© Joan Price. May not be reprinted without permission.
It's late at night, and you're ver-r-r-ry sleepy. Your eyelids flutter, and you know you should go to bed, but your remote has fallen between the sofa cushions and you find yourself riveted to the Fitness Infomercial That Will Change Your Life. Somehow your charge card materializes in one hand and your phone in the other, and you're dialing.
Whew, you saved yourself this time, but how many times have you embarrassed yourself by ordering a fitness gimmick or diet aid that's ineffective or useless and used it seldom, if at all? Do you throw a blanket over the pile of late-night TV exercise doodads stuffed at the back of your closet? If you're like the typical consumer, you use an infomercial purchase four times before dumping or hiding it.
Don't call yourself stupid or gullible. These advertisers are slick.
Realize I'm not branding all products advertised on TV as rip-offs. Some of these products are very good. Many are not. The point to realize is that people are swayed to buy not by evidence of quality, but by shrewd sales promises, language tricks and innuendoes.
"Modern health and fitness quacks are super sales persons--they play on fears, hopes and vanity," Len Kravitz, PhD, an exercise researcher at the University of Mississippi, told exercise professionals at the 1997 IDEA convention. Before you can evaluate the product wisely, learn to strip away the jargon, deception, false promises and emotional appeal-- the language of quackery. Kravitz offers these tips for spotting quack talk:
- Promises the Moon. Sure, you'd love to believe you can burn off 30 pounds in three weeks, or get sleek, fat-free thighs from three minutes a day of pumping plastic, or lose a jelly belly by wearing special shoe inserts, but get realistic. The bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. And don't assume that the money-back guarantee insures quality--most people are too embarrassed to return the item and insist on a refund.
- Omits Part of the Story. Many products claim fitness benefits that are legitimate. The catch is that often those benefits would be achieved by proper use of any product of its type. Other products promise quick weight loss or muscle gain, but don't point out (or add in print too small to read), that you must combine use of the product "with an exercise and diet program," or that "results will vary." Some exercise machines report calories burned based on elite athletes--unrelated to the calorie burning you will experience.
- Unscientific Studies. Watch out for the loose-lipped "backed by scientific studies" and request the citations--in other words, ask them to provide information about who did the research and where the study was published (if it was at all). One single study proves nothing, especially if it was biased, poorly designed and not published in peer-reviewed scientific journals--and particularly if the manufacturer paid for the study, which happens frequently.
- Trick Words. Question any ad that makes a claim that can't be tested. Some words and phrases are enticing, but vague enough that no one can get sued for claiming them, like "release more energy," "build stamina and endurance" and "be healthier." Others use pseudo medical jargon that sounds good, but is meaningless, like "erases cellulite" (cellulite is just body fat) and "melts fat" (only aerobic exercise burns fat; no dietary substance or gizmo "melts" it). Ignore words such as "secret formula" or "medical miracle." Run, don't walk, when your common sense says no, but you really want to believe.
- Easy Results. You know fitness gains don't come easy. Any product that beckons with quick, dramatic, easy, effortless results is playing on your emotions and banking on your naivete. Be knowledgeable and skeptical.
Realize that quackery seldom looks or sounds outlandish the skillful way it is presented. It's up to you to recognize emotional appeals and question claims. Do your homework before you reach for your wallet. And remember, if it quacks like a duck....