring sun. The "vapor-deposition" process came to the rescue. However, NASA saw no reason to put the signs of the zodiac on the astronauts' sunvisors. Design Specs did, and for the last 10 years engineer Len Goldsten, struggling with huge Japanese vacuum chambers and bronze dies, has made a giant step for sunglasses.
But when Ressing bought the company last year the Zodiac Sunglasses had had an inauspicious career. Ressing didn't look to an astrologer for help. He looked to man's best friend.
"Last December I was sitting around with my daughter and my dog trying to figure out how to sell the Zodiac Sunglasses. I knew we had to get them on TV and I knew that direct-response advertising was the most affordable type of TV advertising. . . "
I seems so simple. Now. Put the glasses on the dog!
Ressing shelled out $1,200: half to make a one-minute commercial with his dog Stanley at WTTG (which took six hours, by the way) and half to buy a week's air time and hire an 800 number.
And Stanley, the grateful sheepdog Ressing saved from the gas chamber at the D.C. pound two years ago, did more than sell Zodiac Sunglasses. Stanley made late-night TV history.
"Ads that are only a minute long rarely work on TV," EXPLAINED SCHOEMANN, WHOSE FIRM NOW MARKETS ZODIAC SUNGLASSES NATIONWIDE. "BUT THOSE SUNGLASSES DID WELL EVEN THOUGH THE AD WAS ONLY A MINUTE LONG BECAUSE OF THE DOG. PEOPLE ASKED THEMSELVES, 'WHAT IN THE HELL IS THAT DOG DOING WEARING THOSE GLASSES?'"
NOT THAT THAT WAS WHAT MADE JERRY SCHOEMANN CALL RESSING AND MARKET HIS PRODUCT NATIONWIDE. SCHOEMANN NOTICED THAT WHEN THE AD CAME ON, HIS 800 SWITCHBOARD IN OMAHA IT UP.
SINCE DECEMBER STANLEY HAS WOWED PLACES LIKE L.A., St. Louis. Houston, Vegas and Spartansburg. Stanley has had no trouble inspiring viewers, especially doesn't fork over the $12.90 to the UPS man delivering the Zodiac Sunglasses.
"The glasses are only doing fairly well," says Schoemann. "The return rate is 50 percent. I think ther manufacturer is doing well. We're hoping to market sports glasses this summer. We test marketed glasses with 'Irish' on them in Chicago. They sold well with only a 20 percent return ratr."
Stanley has already been to Omaha to film a two-minute commercial. For one minute he'll sell Zodiac Sunglasses and then for another minute he'll sell sports glasses. But don't expect Redskin sunglasses to fill the streets. The NFL woldn't give Ressing a license to use the Redskin name. Stanley and his glasses aren't class enough for the NFL. It's enough to make you cry in your Redskin beer mug.
Still, Stanley is compiling impressive stats without the help of the NFL. Over 40,000 Zodiac glasses sold and:
"Sure, we're going to study all this data we have on which Zodiac signs buy the glasses," Schoemann chortles like an eager social scientist. "We're always out of Leos. The next most popular signs are Aries and Scorpio. And then we notice that on some days of the week we get orders for a lot of Geminis and other days we get orders for a lot of Cancers."
I haven't worn my Zodiac Sunglasses much. I was hopint to get a disco dress for my girlfriend t go with them. At 4 in the morning when Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell checked into a hotel in Bombay, I was still glued to the tube waiting for four discomaniacs to surge onto my screen selling that dress of the moment.I'll wait up to 4 in the morning for a revolution. The disco dress sells for $45 plus COD charges.
Out in staid Omaha, Jerry Schoemann was bragging that since he's been in the business, "record sets broke the $9.95 barrier, and now there's a pot and pan set selling for $19.95."
Schoemann hadn't heard of the disco dress.
"The disco dress represents a whole new philosophy in direct-response," claims Andy Secher of Advertising Media Services in New York. "We wanted to see if people would pay that much. The dress did fairly well in Washington. I don't know if we'll be back on the air with it down there or not. We ran it a month."
Tough luck, disco dads. Secher wouldn't divulge the maker of the disco dress. "They aren't thrilled with publicity." But he did reveal that the sourc for this New Philosophy is an outfit in California. Fortunately, unlike so many new Clifornia philosophies, the $45 Disco Dress won't proselytize us much anymore unless it sells well. Stay tuned to see if it makes a late summer comeback.
But don't let social science and philosophy obscure the real joy of direct-response. One morning my doorbell rang, the UPS man handed me the Temptations.
"Boy, this is the third Temptations record I delivered this morning!" The UPS man woke me up with his excitement. "I mean, I tried to deliver! One guy saw the price and slammed the door in my face!"
Ah pal, it's just $13.99 to hear "Just My Imagination Runnin' Away From Me," and other "hits."
I tried to ring up the folks at Sessions who market the record. To the non-late-night-TV world they are known as Audio Research Inc. in Downers Grove, Ill. For all the records they market, none of them wanted to sing to a reporter. At least they had a listed number and a receptionist who giggled.
The "folks" who market Garden Genie just give WTTG and other stations an address for Media Marketing in New York City. The telephone company has no number for them there. I dialed their call-now 800 number and got an operator in Nevada. She knew nothing about the "folks" who market Garden Genie.
Hats off, anyway, to the genius who invented the nefarious "weed wacker" attachment to the "4-in-1" policeman of America's patios. And you can dig holes with one attachment and oil has been known to be at the bottom of certain holes. Someday that Garden Genie story will be told, but not by me. i'll leave that one for Mike Wallacne. TV, police thyself. I'm too busy waiting for my doorbell to ring.
One morning it rang and that afternoon I was strolling my usual walk just past the Chinese Embassy and a group of Chinese in natty Mao jacketss came out. Two scorpions were on my shades, turning my usual blank expressions into s scintillating idiograph of je ne sais quoi. You bet they turned around and gawked.
It was enough to make me forget that Mr. Ray's Hairweave still hasn't called back. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Diversified Art; Copyright (c) , 1979