May 21, 2011

Thoughts on 'Infomercial Nation'

Note: This post has been updated to fix an unintentional inacurracy. See correction below.

Here are my thoughts on Friday's 20/20 special "Infomercial Nation" ...

Overall, it was pretty fair. They treated Suzanne Somers fairly. Jennifer Nicole Lee, too. She should have given better answers, and the marketer shouldn't have allowed those claims to be in her show. Too many are lazy when it comes to these things. There's a fine line between puffery and deception, and many DR marketers need to develop a better feel for where that line resides. The best people in the business have developed that feel and, subsequently, they don't get caught making these obvious mistakes. ABC had nothing on Guthy-Renker for a reason, to cite just one example.

The Photoshop stuff is a more serious allegation the industry will take seriously -- so ABC should have been more balanced there. We have the ERSP, and the vast majority of DR marketers today would never condone or participate in such practices. Not sure if ABC spoke to the ERA, but they should have. That's just bad reporting.
[CORRECTION: Speaking of bad reporting, several people wrote me to say Peter Marinello from ERSP was included in the report. Turns out I missed it. Oops!]

The stuff about product performance was also mostly fair. 20/20 actually led with products that passed their testing, and praised them for it. That surprised me. But I still have mixed feelings about Consumer Reports being involved. It seems to me that most consumer products would fail their rigorous testing procedures, and that doesn't mean the products are rip-offs or that they don't provide buyers with real value. The Magic Bullet is a great product that many people I know love. I've never heard anyone complain because it takes 20 seconds instead of 10 seconds to make a blended treat. They were reaching on that one.

It's also amusing to me that the special ended with a CTA for the latest issue of Consumer Reports, esentially making the "report" an infomercial of sorts for the magazine. I wonder if they will calculate their ROI ...

Lastly, I have to admit to feeling a bit vindicated by the segments on Belly Burner and iRenew. I had to eat a little crow when the former product made my True Top 50, and I took some heat for my "don't spend the money" comment on the latter product. But in both cases my chief concern was the claims being made. I knew that even if they could be defended, the media and the goverment would be all over them. It turns out I was right -- although I take no pleasure in that.

My personal view is caveat emptor. There are many products (from industries the media doesn't sensationalize) that would fail real scientific testing. Plus, consumers aren't stupid. They know a bracelet that increases strength and balance and a belt that gives you ripped abs without exercise are long shots. If they decide to risk a little bit of their money on those unlikely dreams, that's on them. More is wasted on less every day.

For ratings, ABC would like its viewers to believe we DR practitioners are mentalists, scam artists or worse who use our clever tricks to dupe the weak-minded people of lower-class America into buying our products. But it's just not true. I'll bet more than a few executives at ABC wear energy bracelets to the golf course or go home to their Ab Circles with the belief they can get a body like Ms. Lee in just a few minutes per day.

2 comments:

  1. "Plus, consumers aren't stupid. They know a bracelet that increases strength and balance and a belt that gives you ripped abs without exercise are long shots. If they decide to risk a little bit of their money on those unlikely dreams, that's on them."

    Wow, what a breathtakingly cynical (not to mention internally contradictory) remark.

    "It's on them"... Remember that the next time you or someone you care about gets ripped off for believing a lie.

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  2. You're begging the question. My point is it's not a ripoff.

    People I care about believe in many unlikely dreams, or what you would call "lies." They believe all the money they spend on lottery tickets is 'an investment' that could make them rich. They believe Social Security and Medicare will remain solvent and be able to support them in their old age. They believe purchasing a subscription to Consumer Reports will prevent them from making bad purchase decisions. And so on.

    My point is we are surrounded by unlikely dreams, so calling a certain (relatively cheap) one a "ripoff" is a bias used to sensationalize a story meant to sell people on the lie that ABC cares about protecting consumers (when their real motive is ratings and profits).

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