Were Crazy Eddie’s commercials pure genius or insanely awful?

Discussion
Sources: Crazy Eddie commercial (1978); Hachette Books
Sep 16, 2022

A new best-selling book, “Retail Gangster: The Insane, Real-Life Story of Crazy Eddie” is bringing back nostalgia for the long-gone electronics chain’s abrasive yet memorable commercials.

The ads, which ran constantly from 1976 until bankruptcy proceedings in 1989, featured a DJ named Jerry Carroll — often mistaken for the late founder, Eddie Antar — talking quickly and gesturing wildly about the chain’s latest sale. The commercials ended with the tagline: “His prices are insane.”

Produced in-house, the retailer made over 7,500 commercials and beyond promoting low prices, they “brought customers through the doors and helped the chain become a power in Northeast retailing,” writes author Gary Weiss in the book.

Speaking on the Small Business Radio Show, Mr. Weiis said Mr. Antar developed a new spin on a “very old idea” of a “crazy merchant who was so nuts he sells stuff that’s way below wholesale.”

Yet the commercials became a cultural phenomenon, spoofed on Saturday Night Live, featured in movies like “Splash,” and becoming “as much a symbol of the city as the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center,” writes Mr. Weiss in the book.

When the ads arrived, consumer electronics were seldom advertised on TV and competitive discounting was rare due to fair trade laws. Mr. Antar was initially able to offer steep discounts through purchases on the gray market.

The book details other questionable business practices taken in building the 43-unit chain at its peak, including avoiding taxes and selling display and returned merchandise as new items. Eventually moving on to manipulating earnings as Crazy Eddie became a public company, Mr. Antar served close to seven years in prison.

Repetitive advertisements are used by insurance companies, Geico and Liberty Mutual, as well as Kars4Kids, but some question whether Crazy Eddie commercials would resonate in a streaming TV world.

Speaking to Small Business Radio Show, Mr. Weiis said while Mr. Antar was a “masterful criminal,” many have debated since his downfall whether he would have been successful as a law-abiding businessman given his “really brilliant” marketing schemes. He added, “Look at how people are talking about them 40 years later.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are Crazy Eddie’s television commercials antiquated or would such an approach work today? Why were the commercials so memorable at the time?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Crazy Eddie’s criminality aside, his commercials were insanely genius. TikTok would be a perfect vehicle for him today."
"The often imitated, but hardly replicated approach stopped working decades ago."
"Memorable. Clear value prop. Designed for reaction and sharing. Would the content stand up today? Probably not in its existing form."

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14 Comments on "Were Crazy Eddie’s commercials pure genius or insanely awful?"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Few ever want to be screamed at and the criminality of how he got the prices would be exposed by competitors. That said, there are plenty of Americans willing to support some people’s criminality if it serves their interest.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Personally, I am not a fan of the crazy, frenzy type advertisements, as I think it cheapens the brand. However as noted in the article, this advertising tactic brought customers in the door. I guess it works for some target audiences.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

If you start with the assumption that advertising is all about creating familiarity/name recognition, the commercials were brilliant. Irritating and annoying, but everyone in the area knew the retailer and believed you’d get a good deal there. Would it work today? Sure — just look at the car dealer ads featuring local owners. Bad acting, bad tag lines that are overused — but we remember the names.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Why were the commercials memorable? Because they were fun at first but annoying, after multiple repeats. Apparently that worked for a while. I think today’s viewer expects something more than annoying.

Please, no more Crazy Eddie, Kar4Kids, or Liberty Mutual.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Crazy Eddie’s criminality aside, his commercials were insanely genius. TikTok would be a perfect vehicle for him today.

In Milwaukee we had Crazy TV Lenny of American TV & Appliance. Lenny loved bikes: Buy a TV, get a bike. I was one of the 100,000+ people who got a bike that way.

Commercials like these are fun, maybe it’s time for a resurgence? When was the last time you saw someone blow up a washing machine?

Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

For your Friday viewing pleasure, I give you Oliver Jewellery up here in Canada who ran these commercials not that long ago. They’re still in business today. So, maybe it works (for a few, anyway).

Oliver Jewellery Cashman Music Video

Cashman Original

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Assuming the business was legit, there are consumers that will buy at the lowest price and only at that price. The ads were fast, annoying, and memorable. They might work in today’s social media frenzy – maybe even better than cat memes. During the time period, it was one of the few attention-getters available to marketers. TV was the medium and the low cost ads used a Three Stooges version of slapstick comedy – very much in vogue at the time. Today, the ads would have a different customer base.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I am truly surprised that I haven’t seen the word “POSITIONING” here. I don’t personally like the spots, but they do a job on market warfare and create a top of the mind position for the category, and that can start a lot of conversations. Don’t be fooled, he is building foot steps like crazy, he’s an attraction to go see, and that leads to sales. No argument there.

Scott Norris
Guest

Why I love regional retail and the creativity it let loose – in the Midwest we had Ray Szmanda pitching for Menards for decades, not madcap like Crazy Eddie but intense and ubiquitous and still fondly remembered. Of course in Chicagoland it was Lynn Hauldren for Empire Carpet, and with WGN on every cable dial soon the whole country could sing 800-588-2300. We’ve lost these everyman-pitching skills as radio and TV got consolidated, but the new generations are bringing it back on YouTube and TikTok.

Brad Halverson
Guest

It’s hard not to remember Menard’s without wide smiling Ray, waving his hands, getting everyone excited about all the great deals in store. Memorable branding for sure.

Trevor Sumner
BrainTrust

Memorable. Clear value prop. Designed for reaction and sharing. Would the content stand up today? Probably not in its existing form. Did we see Dollar Shave Club create a unicorn business on the same concepts? Absolutely. Business practices aside, these commercials leveraged the fundamentals of successful advertising today. I guess some things never change.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Ultimately I view this — and every area had its own goofy/awful ads — as a Pandora’s Box: on their own, in the staid world of retail that still existed — today can we even believe there was a time when discounting was (essentially) forbidden? They were a refreshing, seemingly harmless change of pace; unfortunately, instead, they became a launching pad for the relentless decline in standards that has permeated every area of society.

Would they “work” today? No … there wouldn’t be much remarkable about them.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

The often imitated, but hardly replicated approach stopped working decades ago. The crowded, shouting persona also represented a retail location that’s crowded, disorganized, with past year’s electronic models, and dishonest.

The ads were memorable because of the chaotic nature of their content, but ultimately they became more memorable than effective.

Brad Halverson
Guest

Opinions about fun, gimicky, and corny people or promotions can be debated all day long. Ultimately, is it differentiating the brand, does it create interest and get customers in the door? Many brands won’t ever find alignment with this kind of approach, of course, because it wouldn’t make sense. Every brand is different and appeals to different customer audiences. Question always needs to be asked, is it effective?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Crazy Eddie’s criminality aside, his commercials were insanely genius. TikTok would be a perfect vehicle for him today."
"The often imitated, but hardly replicated approach stopped working decades ago."
"Memorable. Clear value prop. Designed for reaction and sharing. Would the content stand up today? Probably not in its existing form."

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