Saturday, January 28, 2006

"Achieve Almost Anything You Desire!"

You! Yes, you! Come a little closer--closer to the computer screen. Because the computer screen is your salvation. Yes--you heard right! Through the magic of pixels and programs, you too can transcend! All of your heart's desires--fulfilled! All of your formless hopes--given shape! Your wildest dreams--made real!

Such is the extravagant lure of an email I received, recently, via the account I used when I registered for the discussion groups of several leading gurus, including Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil McGraw. Which, for starters, leads me to believe that said gurus have been renting their mailing lists to other self-help purveyors. (In SHAMland, apparently, no number of income streams is ever quite enough...)

Anyway, the product in this case is called Mind Maker, and it represents one of the newest channels of SHAM delivery: your computer desktop.

It's rare that one finds so bold a statement of self-help's core ideals: "Achieve almost anything you desire!", says the main sales line of Mind Maker. The reason it's rare is that it would never be taken seriously; most of us would laugh our katoztkes off. But overt or not, that's always the basic message: Just put your mind to it, and it will happen. Believe it, achieve it.
The purveyors of this particular offering evidently don't see the humor in their own pitch, which--like that forthcoming world television premiere, The Secret--admits no insurmountable obstacles. You say you're 5-3 and you hope to play center in the NBA? No problem! What's that? You've got an eighth-grade education, but you want to teach astrophysics at MIT? Just give it a few months...ya never know! You're determined to win the current installment of American Idol even though you have a singing voice like Gwen Stefani? (Sorry, I couldn't resist. Musically speaking, she's dreadful. But this isn't MUSICblog, after all, so I apologize for the digression.) Hey, why didn't you say so!

More specifically, what will Mind Maker do for you? Among other things, it will "EFFORTLESSLY" (emphasis in original) allow you to:

...empower yourself with unstoppable confidence. A short course in SHAM-inspired buzzwords! And remember, this isn't just plain garden-variety confidence you'll be gaining; it's the unstoppable kind.

...absorb facts like a cranial sponge...develop a "super-glue" memory... Oh please. Gag me.

...activate "super learning" and advanced thinking. Suffice it to say, anybody with genuine advanced thinking would immediately hit the "delete" key on this offer.

...blast through limitation with ZERO effort. Enough said.

...attract the opposite sex. In SHAMland, a token nod to some form of sexual enhancement--more sex, better sex, sex with the people you really want to be having it with--seems always to be part of the pitch, no matter how tenuous the link between that and what they're selling.

And that's not all. This amazing product will also "implant highly desirable personality traits directly into your brain cells" and "realistically reprogram your brain to automatically improve your performance in almost anything you try your hand at...." Hmmmm. This one's reminiscent of our friends at Oughten House International, who promised to help you "change your DNA, change your life!" Incidentally, there's that almost again. Kinda makes me think they ran this stuff by legal and some canny in-house attorney said, "Uh, you may want to leave yourself some wiggle room there, fellas..."

The geniuses behind this campaign know that after four pages of breathless ad copy (broken at regular intervals by a large clickable button urging you to "Get Your Copy Now"), you, discerning consumer that you are, probably have a question or two that you'd like answered before you invest your $49.95. "At this point," they acknowledge, "you'll likely be thinking to yourself, 'does any of this actually work?' Well, I hope so anyway..."

Excuse me? They hope so anyway? That's their proof of efficacy? Then, in a masterstroke of understated hypocrisy, they go on to say that "with so many bogus claims being made by advertisers today, you have to remain vigilant."

You wonder: Where do some of these people get their cojones?

But the ad does go on to provide a bit more background on the theory behind Mind Maker, explaining that "the actually very straight-forward [sic]... Utilizing the unique subconscious perception delivery system, Mind Maker is located on the desktop of your Windows PC and fires SAFE and UNOBTRUSIVE 'mental commands' to your screen, at speeds that are absorbed directly by your subconscious mind... and 'activated' automatically by your brain cells. Because of the speed in which they're delivered to your screen, your conscious mind will merely see a 'flicker'...."

So there you have it. It's the latest twist on subliminal persuasion, which has been exposed more often than Paris Hilton. (The link in the previous sentence is a nice summary of the non-science behind this stuff. Click here for a complete bibliography on the subject from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.) But let's review just how many problems there are with Mind Maker, even before the subliminal hoax. First, we have the illogical over-promise: Quite simply, believe it, achieve it makes no sense, and has nothing to do with real-world choices. Then there's the implied link between affirmations (or self-talk) and outcome, which has never been demonstrated with any scientific validity. No evidence exists that saying nice things to yourself each morning as you shave or apply your lipstick will cause wonderful things to actually happen to you. (And think about it: How would one go about devising a valid control for such a study, anyhow?) It's complete, out-of-the-blue supposition, another one of those concepts--like self-esteem--that sounds nice, but lacks any foundation whatsoever. Finally, this suggestion that you somehow enjoy a measure of control over your biological make-up... Do we really need to go into that one?

I have no idea how well Mind Maker is selling. My guess is--at a mere fifty bucks--this offer has gotten its share of takers, people who shrug and figure it can't hurt (remember, though: we have no proof for this either) and may just possibly do them some good. But therein, again, lies the begged question that motivated me to write SHAM in the first place: Why are we spending money, even a dime, on things for which we have no real knowledge of utility, cost-effectiveness, or even safety?


Rodger Johnson said...

The metaphors and how SHAM copywriters frame a product's messages are interesting. George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, has published research indicating that how we use metaphors affects our perceprtions and our paradigms.

There is also a golden hint of Maslowism in the nuggets of advertising that you mined.

Steve Salerno said...

The Maslow thing is absolutely true, Rodg--and it's intentional. Maslow (and his hierarchy of needs) is a god among the SHAM set. For more on the genesis of this, anyone who's interested might want to check out Wendy Kaminer's excellent "I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional," which really attacks that theme in some depth.