The world’s oldest infomercial?

How old is the classic formula for writing infomercials, long form direct response ads, presentations and sales letters?

I used to think the oldest examples could be found in US publications from the late 1800s.

Now I’m not so sure.

Here is a form-perfect sales presentation embedded in the opera L’Elisir d’Amore (”The Elixir of Love”) by Gaetano Donizetti which premiered in Milan, Italy way back in 1832.

Dr. Dulcamara arrives in town as an unknown, catches the villagers attention, establishes his credentials, lays out the problem, shows how his product solves the problem, and then shows what a great deal his solution is.

He creates a sense of scarcity and a time limit to buy; uses testimonials to back up his claims; and then, only after he establishes his product’s value, reveals its price in classic infomericial style which, following his well-crafted build up, appears like a great bargain.

The villagers clamor for the product and the buying frenzy begins.

Yeah, he’s a ham and the whole thing is way over the top. This is a comic opera after all, but his sales sequence is impeccable.

The music isn’t bad either!

Here’s a rough translation:

DULCAMARA: Signore! Signori! Good day dear friends! Come closer…can you all hear me? Now then, I reckon you’ve heard of me. That’s why you’ve turned out to cheer me. I’m doctor of posology and modern pharmacology, of medical essentials I’ve heaps of top credentials. I’ve cured so many terminal cases that I’m famous all over the world, and…and…in other places. As one who loves the human race, my philanthropic feeling requires my travelling place to place to share my gift of healing. I empty out the hospitals wherever I arrive. It’s Dulcamara’s magic cure that makes the patients thrive, and eases the diseases so that dying men survive. Without my skill the deathly ill would not still be alive!

For flatulence, anaemia, lock-jaw or septicaemia, this potion here will clear it up… (concocted in Bohemia) This tonic’s a salvation for chronic constipation, I have here testimonials in praise of what I’ve done.

Here’s one from a Bavarian, a male octogenarian, who bought my primal water… then sired a baby daughter by Charlotte, who’s a starlet, and has just turned twenty-one!

And since then he has sired another daughter and a son!

The water that he’s taken is certain to awaken the slumbering libido of old men in search of fun!

For ladies of a certain age with bottoms growing bigger…this potion, made from thyme and sage, restores your girlish figure.

Two spoonfuls of the liquor, you take each night with dinner.

In just a week, or quicker, you’ll look five kilos thinner.

There’s nothing like it anywhere. My friends, take my advice… because you’re all so nice, Ill give a special price!

As I’m the sole supplier, and stocks may soon expire, the limit’s ONE per buyer……unless you want it twice.

I’ve pills for disabilities, from dropsy to asthmatic wheeze, for every sniffle, cough and sneeze, I’ve remedies to stem disease.

And if your veins are varicose, the symptoms I can diagnose. I’d recommend a double dose of potions I suggest.

For gentlemen whose pates are bare, I’ve something here for loss of hair…applied for just a month, I swear, your thatch will match a grizzly bear. There’s nothing like it anywhere – you really have to try it. There’s nowhere else to buy it, from Paris to Trieste. I guarantee you won’t resent the paltry, piddling sum you’ve spent on hair restoring liniment – discovering you are blessed with shocks of locks that manifest – yes, more than you before possessed! The doctor always knows what’s best!

You’re convinced my potions cure you, but you’re looking apprehensive…you’re mistaken, I assure you, if you think that they’re expensive. Fifty lire? No. Thirty? No. Twenty? Some shops would charge you plenty! But for you, a proposition – I’ll discount my own commission and I’ll give away each bottle for ten lire – as a gift.

VILLAGERS: Just ten lire – what a bargain! What a sympathetic man…and honest too!

DULCAMARA: Here’s one more…this one’s stupendous! As a cure-all, it’s tremendous. Throughout Europe I have sold this to crowned heads and big-time spenders…but because my tour has ended, and you folks have been so splendid, it is yours for fifteen lire…twenty less than I intended. (to assistant) Gelsomina, sound the trumpet! So then nothing could be clearer..each one bought saves twenty lire…so the more you buy, then the more you are saving… buy two, and put one away. It’s the panacea so many are craving for syndromes unknown to most doctors today. Time has shown I know better than they!

VILLAGERS: If we profit when we buy it, then we’re fools if we don’t try it. What a wonderful preparation, this all-purpose medication. Doctor, we shall never forget you. We’re so lucky you came to town. We’re so honoured we met you…such a man of great renown.

DULCAMARA: Now, some say doctors may be greedy, but you’ll find I’m kind and fair. If I treat a patient who’s needy, I only charge what the poor beggar can bear.

VILLAGERS: A more kind, benevolent man you won’t find anywhere.

DULCAMARA: Ah! What I sacrifice, to relieve human suffering…my chief concern is in serving mankind.

VILLAGERS: A fairer man you’ll never find!

– Ken McCarthy

P.S. For over 25 years I’ve been sharing the simple but powerful things that matter in business with my clients.

If you’d like direction for your business that will work today, tomorrow and twenty years from now, visit us at the System Club.

Music video of the year
A modest proposal for Thanskgiving

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19 Responses to The world’s oldest infomercial?

  1. Frankie Diaz December 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Oh, this is truly INSPIRATIONAL!

    You’re right: it’s the same tried-and-true formula we learn first when studying this great art. Codified in Opera, no less!

    I’m going to re-study my materials and get out once more. Thank you for the restoration of my purpose to be a Copywriter.

    Be Well!

  2. Steve Hards December 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Excellent! And obviously based on a traditional ‘patter’ that goes back much farther than 1832. Plus ça change!

  3. Eric (Cosmo) Medemar December 4, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    One cant help but appreciate any tonic that promises to cure both lock jaw and gas. Thanks for sharing Ken.

  4. Sean December 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Hey Ken,

    That’s great! It’s got everything, and it’s a lot of fun to read out loud and try to get your mouth around!


  5. RStevens December 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    Fantastic! Never thought of a rhyming sales letter…maybe you’re onto something Ken! Thanks for some good advice delivered in a light and thought provoking way.

  6. Orestes December 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Hi! Ken,

    Thanks for sharing this with us.What for a funny and clever man; he was really good.A very smart marketer.I couldn´t stop laughing which was good to lift up my mood today as I´m having a terrible grippe this weekend.

    Thanks again and have a great Sunday!


  7. jonnyfq December 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    You know what, Ken,

    This was absolutely bloody marvellous. Was this AIDA or Donezetti? I think we heard and saw both.

    Thanks for sharing this. And you’re right fantastic music.

  8. Suzy Weiss December 4, 2011 at 10:20 pm #


    Che un storia grandioso! (What a great story)

    But it’s a ‘classic sales pitch’ with all the critical elements required (you described) and not really a sales letter.

    And if we are looking for the ‘first sales pitch’, it probably occurred as a negotiation between 2 cavemen over a slab of mastodon beef as John Carlton likes to refer to.

    I will give you this, the example you provided today is a classic.


    Suzy Weiss
    Dating Coach For Women Over 40

  9. Michael g o'toole December 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    Hi! Ken! Thank you for your article on Steve Jobs! One of The oldest sales pitch Is in the Bible in Genesis Chapter3:I- The wise old serpent making evil attractive, and the good evil, by using the power of suggestion and a shining apple tree! Are we not having the Buyers remorse ever sence??? Just a Thought! God bless! michael g.

    Ps: Please make a list of the best marketing and sales books that you ever read!? The top 10 will do! thank You.

  10. Etienne Juneau December 4, 2011 at 11:32 pm #


    Good one.

    Those Italians sure know how to sell.


  11. Bob December 5, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    I love the ending. Just like the “gurus'” product launches. I don’t need to sell this new product/make money, I just want to “give back” and help people.

    “my chief concern is in serving mankind”

  12. David Stuart December 5, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    Nice work in finding that Ken, thanks.

    Love the poetry and rhythm. A lot of humor too.

    To your good health …


  13. Enjoyed the music–and the translation. He’s certainly good on matching offers to audience (he’s got something for everyone, it seems). However, his pitch suffers from some of the same diseases (if I can stretch his own analogy) I see as problems in many modern salesletters: overhype, lack of verifiability for unsubstantiated claims, open deceit (claiming to give up his commission, yeah, right), etc. If I could travel back in time and interact with a fictional character, I’d give this “doctor” a copy of my book Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green, and show him a different way to transact business.

  14. Carol Worthington-Levy December 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Splendida voce. Magnifico passo di vendite! (Magnificent voice! Magnificent sales pitch!)


    Ciao – CWL

  15. Carol Worthington-Levy December 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Hey Shel, there’s nothing in this pitch that isn’t happening on TV today.

    Whether it be broadcast news, the floor of the senate, an interview of some congressman or presidential candidate, mail from a seedy nonprofit, or selling gadgets on cable TV, we’re subjected to overhype and unsubstantiated claims – oh hell, let’s call ’em lies, because that’s what they are – every day.

    And people like that, well, they don’t read books like yours because the last thing they want is the truth to skew their vision. LOL! However i appreciate the pitch for your book, which you slid into the mix with with great skill!


  16. Ken McCarthy December 6, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    It’s true. The same methods that sell legitimately can also be used for illegitimate purposes, just as any tool can be abused. And yes, this definitely resembled a guru “launch” pitch, especially the bloated buffoon pounding his chest about how great he is. All that was missing was a cast of minor buffoons providing choreographed “social proof” in exchange for affiliate commissions. That will have to be a 21st century opera!

  17. Ken McCarthy December 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    Definitely. I would not model my marketing on this aria! But it’s remarkable how many elements he did get right

  18. Ken McCarthy December 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    For sure. What a singer!

  19. George Polson November 15, 2016 at 10:41 am #

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for sharing. This sales pitch/informarrical is so relevant even today! The translation and the rhymes are funny. Made my day. I think I will share this my sales team!


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