Thursday, February 21, 2008

Actually, I guess they could use the same name, huh?

It began with HeadOn.

You know what I'm talking about: those annoying commercials that by now are so famous for being annoying that HeadOn runs second-generation spots in self-parody: "HeadOn! I hate your commercials...but I love your product!" You have to wonder, or at least I do: Did they plan this from the outset? Did they realize just how irritating that original pitch would be and purposely green-light the campaign so that later they could get added mileage out of the whole thing by spoofing themselves? If so, it was sheer genius. One imagines that the HeadOn spots will never win a Clio or a trophy in any other glossy advertising competition; they're just so low-rent, and the ad industry, like Hollywood on Oscar night, likes to reward panache, imagination and glitter. But if you judge by efficacy—which is what advertisers ought to judge by—you gotta give props to the company behind HeadOn, Miralus Healthcare. ABC reported in 2006 that "in less than a year" after the ads began running, Miralus sold some 6 million tubes at $8 a pop. (For the math-impaired types we talked about in our last post, that adds up to $48 million.) The ChapStick-like product has now spawned an entire family of other "-On"s: ActivOn (joint and muscle pain), FirstOn (itch), PreferOn (scar therapy), etc. One supposes it won't be long before they have a cure-in-a-tube for anything and everything that ails you.

Two questions here:
1. Does HeadOn really do anything?
2. Does anyone care?

HeadOn has been the subject of skeptical scientific reporting by CBS News, ABC News and others. Anecdotally, evidence of its usefulness is mixed (and of course, in those cases where people say it works, one cannot discount the placebo effect, or mere coincidence). For its part, Miralus seems to be treading a fine line, walking awfully close to the ledge when it comes to the bargain it makes with consumers. The company's products are homeopathic concoctions and make no use of any actual drugs that fall under FDA regulation; therefore, they have not formally been certified as safe or effective. That doesn't necessarily mean that HeadOn is unsafe or ineffective. It means...well, we just don't know. (Of course, homeopathy as a "field" has been debunked more often than Britney Spears gets pulled over by cops these days.) And yet a passage on the Miralus site says the company "is dedicated to developing innovative and high-quality pharmaceutical, cosmetic and dietary supplement products. Our mission is to research, develop, and market exceptional healthcare solutions that help improve day-to-day living." Pharmaceutical? Healthcare solutions? That sounds like medical lingo to me. It sounds like something you'd expect to find in the first pages of an annual report from Pfizer or Eli Lilly. In fact, click here and read the first paragraph of Lilly's corporate overview.

Interestingly enough, in its earliest advertising, Miralus made some mildly concrete claims about HeadOn's effectiveness against migraine and such. This prompted some lower-level consumer watchdogs to ask for documentation. At which point Miralus, instead of producing that evidence, simply stopped making claims. Of any kind. It instructed prospective buyers to "apply directly to the forehead," making no specific mention of why someone might want to do such a thing or what benefit HeadOn might offer in return.

And guess what. It made no difference. People bought the stuff anyway.

This goes back to what we said about how in this culture, celebrity = credibility. Get your product or program in the media and people will buy it...just like that. It doesn't matter if your product is a hokey self-help regimen or a supposed headache panacea. Apparently, it doesn't even matter that much if your product never says exactly what it's for or what it does. Just get it on TV, make your fortune before anyone bothers to investigate the factual basis of what you're selling (if ever), and make your not-so-clean getaway. We saw the same thing with Kevin Trudeau and his wildly successful Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About. Consumers bought the Big Lie; when people started coming forward with the Unhappy Truth, Trudeau already had his millions safely socked away. This is also the same phenomenon that explains why Hollywood will open an especially bad flick with an all-out, one-weekend ad blitz; they figure that by the time the public gets wind of the lousy reviews or the damning word-of-mouth spreads coast-to-coast, they've at least got a couple of weekends of box-office receipts in the till. (Yet it gives me great pleasure to report that despite such tactics, Paris Hilton's latest star turn, the intellectual tour-de-force The Hottie and the Nottie, flat-out bombed. Sometimes there is justice in life.)

Meanwhile, getting back to Miralus.... I can't wait to see what they call their product for erectile dysfunction.


Anonymous said...

Geez, I'm stunned that they haven't made FatOn (or maybe FatOff?!). It would sell more than all the rest combined: Just stick it to your paunch and poof! away it goes! (Not your paunch personally, of course, Steve--previous posts would lead one to believe that you're doing fine in the fat wars.)

As for migraine sufferers--who I discovered after reading Oliver Sacks the other day refer to themselves as migraineurs, as though it were a profession--the pain of migraine headaches, tension headaches, and the like is so excruciating that folks who suffer them would probably try anything, no matter how preposterous, to make it stop. Better to slap a stick of gunk to your forehead than a gun! I don't know if you saw the movie "Pi" (the symbol), but it displayed the nature of migraine pain (for that matter, any pain) more graphically and effectively than anything I've ever seen or read. (Take it from one who'd been there.) Its climax occurs when the protagonist pinpoints the source of his unbearable pain and literally drills a hole in his head to make it stop. (In the movie, this works.) Too bad he didn't have a stick of HeadOn to try instead...

Anonymous said...

I'd think "Head Up" would be better, wouldn't it?

Steven Sashen said...

I'm liking:


...or the new and improved

HeadOn -- now with BrainOff

Steve Salerno said...

Regrettably, I think BrainOff is not required as an additive in this product formulation, as it seems to be a naturally occurring phenomenon in such situations....

Anonymous said...

BrainOff is great! Steven Sashen does it again!

Steve Salerno said...

Steven: Please stop giving yourself kudos under a pseudonym. (Hmmm. Would that be a...kudonym, then?)

I'm just kidding, of course. The blog clearly benefits from your offbeat input, Steven.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, there is no scientific way to prove or disprove a person actually has a headache. There is no test, or scan or MRI which shows the existence of a headache; yet we all have them at one time or another.

I'm thinking if "Miracle Grow" weren't already taken...

mikecane2008 said...

>>>It instructed prospective buyers to "apply directly to the forehead," making no specific mention of why someone might want to do such a thing or what benefit HeadOn might offer in return.

Whoa. Do you know that the first time I saw that spot I couldn't understand what it was for? It might have been for fever relief! The miracle of making no explicit claim!

It's interesting that you bring up the topic of, broadly, cures. I just posted this in my blog today:

Simvastatin Made Me Insane

Feel free to drop a comment there or lambast me here. (Click on the Statin Drugs category for past posts; I forgot to link back at the end. Not 100% yet...)

Yekaterina said...

This post was worth it just for the last line. I'm still laughing.

The Crack Emcee said...

Hey Mike,

From reading your blog, I can see we don't agree on everything, but, I just wanted to tell you, I'm thoroughly enjoying it anyway.

Good stuff, Man.

Bill said...

Brilliant! At first I thought you made up the Head On Product, and was laughing all the way until I discovered it was for real. I guess reality beats fiction anytime