Visionary's Legacy Found in Infomercial and Toll-free Numbers

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CHICAGO ( -- Direct-response pioneer Alvin Eicoff, 80, chairman emeritus and founder of A. Eicoff & Co., Chicago, died Saturday from congestive heart failure in Highland Beach, Fla.

Mr. Eicoff, named in 1995 by Adveritsing Age as one of the 50 most pioneering people in the TV industry, originated the use of TV for directly selling products and services. He created the first long-form TV commercial in 1949 and consulted with AT&T in its development of the toll-free 800 number.

Visionary principle
When Mr. Eicoff opened his agency in 1965, he was looking to specialize in direct-response TV advertising, a visionary principle 37 years ago.

The shop's mission was to deliver measurable results for clients by using product demonstrations, telephone numbers and call-to-action features to help a variety of marketers from record companies to manufacturers of kitchen devices generate sales using TV.

With that, he started an industry.

The agency expanded its client roster and its reputation, attracting the attention of Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, which purchased the agency in 1981, a deal that Mr. Eicoff initiated. A. Eicoff & Co., still a division of the WPP Group agency, today serves clients including Allstate, Galderma, Liberty Medical and Sears Roebuck & Co.

"Al was a visionary, and he realized that it would be easier for us to attract the kinds of clients that we wanted to attract if we were part of Ogilvy," said Ronald Bliwas, who became president-CEO of the agency in 1980 when Mr. Eicoff relinquished his daily management duties to become chairman emeritus.

"He certainly was a pioneer. He started an industry, and not many of us can say that," Mr. Bliwas added. "His legacy is our agency."

Results-driven marketing
That legacy began with and remains rooted in results-driven marketing, although the days of staged infomercials have given way to more sophisticated direct-response creative executions.

"Although the kind of advertising we're doing now is so different from what Al originally did, the same principles are still in effect today," Mr. Bliwas said. "We're still about selling our clients' products. We're still about results, and that will never change."

M. Eicoff is survived by his wife, Helene; two sons, Jeff and Larry; and three granddaughters and one grandson.

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