Tag Archives: marketing tactics

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I recently got a reader question in my inbox about a particular weight-loss supplement. While my gut reaction off the bat is almost always "that's probably bullshit", I wanted to put in the time and actually do some research.

I have a general system and a few trusted sources I go to when trying to get an honest review of something. It didn't take too long to confirm that the product in question was probably not worth the money.

(Fool-proof test: does the product have one of those videos with a guy drawing a bunch of cartoons with a marker and a cool voice-over? Does he tell you he's not sure how long the video will be up - presumably "The Man" doesn't want his super-secret info around for the public - so you must watch the whole thing now?)

You know what I'm talking about.

It's definitely the leptin, not the pizza in her hand.

But I was left wondering, what if I hadn't spent enough time researching stuff like this to know some strategies for spotting and filtering out crap? How would I, as a potential consumer, try to find reviews of a product?

Well, I'd probably Google it... Unfortunately, that can sometimes be more misleading than illuminating. Let's go through what happens when I Google "Leptiburn review":

The Results

LeptiburnReview

So I went through the entire first page of results here, and found what appeared to be a list of fake review sites. Why did I feel they were fake?

Well, the two sites circled in red to the left were the only sites on the first page that had any hint of criticism in their reviews.

Now, some of those sites in blue had "criticisms" but they were the kind of things you would say if someone asked you in an interview what your biggest weakness is:

"Ugh, Leptiburn is just SO ENERGIZING that I can't take it a few hours before bed because I'll be up all night."

"It doesn't replace diet and exercise! ...but I lost like 25 pounds in 2 weeks."

"Leptiburn took like, A WHOLE WEEK to ship, because I live outside of the US. So unreasonable." 

"Make sure that you don't lose too much weight too quickly with this product! Wouldn't that just be awful?" 

I dug around a bit more on the product review sites circled in blue. Almost every program or supplement reviewed gets a glowing recommendation, conveniently followed with links to where you can buy the product. This leads me to think these sites exist simply to be high on Google rankings when a potential consumer is trying to find an honest review.

Really, just dig around on the Real Vs. Scam site a bit. I haven't found even one product concluded to be a scam. And remember, all comments on the internet are not authentic. As is pointed out in the Bullshit Detector Guidebook, testimonials and even before & after pictures are very, very easy to fake.

Why This Matters

I often hear people say there's no excuse for ignorance about how to lose weight or get in shape since the internet has everything you could possibly want to know. That's partially true, but the internet also has heaps of unhelpful advice - and if you've never worked out a day in your life how are you to know the difference?

If someone comes to you for advice asking a question perhaps you've answered a thousand times, or something you feel they should obviously know is a scam fad diet or pill, try to reserve judgement. Answer empathetically and honestly - we can't all be experts in every subject, and some companies out there really do try to make it difficult for the layman to find good information.

So How do I Find Good Information?

Unfortunately, it can take some work.

When I'm feeling particularly lazy, these are usually the top three places I go to get solid information on supplement or nutrition-related topics (but bear in mind, I don't draw final conclusions from them):

  1. Examine
  2. Alan Aragon's Research Review
  3. Precision Nutrition

However, let's say you're looking to review a specific product, like Leptiburn. Your first stop would be to learn about leptin itself and its role in weight control. Then you would want to try and find studies on the effect of leptin supplementation on humans. (You'd probably then find that the quantity of leptin often isn't the problem for very overweight people, it's leptin sensitivity - then you'd have to look up if the ingredients in Leptiburn improve sensitivity.)

These steps take time, make no mistake...and there really is no shortcut for this kind of thing.

Moral

My advice, as always, is that if you do not have the time or inclination to research a subject, reserve judgement. You can have an opinion based on what you do know, but be open to the idea that you may be wrong. I recommend debating people in a respectful manner based on what you do know, and with an open mind. They may know something you don't, and you can change your opinion from there.

And definitely don't trust mass review sites that have no negative criticisms of any products.

(taken from wikipedia)

"A lie, Mr. Mulder, is most convincingly hidden between two truths."

-Deep Throat, The X-files

It's Sunday morning and you're awoken by sunlight streaming through your shades.  Groggily, you reach over for your phone to check the time.

...

Revision: it's Sunday afternoon.  You had a pretty hard night - even if you didn't remember exactly how much you drank, your inability to stand up without stumbling would have reminded you.  That's what happens when it's nickel shot night at O'Halligan's.

Your head is killing you and walking is proving quite difficult.  Do you:

  • A) Find the nearest Waffle House, stat
  • B) Take some advil and settle in to watch The Princess Bride for the millionth time
  • C) Salt the shit out of two scrambled eggs and wash it down with a Diet Coke (that was my tactic, anyway)
  • D) Grab some Vitamin Water then go about your day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Haha, Amish people!  That's so random and edgy Vitamin Water, you totally get me.

Well, this commercial would lead you to believe that 'D' is the best option.  Here are the claims made in this commercial.  The first two are stated explicitly, while the last is implicit - meaning they never actually say this, but it is glaringly obvious from the commercial.

  1. Vitamin Water Revive has B vitamins and potassium
  2. Vitamin Water Revive will re-hydrate you
  3. Vitamin Water Revive will relieve hangovers

Let's look at these claims more in-depth:

Vitamin Water Revive has B Vitamins and Potassium

VitaminWaterConfused

By 120 I mean 125.  If you know the reason behind the differences here, let me know!

This is true.  It DOES have these things.  However, in trying to find exactly how much, I came across some confusion in the actual nutrition label on Vitamin Water and what their website says.  It's possible this nutrition label information is out of date.

However, you shouldn't stop questioning there.  The next question you need to ask is:

Why does it matter that this product has B vitamins and potassium?

In the context of normal day-to-day life, it doesn't matter.  If you're not vegetarian, you're likely not deficient in any B vitamins.  If you're not competing or training in endurance sports or suffering from diarrhea, you're likely not deficient in potassium.  These are rare conditions.

So, if you're suffering from a hangover, does that change things?  We'll go over that in our last point.

Vitamin Water will re-hydrate you

Well, the first ingredient in Vitamin Water is - you guessed it - water.  (Right before the second ingredient - sugar.  Mmmm it's like hydration candy, delicious!)

Delicious hydration candy. Just look at all dat sugar. (taken from brobility.com)

So yeah, if you're dehydrated, Vitamin Water can help re-hydrate you.  So could tap water, or diet coke, or Gatorade, or tea, or broth...you get the idea.

Vitamin Water will relieve hangovers

Well, this is where we're getting into bullshit territory.  You would think that given humanity's long history of enjoying getting hammered, we'd understand hangovers better. Unfortunately, we don't have a strong grasp on exactly why they happen.

Home remedies abound however, usually consisting of some kind of salty food and water to 're-hydrate' you.  We all know that dehydration is the real cause of hangovers, right?

Well, it doesn't seem to be that easy.  Many hangover cures have been tried and found wanting.  (1, 2, 3) Dehydration only seems to account for a small fraction of symptoms, such as dry mouth.

But, that's not really my point.  This isn't an article about hangover cures.

My point was to draw your attention to one of many health and fitness marketing tactics: hiding the bullshit between some non-bullshit.  You can find examples all over the place.  Often you'll see this in nutrition products or supplements:

But you can also find it in different fitness routines:

SpotTheBullshit

I encourage you to go to the full website for hilarious explanations of the benefits of various yoga poses.

In this case you have one realistic claim and two bullshit ones.  A warm muscle is easier to stretch (4), detoxification is bullshit, and it's doubtful that a hot environment would increase cardiovascular benefits. (5 - an ACE sponsored study that I couldn't find in any database so take it with a grain of salt.  Here's a different study showing benefits of training in heat...but it's with cyclists, who undoubtedly have a much different adaptation to their training the hot yogis.)

Or in fitness products, like the Sketcher's "Shape Up" shoes (I encourage you to watch this video and look for the numerous questionable promises), which claim to:

  1. Maximize calorie burn
  2. Improve circulation
  3. Strengthen muscles

While Shape-Ups (or literally any other footwear...or just your bare feet) could improve circulation and strengthen muscles - due to the fact that you are exercising while wearing them - they do not significantly change the amount of calories you burn performing a particular exercise.  But it's easy to glance over that when you're watching an entire infomercial, isn't it?

Moral

Beware of the many claims put forth in advertisements and promotions of health and fitness products.  It may be true that a protein powder helps build lean muscle and keep you full, but it probably doesn't keep your blood sugar levels steady or promote alert thinking while somehow at the same time reducing anxiety.

Take every claim one at a time.  Many times the real benefits are just the benefits you'd get from eating any kind of food, or doing any kind of exercise, then with your defenses lowered they hit you with a bogus, too-good-to-be-true claim.  More than likely you'll take it.

Trust no advertisement.  That should have been Deep Throat's advice in the X-files.  Perhaps not as pertinent to Mulder, though.