Were Crazy Eddie’s commercials pure genius or insanely awful?
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.”
- Crazy Eddie’s Life Was Insane! – The New York Times
- ‘Retail Gangster’ Review: Let’s Make a Deal – The Wall Street Journal
- The Rise And Fall Of Crazy Eddie: A Tale Of Epic Fraud – Forbes
- Remembering Crazy Eddie: His 3 craziest TV commercials – Asbury Park Press
- Remember Crazy Eddie? His Prices Were Insane! – Small Business Trends
- Crazy Eddie, Hair Club for Men and seven more local commercials we remember all too well – Newsday
- Retail king Crazy Eddie was a high school dropout who once got stabbed outside a nightclub – New York Post
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?