Billy Mays: An industry loses its voice

OxiClean and Mighty Putty are going off the air while their owners figure out how to tout products without the spokesman that made them famous.

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By Emily Maltby, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Bill McAlister (left) gives a signature thumbs-up with the late Billy Mays.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Fans, friends and colleagues of Billy Mays are still absorbing the news of the ebullient TV salesman's untimely death. Meanwhile, those in the infomercial field are left wondering: What will the industry do now that its most recognizable front man is gone?

Mays, who died on Sunday from heart disease, worked closely with marketing firms to promote products including OxiClean, Hercules Hooks and Mighty Putty. His booming voice, warm smile and gesticulating arms made him an icon in the direct response industry.

"He launched so many products, it was amazing. I don't know anyone more recognizable than Billy in the industry," says Mark Biglow, a sales and marketing executive for infomercial company Mercury Media.

Biglow collaborated with Mays to promote iCan health insurance and was recently working with Mays to sell Impact gel insoles, which Mays featured on his reality TV show, Pitchmen. "Losing Billy is a huge hole in the industry. He was irreplaceable. Every time you'd hear his voice, you'd turn to see what he's got now -- he always had unique products to pitch."

There are challenges ahead for the owners of the products Mays advertised.

"Out of respect and consideration for his loved ones, we've pulled Billy's OxiClean, Kaboom and Orange Glo commercials from rotation," said Bruce F. Fleming, chief marketing officer of Church & Dwight Co, in an e-mail to CNNMoney.com. "At this point, it's premature to talk about future plans. All of our thoughts are with the Mays family at this time."

"What will become of these brands is yet to be told because he can't be replaced," says Bill McAlister, co-owner of Media Enterprises, a marketing company that specializes in "as-seen-on-TV" products. Media Enterprises filmed eight commercials with Mays, including ads for Mighty Mendit, the Vidalia Slice Wizard and the car-dent repairing Ding King.

"His success happened very quickly, and in the past two years he was everywhere," recalls McAlister. "We went to the Super Bowl and there were hundreds of people who wanted a photo and an autograph with him. The big NFL players who were also meeting fans were wondering, 'Who is this guy?'"

A true entrepreneur, Mays got his start shilling on the Atlantic City boardwalk. After traveling the U.S. hawking wares at trade shows and state fairs, Mays took to the television airwaves, where he succeeded in grabbing viewer attention while touting products as diverse as household goods and ESPN360.com.

Mays filmed commercials for two more Media Enterprises clients before his death, but McAlister says his company is still deciding whether those product ads will be released.

"We've pulled our commercials and we'll discuss how to go forward with the family after the funeral," he says. "I think that's the right thing to do."

He's confident the industry will carry on, but it won't be easy without the iconic "BILLY MAYS HERE FOR ..."

"We did it before him and now we'll unfortunately have to do it in the future without him," McAlister said. "His passing is a challenge because we've lost a friend, a business associate and a spokesperson for these brands.

Mercury Media's Biglow hopes the products that go off air in respect for Mays' death will eventually come back. "I hope they continue with his legacy," says Biglow. "There are other competent hosts with different styles, but will there be another Billy Mays? No." To top of page

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