talking to the tv…

Posted on Thursday 28 June 2012

Barry Becher, co-creator of the Ginsu knife TV commercials,
dies at 71

Washington Post
By Matt Schudel
June 27, 2012

Barry Becher, the co-creator of the classic over-the-top Ginsu knife commercials of the 1970s, and who, with his business partner Ed Valenti, helped develop television infomercial marketing, died June 22 at a hospital in Deerfield Beach, Fla. He was 71 and had complications from surgery for kidney cancer. His wife, Leslie Becher, confirmed his death… All of their products sold for an amazing, low, low price, and viewers were urged to “order now” because “operators are standing by.” But wait, there’s more!… “We were mindful,” Valenti told the Palm Beach Post in 2001, “that the last thing anyone wanted was another set of knives. The challenge was to position the product so that it made every other knife you owned obsolete.” The original Ginsu commercial, first aired in 1978, opened with a narrator intoning, “In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife,” as a hand — Valenti’s — broke two boards with a karate chop. “But this method,” the narrator continued, “doesn’t work with a tomato.” Ginsu commercials contained demonstrations of the knife cutting through nails, cans, hoses, tree branches and blocks of wood — yet remaining sharp enough for a chef to work his magic.

“Can it really cut through a nail and still go through a pineapple like this?” the commercial asked rhetorically. “Incredible!” To sell their various products, Mr. Becher and Valenti flooded the airwaves, buying as much as $20 million in commercials a year — more than Coca-Cola. The outlandish demonstrations of their products’ durability, coupled with their cheesy but unforgettable slogans — Isn’t that amazing? — became an indelible part of American pop culture, often parodied on late-night comedy shows. Over a 15-year period, the endlessly rerun commercials helped Mr. Becher and Valenti sell as much as $500 million worth of knives, kitchen bowls, pots and pans.

I’ve always been awed by pitchmen. I still watch the Shamwow and Oxyclean commercials, and chime in with the formula lines like "but wait, there’s more!" and "if you order now, you’ll get two…"  [to the disgust of my wife and daughter]. I am personally a non-salesman. Couldn’t do it if I tried. And I’ve never ordered any of those things they sell. But I still find the commercials fascinating. The first ones I remember were the Ginsu Knives and the Bamboo Steamer [sometimes sold together]. I never tired of watching them cut through cans. I even bought a set of Ginsu Knives at a yard sale one time for 50¢ just to see what they were [cheapies – no great shakes]. But speaking of awe, the naming story is a classic:
Their famous cutlery began as Quikut knives, made by a company in Fremont, Ohio [since bought by Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s company]. “Who would buy a set of knives made in Ohio?” Mr. Becher once mused. “We had to add some mystery. We thought about where we could say they came from.” He and Valenti and copywriter Arthur Schiff kicked around the idea of samurai warriors and somehow came up with the name Ginsu. “It doesn’t mean anything in any language,” Mr. Becher said in 2005. “We like to say that it means, ‘I never have to work again.’ ”…
I think they call it Branding, and it’s a big deal in the advertising business. So after reading this Obituary, I did the next sensible thing. I googled Prozac to see where the name came from [I guess the name Ginsu made me think of doing it]. And here‘s what I found on my first try:


When Prozac [fluoxetine] launched in 1987, it was a sensation, representing new beginnings and opportunities for those suffering from depression. It has since achieved iconic status in popular culture. Why? Because we realized that in order for it to succeed, we would have to tackle depression head-on, and destigmatize the condition by raising social consciousness. We created the name, Prozac, by intentionally distancing the name from everything typically associated with anti-depressants – strong chemicals, side effects, and mood swings. The easy and accessible language provided patients a platform to talk comfortably and openly about their condition. As a result of its wide use, Prozac has since been entered into the Oxford English Dictionary, proving that a great brand can have context well beyond its category.
Sounded a bit like a magical kingdom that set fluoxetine apart from the older drugs [not as good as Ginsu!]. I know Prozac’s naming was before the Direct-To-Consumer ads, but it performed the same function – creating a phenom. It worked.

Talking along with the pitchman ads is only one symptom of my illness. There’s a more malignant version. I talk back to Direct-To-Consumer ads for psychoactive drugs – spouting counterarguments to the fluffy pitches or asking the beautiful actors if they know what they’re doing, know how they’re promoting the drugging of America. I turn up the adverse effects and add things that they downplay. And then they get to "Ask your doctor if … is right for you" and I rise from my chair and begin to say unpublishable things, muttering "Don’t …ing ask." The symptoms have gotten worse over the years. Fortunately, the patients I saw before I retired didn’t "ask" and now I’m working in charity clinics, where I only use generic drugs [but they do "ask"].

This isn’t actually a joke with me. I got to thinking about it after a couple of recent comments here. Several psychiatrists were talking about the large number of patients asking for medications, sometimes by name. Another commenter asked why doctors respond to that pressure? I agree with both complaints, am sympathetic to both commenters. And I also cringe when I detect that the patient has a specific agenda – "ADD", "Bipolar", some designer med they’ve heard about or seen on television. Another cringe, "my <antidepressant> isn’t working anymore," sometimes followed by a list of other <antidepressants> they’ve tried [shades of STAR*D, CO-MED, TMAP]. I’ve been particularly hostile about the campaigns of the drug companies to get Primary Care Physicians prescribing these drugs, not because I want the business for Psychiatrists, but because of the reason they have these campaigns – Primary Care people prescribe a lot more. And it’s not lost on me that that’s where the speaker’s bureaus aim the psychiatric KOLs – Primary Care Physicians. But my biggest complaint of all is that most patients I see on <antidepressants> don’t have anything close to Major Depressive Disorder [even with its funky definition] – not by any stretch of the imagination. They’re people who are unhappy with their lives, wives, husbands, kids, fate, job, lot in life, friends, lack of friends, etc. They might be helped, but it’s sure not with <antidepressants>. This overusage trivializes the medications and keeps us from knowing precisely which patients they actually help, are indicated for.

So while I find branding and the pitchmen funny when it comes to kitchen gadgets, when the same techniques are used for psychiatric drugs, I’m infuriated, and feel like I’m living in a science fiction movie, functioning as someone trying to keep people off of <patent medicines> like Swamp Root and Snake Oil [or worse]. All of the Direct-To-Consumer ads for prescription medications have to go, just like the tobacco ads had to go. There’s little else to say about this. They have to go! For one thing, it’s the only cure for the malignant part of my mental illness – leaving me to my benign miming of the amazing kitchen gadget salesmen in peace…
    June 28, 2012 | 6:33 PM

    asking the beautiful actors if they know what they’re doing, know how they’re promoting the drugging of America.

    Do you think those beautiful actors KNOW the potential for harm their solicitations may cause? Do you think they care . . . or do they just take their paychecks and go? I remember the Dorothy Hamill/Celebrex ads. When the bad side-effects became known, I wondered: Does SHE know? Does SHE care? Would she respond to obituary notices, sent by mourning family members who died because of her shilling? Nahhh! I expect it’s just the money! I suppose celebrity has always enriched the famous, leaving the rubes who listen to the message or try to imitate the behavior scratching their heads but having to live with the (sometimes truly bad) consequences.

    June 28, 2012 | 9:36 PM

    Do the actors know the harm they may be causing? No, of course not. But it’s not their job.

    No, it’s the job of the doctor. But as Mickey points out, sometimes we’re no more knowledgeable than the pretty face on TV.

    June 29, 2012 | 12:57 AM

    No actor in the Shire VyVanse , she is a real doctor, who happens to work at Charles Nemeroff’s stomping grounds! Dr Lauren Ozbolt has beseiged the tv when watching via online tv shows–over and over again this thing repeated to the point I looked her up when they showed a name.

    Not coincidence that Shire’s sales of that drug increased

    I despise DTC ads on tv and if you watch online streaming, you’ll find out it’s worse there! VyVanse is being marketed in that commercial by Dr Ozbolt for adult ADHD and it targets women, in which 1 part of the ad is a woman telling how it helps blah blah, then switches to Dr Ozbolt reading the list of “sudden death” and more as side effects! how can she keep a straight face and how much is she being paid! ?

    June 29, 2012 | 1:03 AM

    lol I must laugh out loud re-reading Dr Balt’s comment! hey take a look at Dr Lauren Ozbolt! blonde and pretty doctor from U of Miami psychiatry dept selling VyVanse in a commercial!!! tell me this goes against some law or ethics???

    Link to Ozbolt in my previous comment

    June 29, 2012 | 1:36 AM

    One more–Dr Ozbolt is a young new doctor, already a paid tv DTC advertiser…here is Charles Nemeroff introducing her new eating disorder program at U of Miami one year ago in a newsletter:

    Incredible, she enters her life’s work as a doctor straight into marketing drugs directly to eager Americans while they watch tv. What happens when a patient goes to the doc and says a “real” doctor told me on tv to ask my doctor if this med was right for me?

    June 29, 2012 | 7:53 AM

    Do you want to have a nicel chuckle? Go to the Miami Psychiatry Department website and click on the Grand Rounds tab. Look who Charlie Bling Bling has coming to town to speak. It is a veritable psychiatric rogue’s gallery: Keller, Gibbons, Lieberman, Stowe, Keshaven and sadly, APA’s president elect, Jeste. Charlie and his cronies really are back in business!

    June 29, 2012 | 9:12 AM

    Tom, thanks for the criminals rogue gallery tip LOL take a look at their faculty financial disclosure page–add nemeroff to the 2 years they offer for income disclosure, and it looks like Dr Bling is training the new docs like Ozbolt well, for pharma….

    http ://

    June 29, 2012 | 9:22 AM

    Sorry for another comment, but this is why we have to be concerned with pharma-income takers such as Nemeroff: his KOL status is keeping the message (one of the messages) that “Depression is a Disease” this is his slide show


    It’s pdf form, copy it into your browser and not only is his title that, he lists his income diclosures, this is all now being pumped out of the U of Miami, so clearly his past Grassley-Emory days did nothing but promote this guy, and give him a solid employment status. Crime pays and it pays big, ethics don’t count is what I am learning from the people like him in the health world, and I am not impressed.

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