November 17, 2003

Just Because It's In Print . . .

I sat in an office at a health club in Maryland. I had just finished a consulting project and a member of the club asked me about one of the Growth Hormone precursors. He asked if I believed it "worked," and of course, doing what I do, I shared my educated opinion and believed I had helped him see that the product was being fraudulently marketed. It was simply an amino acid supplement being sold as a miraculous fat burning aid. He listened, but I could tell he was annoyed. I wasn't telling him what he wanted to hear. He handed me a bottle of the product and I went through the ingredients one by one. He left the office in a huff, and stormed back in less than a minute later waving a sheet of paper. It was a photocopy of an "article" that went on to discuss how "research has proven" the supplement works. Despite anything I said, he was going to believe it worked because it said so on a sheet of paper. There's something about seeing it in print that makes it believable, and that's why product sellers can capitalize on valueless products simply by skewing and twisting the reality and putting the twist in print.

Few marketers can really claim originality in their fraudulent marketing ploys, as they seem to replicate whatever appears to "work" to sell products. There are some common ploys product marketers use, deceptive techniques using the print medium, newspapers, magazines, flyers, and brochures, that have the persuasion power to get people to act. Unfortunately, the angry man in the Maryland health club wasted a fair amount of money as a result of his tendency to believe "what it says in print." I don't want to discourage you from buying anything you see value in, but I do want to protect you by allowing you to identify some of the more common (and powerful) marketing ploys.

The mention of a new scientific "revolutionary" principle

It appears as if there are scientists hard at work coming up with revolutionary principles and new technologies, all "breakthroughs" in reducing American waistlines.

The Ab Swing is marketed with the mention of "Swing Glide Technology." Ab Away uses "Reverse Ab Action Technology." The Ab Scissor in unique because of its "patented Scissor Action, a biomechanical breakthrough based on its unique Gravitational Linkage System." What in the world are they talking about?!?!!? I've written this article while using "the nucleonic bull-bashing truth-seeking deception-busting techologically advanced breakthrough system of fitness truth." Here's the reality. Ab devices will NOT reduce your waist, will not "carve away the love handles," and unless they come with a scalpel and a suction hose, will not make fat vanish from your waistline. They do, however, have a tendency to make money vanish from your wallet and hope of achieving great abs vanish into oblivion.

They sell a non-consumable product as a solution in order to keep you buying something else

A few weeks ago I shared the promotional copy from a "weight loss candle" offering on my radio show. It sounded so absurd. Weight loss candles? Do you eat them???

As I read the copy, it revealed some mystical properties of these very special candles . . . and it became clear that you don't eat them, you burn them!

According to the ad copy, you had to buy the heated candle warmer for $39, and then, of course, you had to replenish your supply of candles regularly, even if you were just going into the "maintenance phase." What a great way to sell candles! Promise they'll help people lose weight, and in the process, unload candle warmers that were probably taking up space in a warehouse until someone figured out a marketing ploy that would get them to move.

A recent trend, based on the same "sell-something so you can sell- something-else" approach, seems to have caught fire. The ads are being designed to sell belts, bandages, and wraps, claiming that they will melt fat . . . but ONLY if you use the creams and lotions the company behind the ads also happens to sell. Some of these creams and lotions lead to water loss, and when you wrap an area you force water displacement which can create the illusion it's "working." All that's really working is the advertising.

They promise a result via some device or technique and lead you into buying addictive drugs

Selling addictive drugs? That sounds seriously criminal, doesn't it? Well, criminals and product marketers in many cases may be one and the same. Thankfully the FTC does sometimes step in and put a stop to these practices. The Ab Energizer was sold via an infomercial and it was one of the top airing infomercials during its lifespan. Its lifespan ended when the FTC filed complaints relating to fraudulent claims. The Ab Energizer was a one-time purchase . . . but . . . it came with the Ab Energizer Dietary Supplement. What was in it? Ephedrine. An addictive drug.

As another example of this deceptive practice, a news release issued by the office of the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey reports that they are suing Goen Weight Loss seminars . . . for fraud. Apparently, Goen's marketing materials promised up to 120 pounds of fat loss in a year . . . without drugs . . . using hypnosis! After paying $59.99 to attend the seminars, attendees were persuaded to buy . . . you guessed it . . . ephedrine products! There's lots of money to be made when you get enough people addicted to an inexpensive product. Ask any crack dealer . . . or any of the marketers who employ this deceptive practice.

They use the word "Natural" to imply that something is "safe"

"The world's strongest "natural" fat burner" is a promise made by a manufacturer of yet another ephedrine-based product. The copy goes on to suggest that this compound is absolutely safe as its ingredients are "all natural." Let's understand the word "natural." It means "found in nature."

Cocaine comes from cocoa leaves. Opium comes from poppy seeds. Methamphetamine is made from ephedrine which is extracted from Ma Huang, a chinese herb found in nature. Are these "natural?" We'd have to say yes . . . but would we ever presume to call these compounds safe??!?!?

There is a toxin produced in the liver of the blowfish that is so highly toxic to humans that if it's swallowed, death arrives almost instantly. This toxin is found in nature. I think you get my point.

They sell you a miraculous potion and stop you from eating

What a wonderful entry for the Museum of Scams (not yet constructed . . . but there is certainly enough material to fill a very very large building). You find a product that's inexpensive, put it in a bottle of some sort, and tell people it's a weight loss miracle. There's one more step in the process if you want repeat business. Just tell the people who take it not to eat!

From the label of the 24-hour juice diet . . . "do not consume food." From the label of the "lose weight while you sleep" collagen protein supplements . . . "take 3 hours before bed on an empty stomach and do not eat until morning." You'd think common sense would kick in here . . . but no, if it's in print, it must be the juice, the collagen, or the delicious tasting shake working the weight loss magic.

They quote actual research performed on some other compound

Let's get back to my meeting in the Maryland Health Club. The man's name was Michael. He gave me the photocopy and I took it home with me. As I came to understand the situation a bit better, I learned he had "bought in" to a company that sold the product, and he was convinced, primarily because of "the research" that it was legit. When I shared my skepticism, he didn't want to hear it. He wanted to believe "the research." I actually pulled up the research studies. One was referenced as follows

Amato G, Carella C, Fazio S et al. Body Composition, Bone Metabolism, and Heart Structure and Function in Growth Hormone (GH)-Deficient Adults Before and After GH Replacement Therapy at Low Doses. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 1993;77:1671-1676.

This was a legitimate study, but it used injections of actual Growth Hormone! The product being sold was an oral capsule containing an array of free form amino acids. It has nothing to do with the research! As you begin to explore the ads for these GH releasers and anti-aging oral supplements, you'll note references to research. Before blindly believing what it says in print, find the study in the journal it was published in and decide for yourself whether it has any merit.

Read the newspapers for the news and read the ads with a healthy skepticism. Read magazines for entertainment, but realize their editorial is biased in favor of their advertisers. In fact, many supplement companies now put out their own magazines which are really nothing more than glorified brochures. Brochures are printed with one goal . . . to sell something, and the information isn't scrutinized by anyone other than those who maintain a vested interest in product sales. Perhaps there was a time when "it's in print" meant something . . . but with any sixth grader now able to create a graphic masterpiece on his home PC, "in print" means little more than something was committed to paper . . . hmmm . . . wait a minute. Weight loss paper! Now there's an idea! "Our brochures, using the revolutionary metabo-ink-reduction technology, turn you into a fashion model. First you have to buy the brochure holder for $39.99 then you have to follow the instructions."

Instructions: Eat 1/2 a grapefruit for breakfast, drink lots of water, and the rest of the day only consume our brochures, available in 30-packs for only $19.99.

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Update 10/15/03 - The 5 VIPs of Fat Loss
Update 8/15/03 - Healthy Foods?
Update 7/7/03 - Bars and Meal Replacements . . . What's Best?
Update 6/9/03 - The Ab-solute Truth
Update 4/20/03 - The Great Diet Debate & Atkins Revisited

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