PedEgg foot-care device hatches surprising sales

ByLaura Petrecca, USA TODAY

— -- It's both fascinating and revolting at the same time: a cheese-grater-like device that shaves skin off feet to make them softer, smoother and better looking.

Since the October launch of the PedEgg, millions of people have been exposed to its cringe-inducing but oddly effective marketing message.

Short-form infomercials that air 120 times a day show the egg-shaped contraption in use (complete with close-ups of a user dumping shaved skin out of PedEgg's "convenient storage compartment" into the trash). Print and Internet ads have upped the exposure of the home pedicure tool, which is designed to "perfectly fit in the palm of your hand," according to maker TeleBrands.

A publicity coup came when TeleBrands CEO AJ Khubani got to show a national TV audience how it works when he used it on the soles of Sherri Shepherd, a host on ABC's The View in December.

The media exposure and continued popularity of shoe fashions that give feet plenty of exposure have generated sales. PedEgg, at $9.99 suggested retail price, has gleaned more than $40 million in mass-market retail sales excluding Wal-Mart, which does not report, according to Information Resource. And that doesn't include sales from direct-response infomercials or home shopping network HSN.

TeleBrands — which also sells other "as seen on TV" products, such as a battery-powered stick-up light bulb and a motorized furniture duster — doesn't give out sales information. Khubani does say that typically 80% to 90% of his product sales come from bricks-and-mortar stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and even Staples.

But the PedEgg's success also comes with some controversy.

Two models, one male and one female, featured in a PedEgg ad filed a lawsuit against TeleBrands representatives claiming, among other things, that the company used unauthorized images of them. Another company, Microplane, claims that the PedEgg infringes on its own patent for an orb-shaped callous remover.

Khubani defends his company in both cases. He says that TeleBrands' contract with the actors allows for "unlimited use" of their images. Their lawyer had no comment beyond the formal complaint. As for the patent infringement, he says his company "does a thorough" patent investigation before it launches products.

TeleBrands ran afoul of the Federal Trade Commission for ads for a previous product. The FTC said in 2002 that TeleBrands made "false and unsubstantiated claims" in promoting an Ab Force electronic muscle stimulation belt that claimed to aid "weight loss and well-defined abdominal muscles, and was an effective alternative to regular exercise." "We strongly disagree with the FTC's ruling," Khubani says. "We never made any false claims."

When it comes to the PedEgg, there are many consumers who substantiate its claims of smoother feet. Its average user rating on the HSN website, which had 358 reviews for the product last week, is a 4.6 out of 5. And the device has gotten favorable write-ups in consumer magazines.

The potential for more sales has led TeleBrands to create new models of the PedEgg. It just introduced a pink egg with a breast cancer ribbon on it. Khubani donated $50,000 to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation to use the ribbon.

It also launched a larger, guy-focused PedEgg designed to better fit in a man's hand as well as handle larger feet. In January, it will launch a "good vibrations" battery-powered version, Khubani says.

Some products "just take off," he says. "You never really know why something clicks."

A swimming success.

Sports Illustrated is cashing in on its Aug. 25 cover featuring Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps. Starting today, it will sell posters of the cover image for $15 and $20 (plus postage and handling) at The picture: Phelps with his eight Beijing gold medals around his neck. It mimics an iconic photo taken of swimmer Mark Spitz after he won seven gold medals in the 1972 Games, a record Phelps broke last week. The magazine has sold posters of inside photos, but this is the first cover image. SI, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Fine Art Limited, Phelps and Octagon, his management agency, will split the bucks.

A quick turnaround.

Perhaps Michael Phelps gets his stamina from mom Debbie. After flying back from China on Monday night, she had to quickly zip to New York City on Tuesday to shoot a new Johnson's baby commercial. The Johnson's team, which had just settled plans to feature Momma Phelps a few days earlier, wanted to get the ad done quickly so it could air during the Beijing closing ceremony. After that shoot — and a whirlwind media tour that included an interview on Good Morning America— Phelps headed back to Maryland, where she was back at her day job as a middle school principal on Thursday.

Parking its ad machine.

After a 10-year run, this Olympics marks General Motors' last go-around as a sponsor of the Summer Games. The carmaker — looking to save dough to get through the auto market downturn — also is bowing out of other expensive sponsorships. It has put the brakes on its longtime backing of both the Emmys and the Academy Awards. No word yet on whether it'll return as a Super Bowl advertiser.

Reader questions

Q: There is a Heineken commercial that has a real catchy song. Some of the lyrics go something like this: "I need you. I want you." Who sings this, and what is the song?

— Randy Kane, West Chester, Pa.

A: The song in the ad for Heineken Premium Light is It's Love, from the 2000 album Beat by Chris Knox. The punk-era musician from New Zealand performed with Toy Love and The Enemy in the late 1970s. The song plays as people from all walks of life pass along a bottle of the beer.

The TV ads will air through August in prime time on Fox and in other sports and entertainment TV programming. The ad, by Wieden + Kennedy, is part of a marketing push that includes print, radio, online and mobile, including a mobile beer garden.

Q: Who does that zippy whistle rendition of Brazil on the Visa ad that shows people buying lawn and garden supplies?

— Rhona Rombro, Maitland, Fla.

A: Geoff Muldaur whistles to the instrumental track, written by Ary Barroso. The music is the original from the 1985 movie Brazil. It plays in the background as customers at a busy lawn and garden shop purchase colorful plants, watering cans and gardening boots in a synchronized flow — until a woman writing a check comes along and interrupts the rhythm, turning everything gray. But the next customer swipes a Visa card to bring everything back to life.

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