#49 Kevin Harrington

James Altucher interviewed Kevin Harrington (@HarringtonKevin) to talk about marketing, infomercials, and the nuts and bolts of selling nuts and bolts.

Altucher begins the interview by asking about all the products Harrington has been involved with, and it’s a lot. Like James, I was struck by the number I recognized considering that I don’t watch late late night television. Kevin’s been involved with the George Foreman grill, the NuWave Oven, Ginsu knives, Tony Little’s products, Paris Hilton, the Medicus golf club and the list goes on. Kevin pegs the number of infomercials he’s been involved with at nearly 700.

One of Harrington’s early partnerships was with Tony Little. He was so successful that he was “buying homes and real estate and, you know, unbelievable things and, you know, antiques and art and all that kinda stuff – fancy cars.” One of the guys on Kevin and Tony’s team sees this and thinks that he wants to do it too. So he goes off and starts a company called Beachbody – the company behind P90X – which now does over $400 million a year and that man’s name was Carl Daikeler.

Then James and Kevin talk about the Flying Lure, a 500 million piece seller (this phrasing slipped past me until later in the interview, just wait). The Flying Lure inventor, Alex Langer, says that the idea came to him after he “got skunked for 2 straight days of fishing.” He then cut up a Coke can and glued the pieces together for the first iteration of the lure. Three years later he met Jim Caldwell who took the idea to National Media Corp. where Harrington was president. From there Kevin put together $75,000 worth of TV spots, but tells Alex he needs one hundred testimonials. He needs; consumer, professional, editorial, celebrity, and documentation testimonials.

This range of testimonials works well because it corners the market on a psychological idea known as the availability heuristic. “The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important.” Marketers like Kevin want to provide enough examples, that one of them will come to mind when thinking about a product, like The Flying Lure.

Imagine a hypothetical situation where you need to buy a new computer. You check Consumer Reports, The Wire Cutter, you look around at coffee shops. It’s clear after your research that Apple is the clear choice. You then tell your brother about this and he tells you about the lemon of a computer his Apple was. His review should have very little impact, it’s only one experience of many. What research has found though, is that because this information is more recent and comes from someone we interact with, we are more likely to weigh it heavily in our decision. For Harrington – I’m supposing here – the idea is that if your brother is a fisherman that doesn’t like the lure, they provide a better fisherman who does. If he is an engineer that explains it can’t work, they provide a better expert who says it does. Whatever area you might face an objection, they want a more available, and favorable, suggestion that says it works.

Before any of the testimonials can work though, Harrington says you have to “tease, please, and seize” the person who is listening. In the interview he gives the example of the meatball sandwich. “If I’m selling a cleaning product, you’re gonna see a guy eating a meatball sandwich with a big drop of sauce all over his beautiful $100 tie. Has this ever happened to you? And that’s – and, yes, it has, and by the way, I’m gonna watch to see how they solve that problem. So show me a problem, hit me upside the head, tease me.”

After getting their attention, you need to please them, and show the benefit, the magical transformation. “In acne, it’s pizza face to clear skin. In weight loss, it’s 280 pounds to 120 pounds. It’s, you know, show me somebody that was poor, now they’re rich.”
After the testimonials are arranged and the tease, please, seize sequence coupled together, it’s time to buy TV time, which can be expensive. Harrington says that it’s 30-50% of the cost of goods. With all the numbers he gives on the episode my best guess for the cost breakdowns on The Flying Lure are; $10 to TV, $1 to Alex the inventor, and $4 for the packaged goods. Harrington says the rest goes to the lawyers, accountants, and other people behind the scenes that make it all happen. About that “500 million piece” language, that’s how many total pieces. In all only 25 million kits were sold. Still a staggering number but something about the funny expression made me wonder about the other things Harrington was saying.

Then James and Kevin get to the celebrity endorser that I was most interested in hearing about, George Foreman. I remember looking up Foreman the boxer after seeing Foreman the grill salesman. At first Foreman didn’t want to do it, saying he wasn’t “interested in toys.” His wife was the one who tried the grill and convinced him after cooking a burger for him on it. The grills bearing his name went on sale in 1994 and in 1999 Foreman was bought out for $137 million bringing his estimated total compensation for the grills to almost $200 million.
The other media mogul from Foreman’s generation is William Shatner, the spokesperson for Priceline.com who was initially paid in Priceline Stock. The details on Shatner’s fortunes are more ambiguous than Foremans, but here is what the Priceline stock has done.
Harrington hasn’t been on Shark Tank in a long time – that I can remember at least, and I watch most weeks – but he’s been doing his own shark tanks. “You know, like I go into corporations and I do – I create Shark Tank style events. You know, I went into a major corporation like AT&T, had 300 senior executives, break them into 30 teams of ten and we take 30 pitches over the day and we come up with new ideas for AT&T. That’s one style of event, so that’s cool. I’m planting a seed, building a whole new business enterprise corporately. Then I do the same for commerce kind of events and I do entrepreneurial organizations.”
Then they bring up Gary Vaynerchuk (a past podcast guest) and Harrington says he’s made millions of dollars on investments in companies like Uber. Somehow I didn’t get any of this when he was last on Altucher’s show.

Harrington ends the interview by telling Altucher to keep his eyes on the NuWave Oven which uses infrared technology, and the Ronco vertical grill. If you want more from Kevin Harrington he has a new book out, Act Now: How I Turn Ideas Into the Next Million Dollar Product.

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