What a difference an infomercial makes.
In 2010, sales of Chanhassen-based MyPillow were about $3 million and the company employed about 60 people. After CEO Mike Lindell started airing a 30-minute infomercial in 2011 with his ebullient self as its pitchman, sales hit the stratosphere.
In 2012, they reached $102 million and the number of employees at the company’s Minnesota plants rose to more than 500.
“We were running the infomercial almost 200 times every day,” said Lindell. By January 2012, it was the No. 1 infomercial, according to Jordan Whitney Greensheet, which ranks infomercials.
Lindell credits a genuine love of his creation as part of its success. He invented it out of necessity after many sleepless nights from neck injuries and failed businesses.
He believes that his pillow not only helps people sleep better, but also that it aids in reducing snoring, migraines, insomnia, neck pain, allergies, sleep apnea and fibromyalgia.
Lindell doesn’t attempt to look or sound slick and polished while making such claims. “I want to come across as an average guy, talking to his neighbor,” he said about his infomercials.
When Lindell finished his first one, some marketers were aghast at its lack of finesse. They asked Lindell if he had written it himself.
The former bar owner and carpet cleaner admitted that he had. “They tried to get me to use a teleprompter, but I couldn’t do it. Now it’s mostly ad-libbed.”
Ironically, Lindell may have become more likable because he’s as flawed as a Kardashian. He’s been sued a couple of times by investors and a software company, declared bankruptcy, been through drug and alcohol rehab, and failed very publicly in his recent second marriage, which was in June.
“It’s my past, and I’m not ashamed of it,” he said. “I haven’t had a perfect life.”
Lindell’s likability is a key to his success, said Vladas Griskevicius, associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
“The principle of having someone like you is the single strongest way to persuade them,” he said. “When consumers consider a purchase, whether they need or want the product is less important than a seller who appears likable and trustworthy.”
Lindell drives home his own trustworthiness by offering a 60-day money back guarantee and a 10-year warranty against flattening of the foam on his pillows.
It’s a formula that has worked for him. He’s sold 3.1 million pillows, 2.4 million since the first infomercial. It’s a remarkable feat, especially considering that at $60 to $90, they’re not inexpensive.
However, the popularity of Lindell’s infomercial has slipped a bit since its 2011 release. This year QVC is his highest source of revenue, followed by retail and then the infomercial. With the help of two new infomercials to be released in the next two weeks, a two-minute short-form and a 30-minute long-form, Lindell expects to hire another 100 employees with sales rising to $120 million by the end of the year.
With success comes dissent
One change in the new infomercials will be a mention of the number of complaints from the Better Business Bureau. Originally, the infomercial stated that the company had an A+ rating with zero complaints. The company still has an A+ rating, but it has logged 61 complaints in the past three years.
Most of the complaints are about the product or the guarantee/warranty, said Dan Hendrickson, communications coordinator at the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, but he doesn’t believe 61 complaints is troublesome for a company that has sold more 3 million pillows.
Grumbling about the product is more common at Amazon.com, where more than half (233) of the 447 reviewers gave the pillow one or two out of five stars. Reviewers complain mostly about the pillow’s lumpiness, chemical odor and high price. Lindell claims that many of the reviewers are confusing it with the I ♥ My Pillow product, which is a different company.
Despite the poor showing on Amazon, Griskevicius said the sheer number of reviews, good or bad, can be perceived as a positive sign for MyPillow. The fact that the product has nearly 500 reviews indicates that people are talking about it, he said. “If I’m selling something, I’d rather have a high number of people reviewing it than just a few people giving it five stars.”
One customer who thinks its medical claims are overblown still likes the pillow. Stan O’Daffer of Plymouth said that he has eight pillow rejects nesting in his closet, but he prefers his MyPillow over the $150 down pillow he bought. “It hasn’t gotten rid of my headaches or neck stiffness, but my sleep is improved,” he said.
Lindell, a guy whose frenetic energy level is a walking advertisement for the benefits of a good night’s slumber, says he always sleeps well on his MyPillow. “Whether I get four hours of sleep or eight, I always feel well-rested,” he said.