Can You Name the Infomercial Product From an Obvious Hint?

Zoe Samuel

Image: Luis Govea

About This Quiz

Infomercials are the evolution of the pitch, an age-old practice in retail. Pitchmen used to cruise boardwalks, putting on shows where they would sell items like potato peelers for what seemed like nothing, but was in fact a 10,000% markup. Pitchmen started out selling snake oil, but as cheap manufacturing developed, some of their products became useful things. Some of these were such good sellers that producing a TV show about the product suddenly became worthwhile.

Late night television used to be a time for stations to broadcast a test signal and send their engineers home to sleep. Today, late night TV is dominated by pitchmen and women hawking everything from products to fix a cracked windshield to products that promise fitness without the effort and sweat of going to the gym. Infomercials themselves can be entertaining, and icons like Billy Mays and Vince Shlomi made their names selling products like the Shamwow and Oxiclean, both of which graduated from TV-only sales to stores across America.

Did you tune out the infomercials or did you sit on the edge of your Ab Rocket, wrapped in your Slanket, eager to hear every word? Could you recognize a product from just one major hint? Are you an infomercial expert? Put all those late night TV sessions to use and take this quiz.

What does Susanne Somers make you think of?

Susanne Somers' success with the Thighmaster is legendary. Her commercials moved millions of units and perhaps made the nation's thighs a little stronger. Either way, it made Ms. Somers a lot of money with which she purchased what she dubbed "The Thighmaster Mansion."

What does Richard Simmons remind you of?

Richard Simmons' original workout video made $200 million in sales and introduced the world to working out at home. Millions of couch potatoes purchased these videos, but as to whether or not they got much sweating done, no one will know.

What does a strange animal that feels you up in your car remind you of?

Tiddy Bear was a strange infomercial product designed as a sort of cushion meant to slip onto the top portion of a seatbelt to save you from the feeling of ... the seatbelt. It looked like a tiny stuffed animal groping you. Still, there were people who purchased it.

What does a family dressed like cultists remind you of?

Who would have thought cutting some holes in a blanket would make for $400 million in sales? The creators of the Snuggie, of course! This product's much-maligned ads have proven a cultural touchstone for the 2000s, and many a couch potato has been kept warm by their product.

What does a seemingly obscene "fitness" gesture remind you of?

The Shake Weight is one in a long line of seemingly useless "fitness" devices that do very little. The idea of toning your arms by making an apparently obscene gesture is very funny though, and the many parodies of this product on shows like South Park and SNL likely propelled its success.

What does a totally gross pile of human skin remind you of?

The Ped Egg is one of those rare products that started on infomercials and eventually made its way to the corner drug store. Essentially a cheese grater attached to a small bin, the Ped Egg was a product designed to slice away at callouses, shaving them off into a heap of dead skin flakes. At $450 million in sales, that's a lot of dead skin.

What does a mechanical arm and a wad of toilet paper remind you of?

The Comfort Wipe seems like it should be a successful niche product for the physically disabled, but it was marketed as a product for everyone. Essentially a mechanical grabber designed to hold toilet paper, the device was intended for bathroom use to clean ... yourself. Perhaps more difficult than using it was explaining it to household guests.

What does "Ronco" and cooking remind you of?

Ron Popiel's Showtime Rotisserie is one of the few infomercial products that most people could look at and think "Yeah, I could use that." Essentially a toaster oven designed for cooking meat as large as a turkey, this was a toaster oven on steroids, and those steroids made Ronco $1.2 billion in sales.

What does a terrycloth dress remind you of?

Perhaps conceived by the same thought train that resulted in the Snuggie, the Wearable Towel was an "improvement" on the towel, enabling those who could not be bothered to wrap a towel around themselves the traditional way to actually wear it like an evening dress. Knowing our culture, it is likely it was worn out of the house on more than one occasion.

What does a bow and arrow have to do with fitness?

The Bowflex did $193.9 million in sales since it was introduced in 1986, and continued to make sales today. It is actually a pretty decent home workout device, though many people who buy such machines find themselves using them as garage decorations, an implicit promise to get into shape someday.

What does an annoying sound and dog barking make you think of?

The Bark Off was a nonsense device that didn't really work. It was intended as a humane solution to training dogs not to bark all the time, but didn't do what it purported to do, and was audible to humans as well as dogs.

What does boxing have to do with cooking?

The George Foreman grill was essentially a panini press intended for cooking everything from healthy strips of chicken to out and out barbecue. The device worked well and sold well, doing over $202 million in sales. Muhammad Ali never beat George Foreman for sales.

What does the sentence "Fettuccine, linguine, martini, bikini!” remind you of?

The USA was introduced to pitchman Vince Shlomi via the Slap Chop, a device for cutting smaller vegetables into smaller pieces. In his pitch, Mr. Shlomi claimed that the difficulty in keeping a healthy diet was somehow a product of the difficulty of cutting up small veggies. This product did move for a while, but soon there were competitors made by the likes of Oxo, which ate the Slap Chop's lunch.

What do Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley make you think of?

A new generation comes with its own home workout machine. The Total Gym sold over $1 billion of units, and made its pitchmen a lot of money. Unlike the Bowflex, the Total Gym came into existence at a time when gyms were proliferating and getting a gym membership was cheap.

What does a made-up Japanese name remind you of?

The name Ginsu may sound Japanese, but it is in fact a made-up word meant to sound Japanese. Ginsu knives were perfectly well-made knives sold on TV, but while they demonstrated their power by cutting up metal cans, almost any sharp kitchen knife could do that. Banking on the association of Samurai, the Ginsu knife sold well, and even today the name is a recognized as a brand.

When you hear the name Tony Horton, what do you think of?

Tony Horton's home workout system didn't come with a Swiss army knife machine, instead relying on the use of a few relatively cheap pieces of kit. P90X will indeed sculpt you into a muscular behemoth, but only if you stick to it. If you throw the DVDs on the shelf, unless you do 100 sets of 50 reps, it will do little for your body.

What does Play Dough and a leaky pipe remind you of?

Mighty Putty is an epoxy putty advertised as an emergency measure for leaking pipes and the like. It changes color as it sets, and has a lot of competitors on the market today, but none with the cool commercials.

What did Jessica Simpson endorse?

Proactiv is a suite of products intended for facial skin care. Its many pitchmen, from Jessica Simpson to Britney Spears to Katy Perry, all complained that their skin was spotty until they embraced this product. It moved a lot of units, making $1 billion in sales.

What do pitchman Adam Jay and bad smells remind you of?

One of the few products advertised on television that most people wish did not exist, Doc Bottoms Spray was a deodorant for people who can't be bothered to wash themselves. Intended for using the armpit and on the butt, it claimed to reduce the smells of all body parts. Most people who saw this ad probably wished it were an ad for a bar of soap.

What does a horror movie mask and personal beauty make you think of?

Want to spend $140 on a mask that makes you look like a character from Saw while making your face twitch? This product, which claims to reduce wrinkles by electrocuting your face, is made by people who are happy to relieve you of that $140 and give you just such an item!

What product is spray-on hair?

The Great Looking Hair (GLH) Hair System was a "hair thickener" which was basically hair-colored Krylon that you sprayed onto your balding pate. Popular in the 1990s, this product could only exist in a time when a shaved head definitely meant you were part of a hate group. Today, medicine has provided balding people with enough options that this product is irrelevant, or you could just shave your head.

What does a "sitting Hula dance" remind you of?

The Hawaii Chair looks like a swivel chair, but the only thing it will swivel is your pelvis. Intended as a sort of core workout, the Hawaii chair was a particularly difficult-to-use home workout device with only one function. It probably didn't do much good for your fitness, but it let you think you were working out while sitting in front of the tube.

What does a super-tough wallet and identity theft remind you of?

The Aluminum Wallet is an infomercial product that isn't alone on the market. Lots of companies make this type of wallet, but the claim is always the same: It's a tough wallet that will physically protect your cards, while blocking RFID readers from stealing your credit cards' RFID tag identifiers.

What would you buy if you want to make up for your Bowflex use by ruining your health?

Big Top Cupcake Bigger Cakes is not a cake itself. It is in fact a gigantic cupcake pan. Make big cupcakes, then hop on your Bowflex.

What do frightened children and cartoon characters remind you of?

This infomercial product is an old product given a TV push. Night lights are little lights you plug into an outlet to provide enough illumination to see, but not so much that it would keep you up at night. Bright Time Buddies Night Light Friends for Kids are friendly looking night lights for children who are afraid of the dark, or adults with strange taste.

What do lazy bedmaking and camping make you think of?

Zipit Bedding is perhaps best known for its appearance on Shark Tank. Are you tired of nagging your kids to make their beds? Are you tired of making beds? Do you not care if your kids forget how to make their beds? Try Zipit Bedding! It's like a sleeping bag on your mattress!

What infomercial product helped kids to read?

Hooked On Phonics was one of the very few infomercial learning products that really worked. Phonics-based reading systems have become very popular, and Hooked On Phonics can take credit for putting the trend on late night TV for years.

What does gardening and Slinky remind you of?

The XHose Pro Extreme is the kind of product you would expect to find in Home Depot, not on late night TV. It was a brilliant idea. Garden hoses usually need to be coiled up around a drum, all of which robs garages across America of valuable storage space. The XHose Pro Extreme was made to collapse to a shorter length and narrower size when not in use, saving space and expelling extra water as it retracted after use.

What product would you turn to if you want to wash your dog, but don't like moving your arm very much?

The Woof Washer is a garden hose attachment that sprays a comb-like array of little spouts of water from its side, allowing dog owners to wash their dogs without moving their hands around in circles. Was it necessary? No. Did people buy it? You bet they did!

What could possibly help with foot, knee and leg pain?

Walkfit Platinum Orthotics on one hand purport to help with posture. On another hand, they purport to help make people stronger. On another hand they purport to help with pain. At $19.95, how could anyone go wrong with a pair (or two)?

What product should you buy for the person who doesn't like doing crunches on the floor?

Want to rocket your abs to fitness? You could join a gym, or you could just rock back and forth on what is essentially a beach chair crossed with a rocking chair. It isn't clear how the Ab Rocket Abs Chair helps people tone their abs, other than perhaps motivating use by the cost of the product ($88.95!) but if you want to do crunches on the floor, but don't like the floor, this product could save you from contact with that most mundane of surfaces.

What product should you use if training for the role of Batman?

Teeter Hang Ups are a modern incarnation of an old device, the inversion table. Gravity boots and inversion tables have been around since the 1970s, but the implicit reference to the teeter-totter makes the Teeter Hang Up seem friendly. Does hanging upside down help with circulation or back pain? Who knows? Is it fun to watch TV while hanging upside down? Not really.

What would you get to lose weight if you have neither the time to work out, nor the space to store equipment at home?

Listen to a CD and lose weight? Hmmm ... can we get that as an MP3? The Think & Lose Weight Loss Program – Mind over Matter is a series of hypnosis CDs. The idea is that you listen to the CDs, get hypnotized, and no longer eat the way you did before. Banking on the effectiveness of hypnosis over the biological signals sent to the brain by the body seems a dicey bet, but hypnosis can work for some people, so why not give it a try?

When you think of a pitch woman who endorses an ethnic preconception, what product do you think of?

In the 1990s, Pearl Cream ads starred a heavily accented Asian woman who said the source of the "beautiful skin of Asian women" was the product Pearl Cream. Essentially an exfoliate, Pearl Cream is actually popular in Asia and Latin America in one form or another. Rather than just saying what it was, advertisers decided playing on Americans' ethnic preconceptions seemed the ideal salesmethod, and it worked well enough that the band Pearl Jam based their name on the product. Hooray for clear skin and flannel.

What product would you retrofit your porch lights with to assassinate insects?

The Ninja Bulb is a big zapper bulb you can fit into a normal light bulb socket. It doesn't dress in black, but it doesn't need to. Insects are attracted to it, and like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, the bulb kills the insects. This is perhaps the most perfect infomercial product, because it both does what it says, doesn't require much effort to use, and costs a pittance to manufacture.

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