Ron Popeil should get more credit

Over the weekend I happened upon an old Malcom Gladwell article about the inventor & pitchman, Ron Popeil (of "Set it & forget it" rotisserie fame).

A couple things struck me about him.

1.) His approach to marketing & product development is a lot like Steve Jobs

Now don't get me wrong -- Apple's products are way more advanced than the stuff Ron Popeil prototypes in his kitchen -- but, they both have a commitment to that initial vision of their product and have an obsession with perfection.

"Alan Backus says that after the first version of the Showtime (rotisserie) came out Ron began obsessing over the quality and evenness of the browning and became convinced that the rotation speed of the spit wasn't quite right. The original machine moved at four revolutions per minute. Ron set up a comparison test in his kitchen, cooking chicken after chicken at varying speeds until he determined that the optimal speed of rotation was actually six r.p.m. One can imagine a bright-eyed M.B.A. clutching a sheaf of focus-group reports and arguing that Ronco was really selling convenience and healthful living, and that it was foolish to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars retooling production in search of a more even golden brown. But Ron understood that the perfect brown is important for the same reason that the slanted glass door is important: because in every respect the design of the product must support the transparency and effectiveness of its performance during a demonstration--the better it looks onstage, the easier it is for the pitchman to go into the turn and ask for the money."

2.) They came up with a new approach to product development. The Popeil approach merged marketing & product development.

"They believed that it was a mistake to separate product development from marketing, as most of their contemporaries did, because to them the two were indistinguishable: the object that sold best was the one that sold itself. They were spirited, brilliant men."

3.) He was more persistent than he was talented.

"Roderick Dorman, Ron's patent attorney, says that when he went over to Coldwater Canyon he often saw five or six prototypes on the kitchen counter, lined up in a row. Ron would have a chicken in each of them, so that he could compare the consistency of the flesh and the browning of the skin, and wonder if, say, there was a way to rotate a shish kebab as it approached the heating element so that the inner side of the kebab would get as brown as the outer part. By the time Ron finished, the Showtime prompted no fewer than two dozen patent applications. It was equipped with the most powerful motor in its class. It had a drip tray coated with a nonstick ceramic, which was easily cleaned, and the oven would still work even after it had been dropped on a concrete or stone surface ten times in succession, from a distance of three feet. To Ron, there was no question that it made the best chicken he had ever had in his life."

Written by Adam Harrell on January 20, 2009

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Alexandra says:

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