Pioneering TV pitchman Phil Kives dies at 87
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, April 28, 2016 2:51PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 28, 2016 3:29PM EDT
The Canadian man who claims to have invented the infomercial has died in Winnipeg, at the age of 87.
K-tel took to Twitter Thursday to state they are “heartbroken” about the death. “He is an icon and a marketing genius,” the tweet said.
The descendent of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, Kives was born in Oungre, Sask., in 1929, and grew up on a farm during the Great Depression.
“We struggled on our small farm, living on welfare for many years, as did other farmers in our area,” states his autobiography, which is posted on K-tel’s website.
“We had no power or running water,” he wrote. “I recall the difficulties of hauling drinking water over four miles, as there was always a shortage.”
Kives started his first entrepreneurial venture at the age of 8: a trap line. “Not only did I sell my own furs, but I bought furs from all the other kids in school and re-sold them at fur auctions,” he wrote.
Kives moved to Winnipeg in his 20s and started selling cookware door-to-door. His income soon increased from the roughly $1,000 a year he made on the farm to $29,000 in a single year, 1959. “This was like a million dollars to me,” he wrote.
After selling products briefly in Atlantic City, N.J., Kives returned to Winnipeg in 1962 with the realization that the new medium of television could boost sales.
“I made a live 5-minute TV commercial on a Teflon non-stick fry pan,” states the autobiography. “To my surprise, sales took off at a remarkable pace … this 5-minute commercial became the world's first infomercial.”
At that point Kives was selling the products of an American man named Seymour Popiel. A few years later, Popiel stopped allowing Kives to sell his products because he was getting “too big,” according to Kives. Seymour’s son Ron Popiel went on to be, perhaps, the most famous infomercial pitchman.
K-tel went through many ups and downs, but still exists, after finding new success selling products like compilation CDs and the Gut Trimmer in the early days of the internet, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Kives’ nephew, Winnipeg Free Press Columnist Bartley Kives, said on Twitter that they were not close, “but Phil was very kind to my late father during his final years” and “always kind to me.”
He was always kind to me as well.— Bartley Kives (@bkives) April 28, 2016