The Wisdom of Ginsu, a book co-authored by Ed Valenti and Barry Becher.

Ginsu (ギンす /ˈɡɪns/, made-up word meant to evoke the idea of the katana[1][2]) is a brand of direct marketed knives. The brand is owned by the Douglas Quikut Division of Scott Fetzer, a Berkshire Hathaway Company. The brand was heavily promoted in the late 1970s and 1980s on U.S. television using infomercials characterized by hawker and hard sell pitch techniques. The commercials generated sales of between two and three million Ginsu sets between 1978 and 1984.[3]

Early history

Ginsu knives are an evolution of a product line developed by the Clyde Castings Company. The company filed for a trademark on the Quikut name for use on carving knives, butcher knives, fruit knives, kitchen knives and can openers in 1921.[4]

Quikut knives were heavily advertised in the U.S. and Canada as inexpensive, stainless steel, hollow ground knives with a lifetime guarantee.[5] Other well known brands that used Quikut knives as promotional items including Lipton Tea[6] and Oxydol.[7]

Large national newspaper, magazine and radio campaigns were used to market Quikut as far back as the 1930s. A 1938 campaign resulted in orders for 922,000 units. A 1939 campaign included a print ad on the back cover of the Saturday Evening Post.[8]

"Great Scott! A knife that cuts trees." A 1968 Cinécraft spot showed how Quikut knives always stayed sharp and could cut a tomato and then a tree.

In 1968, Quikut Corporation added spot television to their marketing effort and hired Cinécraft Productions, a sponsored film studio in Cleveland, to make a series of Quikut TV spots.[9] In 1949 Cinécraft made the first filmed infomercial – a 30-minute filmed commercial for the Natural Foods Institute promoting the Vitamix blender. The studio was an early producer of TV spots and made for TV programs.[10]

The copy points used in the 1978 and later Ginsu commercials were used by Ron Popeil, the early TV marketer, in the 1950s.[11] and the Cinécraft Quikut knife commercials produced in the 1960s.[12][13] ...“Great Scott…a knife that cuts trees!” “And that’s not all.” “Well, What do you know? The other side of the knife is sharp enough for a professional meat cutter.” “The knife’s safeguard handle, beautifully finished in simulated ivory, is boil proof, dishwasher steam proof, and shatterproof.” “guaranteed for life by Quikut.” “The new forked tip, let’s you carve and serve with one hand.” “Yes, but how much? 69 cents! Where?”

The Ginsu Brand

Because the brand name "Quikut" was said to lack panache, Ed Valenti, Barry Becher, and copywriter Arthur Schiff created a new brand name that alluded to the exceptional sharpness and durability of a Japanese sword. Ginsu commercials they created promoted “an amazing, low, low price!,” urging viewers to “Order now!” because “Operators are standing by,” and sweetened the pitch with the Ginsu trademark, “But wait, there’s more!” — was an inescapable staple of television in the 1970s. The brand also became a part of pop culture. Johnny Carson sometimes used the knives in his routines, and Jerry Seinfeld did a Ginsu bit on the “Tonight Show.”[14]

Media scholar Robert Thompson, of Syracuse University, called the Ginsu advertising campaign "the pitch of all pitches." "Ginsu has everything a great direct-response commercial could have," said John Witek, a marketing consultant and author of Response Television: Combat Advertising of the 1980s. "Ginsu had humor, demonstration, and a precisely structured series of premium offers I call 'the lots-for-a-little approach'."[15][16]

Valenti and Becher later repeated the advertising formula with other products such as the Miracle Slicer, Royal Durasteel mixing bowls, Vacufresh storage containers, the Chainge Adjustable Necklace, and Armourcote Cookware. TV pitchmen Billy Mays and Vince Offer employed the hard-sell informercial to great success in more contemporary times.

While the name Ginsu was invented by Becher, Becher later (satirically) told an interviewer the word translates to, "I never have to work again."[17] In April 2009, a stretch of road in Warwick, Rhode Island, which passes the office of Ed Valenti, was named "Ginsu Way."[18]

The knife brand gained notoriety in 1993 when Lorena Bobbitt used a Ginsu kitchen knife to sever her husband's penis[19] while he slept.

Company ownership

In the 1940s Clyde Castings Company changed their company name to the Quikut Corporation.

In early 1964 the Quikut Corporation merged with an automotive company to become Douglas Quikut. Later in 1964 the firm was purchased by the Scott & Fetzer Company a holding company that wanted to use the company's plastic molding capabilities to manufacture parts for its Oreck and Kirby lines of vacuum cleaners. Quikut continued as a brand name under the Quikut Division of Scott & Fetzer.[20]

In 1986 Scott & Fetzer was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway of Omaha, NE, an insurance holding company and the Quikut and Ginsu brand knife production moved to a new plant in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas in 1972.[21]

In 2013, Consumer Reports reviewed the Ginsu Chikara knife set in their comparison of fifty knife sets and rated it as their "Best Buy."[22][23][24]

In 2022 Ginsu expanded beyond knives and launched a Kamado grill in a partnership with MyDIY Center.[25]

In 2023, Ginsu knives were still manufactured and sold by Douglas Quikut and the Quikut brand is sometimes used as well. The company also manufactures ReadiVac and American Angler brands.

References

  1. ^ https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Ginsu
  2. ^ https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/ginsu-knives-1980s-retro-infomercial
  3. ^ President and General Manager of Douglas-Quikut, Jeffrey Griffin, quoted in Stan Morris, “TV Infomercial’s Ginsu Knives Produced in Walnut Ridge, Baxter Bulletin, May 31, 2016, p. A2
  4. ^ "Clyde Castings Co. Quikut 1921 U.S. trademark filing". trademarks.justia.com. U.S. Trademark Office. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  5. ^ "See for example the M & H Quality Bakers ad in the Fremont (Ohio) News-Messenger 22 Feb 1939, Wed · Page 6". Newspapers.com. Fremont (Ohio) News-Messenger. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  6. ^ "See the Lipton Tea newspaper ad, "Get this Amazing Lipton Offer. Twin Time Saver Kitchen Knife Set," in the June 11, 1950, Detroit Free Press, p. 89". Newspapers.com. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  7. ^ "See the Oxydol newspaper ad "We're Giving Away 'Razor Edge Paring Knife" for Only a Penny" in The Bee (Danville, Virginia), 27 Jun 1941, Fri · Page 5". The Bee (Danville, Virginia).
  8. ^ ""City Receives Nationwide Publicity in Sales Drive," Fremont (Ohio) News Messenger, July 11, 1937. P. 3". Newspapers.com. Fremont (Ohio) News Messenger. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  9. ^ "This 1968 commercial is one of a series of Quikut TV commercials made by Cinécraft in the late 1960s and early 1970s". Hagley Library Digital Archives. Hagley Museum and Library. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  10. ^ "Vita-Mix Corporation, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History". Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Department of History, Case Western Reserve University. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  11. ^ ""8 Reasons You Shouldn't Underestimate The Greatness of Ron Popeil: The Greatest Inventor Of All Time". Huffington Post". Huffington Post. Huffington Post. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  12. ^ "1968 Quikut TV commercial on the Hagley Library Digital site". Hagley Digital Archives. Hagley Museum and Library. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  13. ^ "Six Quikut commercials are listed in the Hagley Library Finding Aid on the Cinécraft Productions collection". Hagley Library Digital Archives. Hagley Museum and Library. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  14. ^ ""Denis Hevesi, Barry Becher, a Creator of Ginsu Knife Commercials, Dies at 71," New York Times, June 30, 2012". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  15. ^ Reynolds, Bill (December 12, 1982), "GINSU! It came from Warwick – it devoured the marketing world", Sunday Journal Magazine, p. 3
  16. ^ Auchmutey, Jim (1983), "But wait, there's more!", Advertising Age Special Report, p. 1.
  17. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (30 June 2012). "Barry Becher, a Creator of Ginsu Knife Commercials, Dies at 71". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  18. ^ "But wait, there's more! Call that road Ginsu". Associated Press. 2009-04-03. Retrieved 2009-04-04.
  19. ^ SIMON, ROGER. "Was Lorena Bobbitt's act 'an irresistible impulse?'". baltimoresun.com. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  20. ^ "Cleveland Firm Buys Quikut; No Change in Operation." Fremont (Ohio) News-Messenger, November 14, 1964, p. 1". Newspapers.com. Fremont (Ohio) News Messenger. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  21. ^ "Scott and Fetzer Co. entry in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History". Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Department of History, Case Western Reserve University. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  22. ^ "Kitchen Knife Ratings & Reviews - Consumer Reports". www.consumerreports.org.
  23. ^ DiClerico, Daniel. "In Consumer Reports' tests of cut-rate knives, Ginsu skewers Ronco". Yahoo!.
  24. ^ "Consumer Reports: Kenji Lopez-Alt's Kitchen Knife Video Shootout | the Truth About Knives". Archived from the original on 2013-08-16. Retrieved 2013-08-13.
  25. ^ "Knife Maker Ginsu Launches New Kamado Grill". CookOut News. 2022-03-09. Retrieved 2022-03-23.

Further reading