A jerk you'll want to buy rags from.

Advertising deconstructed.
May 13 2008 12:01 PM

Salesjerk

Meet the next great TV pitchman.

The Spot:A man demonstrates an absorbent towel called the "Shamwow." It cleans up spills, polishes cars, washes dishes, and so forth. "Eight Shamwows for $19.95," goes the salesman's closing argument. "Comes with a 10-year warranty. Here's how to order." (Click here to watch the ad on the Shamwow site.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

There's something captivating about Vince, the Shamwow pitchman. I always perk up when I hear those initial, outer-borough syllables: "Hi, it's Vince wit Shamwow. Dis is fuh da house, da car." A friend of mine—a guy who's never succumbed to an infomercial come-on—says he finds himself strangely tempted to order a Shamwow each time he watches Vince's spiel.

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There are zillions of ads like this on late-night TV. A pitchman (or -woman) demonstrates a household product, then issues an aggressive "call to action" (as the marketing lingo goes). You're urged to "act now" and given a phone number or Web site through which you can order the product. Often, there's a time limit ("call in the next 20 minutes"), and you're promised free bonus items for beating the deadline. Ads of this ilk generally wash right over me. What makes the Shamwow ad different?

In part, it's the astonishing capabilities of the product. (Holds 20 times its weight in liquid! Instantly extracts cola spills from your carpet! Lasts for 10 years! I'm certain all of this is 100 percent true!) But lots of products make impressive claims. The real star here is Vince, who demonstrates an impressive and subtle mastery of the pitchman's art.

The first thing I notice is the physical grace. Vince puts the Shamwow through its paces with the fluid dexterity of a three-card monte dealer. Cleaning up spills appears not just effortless, but fun.

There's a genius, too, in his hectoring tone. He makes us feel like idiots for even entertaining the notion of not buying a Shamwow. "You're gonna spend $20 every month on paper towels, anyway," he says, palms up and head tilted back. He seems truly dumbfounded that anyone might fail to see the wisdom of dropping 28 bucks (including shipping) on a set of rags.

Vince also conveys a street-smart persona—with his headset microphone, rat-a-tat phrasing and fuhgeddaboutit confidence—that's intended to get the viewer thinking, "Hey, this guy's sharp. He knows a good deal." (It may also get us thinking, "Hey, this guy's a douche. He needs a better haircut." But that's a secondary issue.)

I've made several attempts to get in touch with Vince, hoping to quiz him about the finer points of his delivery. As of this writing, my phone calls have not been returned. But Internet sleuthing suggests (and a Shamwow spokesman confirms) that Vince is a man named Vince Offer. (Key pieces of evidence: the photo attached to this press release, and the fact that Offer once pitched kitchen vegetable choppers at swap meets.)