Monday, February 25, 2008

'This ad has been carefully formulated to make you hate yourself.'

Returning once more to the enthusiastic non-claims that advertisers make for their products nowadays... I just saw another one of those tacky, godawful commercials for the (supposed) diet aid Cylaris. Though the name might not ring a bell, you've almost surely seen the spots: The central action has this self-conscious young woman walking down the supermarket aisle in her blue swimsuit, looking slightly padded but far from hideous, yet mortified nonetheless (we are to assume) over the condition of her tummy, hips and thighs. (As we know, the American diet industry, like all quadrants of the SHAMsphere, will leave no stone unturned in making consumers, particularly women, feel bad about themselves.) Then comes the pitchman, who tells us that Cylaris is the answer to this poor creature's prayers because, you see, it has been "formulated to support favorable metabolic signaling." Lo and behold, a few moments later we see the woman again, post-Cylaris, only this time she looks like a cross between a Sports Illustrated cover model and a competitor in the next Ms. Olympia.

And every time I see this ad, I end up asking myself two questions:

1. Why would anybody be walking down a supermarket aisle in her swimsuit? But more to the point,

2. Could someone please tell me what, if anything, the makers of Cylaris, Iovate Health Sciences, mean when they say the product is "formulated to support favorable metabolic signaling"?

I'll tell you what they mean: Nothing. It's another one of those phrases, so common throughout the land of "self-improvement," that sound like a million bucks but contain maybe 34 cents' worth of actual, meaningful content. In fact, let's break the phrase down to its component parts and look at what a truly remarkable piece of non-communication* it is:

"...formulated to..."
Right off the bat, this construction gives the makers of Cylaris plausible deniability. Though it sounds scientific and pharmacological, what it really does is pointedly avoid making any claim of actual efficacy. It's the equivalent of my saying, "I planned this blog to have a far-reaching social impact." That statement says nothing about the blog's actual impact; it simply establishes my intent. Confronted with a demand to prove efficacy, Iovate could sensibly respond, "Look, we simply said that we formulated it to do-such-and-such. We never actually claimed that it does such-and-such."

Here again, support is distinct from a claim of effective causation. I could say that my blog "supports" intellectual discussion. Parents might say that they've established a household climate that "supports" respect for education. That's a whole lot softer than saying, "In this house, we insist that our kids take their studies seriously."

"...favorable metabolic signaling..."
Though even this phrase could be further parsed (favorable being another one of those words that seems to be making a claim but actually isn't), for now we'll take it at face value—and I feel safe in saying that, taking it at face value, I have no idea what it means. A Google search on the full three-word term** yields a mere three hits, all of which seem to refer in some way to the Cylaris ad and/or related advertising. A search on the phrase "metabolic signaling" yields thousands of hits, but they're all over the physiological map, covering cardiology, kinesiology and everything in between. I also find it significant that if you Google the search terms Cylaris + metabolic + signaling, you get zero hits. What this tells me is that Cylaris has never been the subject of any study that sought to evaluate its effect on "metabolic signaling." It's just words, folks.

FYI, comments about Cylaris on a Web discussion board are underwhelming.

* And, I'm betting, carefully lawyered non-communication at that.
** Yes, I also tried it with the alternate spelling of signaling, i.e., signalling. The results were similar.


ourfriendben said...

"Metabolic signaling," eh? Gotta love that. Brings to mind visions of one's metabolism waving semaphores that say "Save me from this mindless trash!"

Elizabeth said...

Their product -- and their ad campaign -- are no different from hundreds of others of this type on the market.

You know, Steve, what makes me laugh when I see those before and after photos is that one does not have to lose any weight to achieve this look. You suck in your stomach, straighten your back, push your chest forward, stand slightly to the side with legs crossed and your hip forward -- and voila! You are 15 lbs lighter. (Don't forget to ask the photographer to use the right light and angle. And his photoshop tricks afterwards to get rid of love handles.)

But "favorable metabolic signaling"... Whoa.

You gotta give'em props for creativity.

Elizabeth said...

Or audacity, really.

Anonymous said...

What if you're a fat and impotent male who gets your drugs confused? You take the cyloris and think its your cialris and nothing happens! I bet a lot of men will be going to their doctors confused.

Steve Salerno said...

Oh what I could do with that one--if I were of such a mind. But I'm trying to keep it clean. ;)

Elizabeth said...

Steve, this is also another weight loss product that "works best" when combined with "a sensible diet and a regular exercise program."

It is hard not to notice that anything can work as a "weight loss supplement" when combined with a diet and regular exercise. Even chocolate. Especially since "sensible" or "proper" diet is never defined in those ads. For all we know, when the ad writers say "sensible," they may mean three carrots and two celery sticks a day -- and nothing else.

I also notice this helpful advice attached to Cylaris: "Do not snack after dinner. Consume ten 8 oz. glasses of water per day."

Ten glasses of water per day? Why? To fill you up and suppress hunger? But that was Cylaris' job, was it not?

(I imagine that much water cannot be good for you, btw.)

I'll stick to chocolate,* I think.

*Combined with a draconic diet and strenuous exercise.

Steve Salerno said...

Right, exactly, Elizabeth. That's what I love about all these "magic pill" diet programs: They work best in combination with what amounts to a 1000-calorie diet and a stepped-up fitness program that burns 500-750 calories per day. So the user is suddenly experiencing a net caloric intake of just 250 or 500 calories. But of course, it's the pill that "supports" the weight loss. Uh-huh.

Hey, I have an idea for a new diet program! Go out each afternoon and feed exactly 7 crows. Then come back in the house and paint 1 (one) wall in each room bright green. Then yell "boo!" when the mailperson arrives. Do this for six months in combination with a diet of just six mangoes daily and a program of vigorous exercise, and I guarantee a dramatic weight loss!

ourfriendben said...

Love that idea! Call it the "Nevermore Diet" (promise: diet nevermore!) and you're off and running.

Lana said...

I have a contribution for your new diet program, Steve.

Several years ago I edited training materials for a well-known weight loss company. One day I decided to write a section about how to enjoy decadent cookies without the worry. I divulged the secret of "lipid reversal."

All you need to do is break a cookie in half and let it sit for a minute for the fat to break up and evaporate. For even better results, break the cookie into quarters.

The crazy thing is that almost everyone (outside the company) who read this special section believed it!

Elizabeth said...

OK, I follow you (call your agent):

Salerno&Co. Fool-proof Amazing Weight Loss Program (FAWL) in 3 easy steps*! For only $39.99 a month (plus shipping and handling, for a FAWL brochure, paint and crows; crow feed and mangoes not included).

If you call within the next 10 minutes, we will include an extra crow and two paint brushes. Limited time offer. Hurry! Call now 1-800-EAT-CROW.

*Results may vary. Best when combined with vigorous exercise and patient mailmen. The effects on mailmen are not typical. Prolonged yelling at your mailman may result in deafness, violent rage and accidental dismemberment. Use extreme caution while interacting with wild crows. As always before beginning any weight loss program, consult your physician.

Steven Sashen said...

"For added weight loss, please eat these instructions before your next meal. Continue eating all packaging until you reach your goal weight. If you run out of cardboard and packing peanuts before your next shipment, call and we'll rush you..."

Steven Sashen said...

What's missing from the ad is the BEFORE Before picture... where she looked like the AFTER picture.

"Before" is really, "middle" or "after having a baby" or, "while taking our other product, Fattylaris, formulated to support 'before picture' metabolism."

Anonymous said...

I have not seen this ad, but it reminds me of the fat suit stunts talk show hosts do on occasion. These ads and those shows always have an underlying message that there is something "wrong" with the person that can be fixed with a magic pill or exploits the overweight person. I remember Tara Banks putting on a fat suit and going around showing how badly fat people, especially women, are treated. Tara made sure she got noticed, was pretty rude, and dressed horribly. Whether you are fat or not, no one is going to win friends with her attitude. All that show proved to me was her beauty is only skin deep. I remember how Dr. Phil's diet bars bombed and strained his relationship with Mama Oprah. What was he thinking? At least be of a decent weight to hawk a diet product. Was he so arrogant that he thought the average fat American was dumb enough to buy from a fat celebrity?

mikecane2008 said...

And in very-related news:

Enzyte Maker Found Guilty of Fraud

And what the C guys are doing by mentioning "metabolic signaling" is to try to cash in on the new buzzphrase of "metabolic syndrome."

BTW, that before picture? Once upon a time in this country, that was a *normal* woman. I was just two days ago looking at a bunch of old 1960s TV ads starring Anita Bryant -- she had that body!

Steve Salerno said...

Mike, re the Enzyte thing, I could play this strictly for laughs, but they've been a pet peeve of mine for a long, long time. And that series of commercials with our friend Smiling Bob (and his horny, ever-hopeful wife): Yeah, OK, it was meant to be campy, but could they possibly work a few more phallic symbols into the mix? (My personal favorite was his neighbor's drooping garden hose. Je-zus!)

On the other hand, if you pay close attention to the Cialis (not Cylaris) commercials, you see the symbolism there, too: tall trees, waves crashing onshore, etc. I guess we keep seeing this crap (hokey as it is) for the same reason we keep seeing dirty political ads: It works.

Anonymous said...

Has there ever been a study on people who get their drugs confused? I am hit with so many drug commercials that I can't keep them straight. Thankfully I am not taking any prescribed medication, but if I were, I would be scared. When I hear the disclaimers about the drugs, I feel safer being drug less. I would rather keep my restless legs and discolored toe nails instead of having liver problems.

mikecane2008 said...


You will find this hard to believe, but I watch so little TV that I've never, ever seen an Enzyte spot (I have, OTOH, seen the MacBook Air about 20 times!; go figure!).

I'm familiar with the product because I've heard their radio ads. Radio is filled, drowning, in snake-oil ads and "infomercials." The FCC and FTC should be ashamed.

Steve Salerno said...

Mike, now, you know the FCC is way too busy policing Janet Jackson's boob...

mark the deacon said...

This is a Christian nation whether we use phrases like "under God" or not. We still live by Judeo-Christian concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, etc. You talk about the U.S. Constitution but, in fact those very documents are founded on religious concepts, and express the concepts by which we live in this nation, which are also religious in nature. So if you object to the phrasing and the explicit use of words that sound "religious", that's fine, but what's really the difference?