‘But Wait, There’s More’ No More

Infomercial sales and advertising pioneer Philip Kives died at the age of 87 April 27. Kives was the founder of K-Tel, the company responsible for many advertisements on the U.S. and Canadian airwaves throughout the ’60s and ’70s. 

Photo: Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press, via The Canadian Press, vi

The Veg-o-matic, Feather-Touch knife and Miracle Brush hair remover were some of the gadgets peddled by Kives, but it was his venture into music compilations that took his business to new heights. K-tel’s sale of hundreds of millions of records was a revolutionary feat at a time when the music industry was still incapable of understanding how to redistribute music in compilations at a large scale. The best seller, Hooked on Classics, moved more than 10 million units, according to the company website.

Born in 1929, Kives started his life humbly in a family of Jewish immigrant farmers in Oungre, Saskatchewan. He took an interest in sales early on in life and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba at the age of 18 where he soon started working as a salesman of cookware and appliances. After rising to the top of the sales ladder in his Winnipeg job, he and his brother moved to Atlantic City, N.J., for a year, gaining more experience in how to sell a tough crowd. In 1962 he returned to Winnipeg, pioneering the use of television to sell what many would consider useless gadgets to large audiences.

His first product, a tephlon non-stick cooking pan, sold remarkably, despite being defective. From that point forward, Kives was convinced of the power of television for sales, and sold a plethora of products through brief advertisements, many using the tagline, “But wait, there’s more!” Kives started selling music after Ron Popiel, of Ronco, decided to stop giving the Winnipeg businessman products to sell.

1966’s 25 Great Country Artists Singing Their Original Hits paved the way for what would eventually total over half a billion record sales for his company, K-tel, which was formed as record sales exploded. According to a documentary about K-tel, the records were originally published without the permission of the record companies, but as the products were selling in huge numbers, the Winnipeg businessmen were able to compensate the songs’ owners for units already sold and worked out the proper licensing agreements for the future.

The technique used to get 25 songs onto a vinyl record reduced the long-term fidelity, but defenders of the product say there was nothing comparable on the market at the time. As Kives’ company grew, more members of his extended family were added to the payroll, but in a story by The Guardian, his daughter Samantha Kives said the businessman always made time for his immediate family.

“He would literally leave in the middle of a business meeting to come watch us play in a tennis tournament,” she said. “The informercials were also a family affair. A lot of the commercials he shot, he’d bring us kids in … and we’d be actors in the commercials.” The company still licenses its catalogue of 6,000-plus songs through various means, including digital distribution such as iTunes.