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Season Five. "Pitchmen"

Airs Saturday, March 19th and Thursday, March 24th.

This week on the Age of Persuasion, we feature an encore presentation of the most famous "Pitchmen" of all time - that special breed who seduce us so completely, we happily separate ourselves from our money. We track the first known pitchmen in history, and how the kids in the audiences of those early pitchmen grew up to be Madison Avenue heavyweights and incorporated the pitchman into advertising. Most of all, we'll analyse that part of each of us that loves to be pitched.

There'll be Sham Wows, Pocketfishermen and Corinthian Leather everywhere.

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One of the greatest pitchmen of our time was Billy Mays.

He passed away last year, but has left behind a long legacy of time-saving products. Here is a compilation some of his persuasive infomercials:

Another great pitchman is Vince Offer, aka Vince Shlomi aka the ShamWow guy. Vince has the touch, the persuasive gift to make even the simplest gadget seem like a must-have object of desire.

From the SlapChop to the ShamWow, Vince never fails to generate sales:

The great pitchmen of the 20th and 21st centuries were inspired by two sources: First, the traveling medicine show hucksters, who could charm the money out of the pockets of mesmerized townsfolk with questionable concoctions and elixirs. The second, and possibly greatest influence, were the evangelical preachers who could hold hundreds of people in the palm of their hands with fire and brimstone.

One of the most famous was Billy Sunday. If your name is your destiny, Billy Sunday was destined for preaching. Even though he had a promising baseball career ahead of him, he felt the calling and became one of the most revered preachers of his time. Over a six week period in Pennsylvannia in 1914, he preached to over 1.4 million people. He commanded a salary of $870 a day - more than the average yearly salary at that time. He was a powerful presence on the stage:

In the crowd at both the preacher's services and at the traveling medicine shows were young people who would grow up to be the founders of the greatest advertising agencies on Madison Avenue. They watched the power of the showmen and preachers, and would go on to harness that power in advertising a few decades later.

When radio rolled around, those Madison Avenue founders discovered a medium that was perfect for pitchmen. However, the radio stars of the day, like Jack Benny, were somewhat uncomfortable pitching products, so that task was given to the show's co-host announcer. In Benny's case, that was Don Wilson. Here's a clip from the Jack Benny Show when it migrated to television:

One of the greatest of all radio pitchmen was Arthur Godfrey. He pioneered an easy-going radio style, very unlike the stentorian voices of most other radio announcers. The public liked Godfrey's sound, and looked on him as a friend. So when Godfrey pitched products, millions trusted him and sought out the products:

Aurthur Godfrey then moved on to television, and hosted one of the highest-rated shows of the 1950s. With his celebrity at its peak, he made a fatal mistake. He fired one of his most popular co-stars, Julius DeRosa - on air - in front of millions. The public turned on Godfrey, sensing he wasn't the easy-going man he purported to be. It was the end for Arthur Godfrey. He is now known as the most forgotten man in television history:

As we move into the 60s an 70s, pitchmen started to fall out of favour with audiences. They were a little too hard-sell for the times. So enter the "spokesperson." Spokespeople were either personalities, or celebrities that shared the same qualities as the product. For example, Ricardo Montalban was a classy actor, and was therefore perfect as a spokesperson for the classy Chrysler Cordoba, with that fancy leather:

In another interesting match of celebrity and product, Ed McMahon was the spokesperson for Alpo dog food. He was the faithful sidekick of Johnny Carson, so who better to recommend dinner for your most faithful sidekick:

In Canada, Shopper's Drug Mart chose the no-nonsense Bea Arthur to be the spokesperson for their no-nonsense pricing:

The sexy Catherine Deneuve was the spokesperson for Chanel perfume. She embodied the French class and sultriness of Chanel No. 5. Especially when she said she liked to put a drop of Chanel behind her knees:

Some spokespeople had skin in the game, like Lee Ioccoca. He was the CEO of Chrysler, and his company was under intense competition from the Japanese carmakers. So he staked his reputation on the quality of his cars, and made the pitch personally:

Victor Kiam was another CEO who pitched his product. Kiam had one of the best pitch lines of all time - "I loved the razor so much, I bought the company!"

George Foreman went from being a menacing heavyweight champion to being a warm, smiling personality. He earned more money from pitching his grill than he ever did from prizefighting:

Pitchmen and pitchwomen are a special breed. They have the gift of persuasion. But inside each one of us also resides the desire to be pitched.

It's a reciprocal relationship that has lasted for centuries.

After all, for every pitcher there is a catcher.