Though relatively few news outlets noted his death, Mr. Schiff left a mark that will long outlive him, as the direct-response TV industry he helped build earns respect from a host of conventional marketers. Such major mainstream advertisers as Procter & Gamble Co., L'Oreal and Johnson & Johnson have made short-form DRTV a growing part of their marketing in recent years.
Over the past three decades, Mr. Schiff wrote 1,800 DRTV commercials credited with moving more than $2 billion in merchandise, more than anyone else in the history of the genre, according to a statement from his wife, Barbara Zucker, who was also his partner in the Sunrise, Fla., DRTV-creative and -production agency Direct Response Associates.
Among his greatest hits were ads for Tripledge windshield wipers, Armourcote Cookware, Ambervision sunglasses, the Audobon Singing Bird Clock, the Lionel Train Watch, the Weed Terminator, Denise Austin's Thigh Tek and the Ding King.
Mr. Schiff also coined such immortal DRTV selling lines as "Isn't that amazing?" "Act now and you'll also receive ..." and "Now how much would you pay?" said Edward Valenti, who hired Mr. Schiff away from the Providence, R.I., agency Bo Bernstein & Co. and brought him into his fledgling direct-response-marketing agency Dial Media in the mid 1970s.
"Those literary classics, a lot of those were his, no question about it," said Mr. Valenti, now CEO of PriMedia, a Providence direct-response shop.
He recalled that Mr. Schiff's Ginsu knife ad in 1978 used the phrase "There's more." However, "Where the 'but wait' came from, I just don't remember," Mr. Valenti said. "Somehow that just got joined together."
came in a dream
For the knife, launched in 1978, Mr. Valenti had chosen a Japanese theme, along with such demos as karate-chopping boards and tomatoes. He doesn't recall where the Ginsu name came from, but in promotional material for DRA, Mr. Schiff said it came to him in a dream.
"If that's his recollection, I support it," Mr. Valenti said.
The name and the ad gave the knives, manufactured in Fremont, Ohio, an unmistakable Japanese aura and helped generate $50 million in 1978 dollars before Ginsu was sold to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in 1985. Mr. Schiff left to start his own agency in 1983.
"I was happy to spawn his career, and it was a pleasure to work with him," Mr. Valenti said of Mr. Schiff.
"It's a cultural icon," he said of the Ginsu work, which he said has been mentioned or parodied on such programs as Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," "Seinfeld" and "The Sopranos."