Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pop quiz: When is $20 really $200? Read on.

Several times during this morning's Opening Day MLB broadcast from Tokyo, which (God-help-me) I watched live beginning at 6 a.m., I was treated to a splashy ad for 24-Hour Fitness clubs. "Sign up now," said the ebullient spokeswoman, "and pay just a $24 initiation fee!" As she said this, a huge green $24 assaulted viewers from her right. But under the huge green $24 was smaller lettering—the literal fine print—that said this: "…plus a $79 processing fee and the first and last month's dues." I went to the company site, linked above, to investigate what those dues might amount to. Finding no 24-Hour Fitness clubs within 50 miles of me, I tried Manhattan, and promptly located one where the dues are $89 a month. So let's sum up: $24 plus $79 plus $89-times-2 = $281. But tell ya what. We know Manhattan's kinda pricey. Let's assume that the New York City membership is twice that of a club in, say, Sioux City, Iowa. You'd still have a situation where "just $24!" somehow becomes $191. Therefore, I ask you today, as I've asked previously: Is anything advertised in this country on the up-and-up? How can people watch an ad like that and not say to themselves, if not aloud, "I am just so sick and tired of the b.s.!" More to the point, where do advertisers get the nerve to use a hook like "just $24!" when they're admitting, right in that very ad, that $24 really equals something like $200? I guess they figure the typical consumer is so jaded by now that we don't even care.

Not all of the ads during the game touted 24-Hour Fitness clubs. A few were about a fat-burning revelation called Lipozene. The manufacturer of the product, the Obesity Research Institute, LLC, claims to have in its possession a "clinical study" affirming Lipozene's amazing ability to simply melt away fat with no other lifestyle changes on the user's part. You can continue eating as you always have...and you don't need to join a 24-Hour Fitness club, either! I went to the Lipozene site, certain that they'd give prominent play to their clinical research. (The Obesity Research Institute—and this may shock you—is not a part of the National Institutes of Health. But ORI isn't exactly unknown in Washington, either. It's actually quite well-known to the FTC.) And guess what, the nice lady in the white lab coat who anchors the online pitch for Lipozene said that there were not just one, but "12 clinical studies" that support the product; there were also testimonials from people using words like "miracle" and "fantastic." But strangely, I found no link to the actual studies, nor any descriptions of where they'd been done, how they'd been conducted, etc. In separate research, however, I did find a discussion board for Lipozene users. They do not seem as upbeat as the lady in the white coat. And their disenchantment was not limited to the product itself; several reported unauthorized charges that appeared on their charge cards for quantities of Lipozene far in excess of the amount ordered. And get this: One woman, "Dorothy," who says she merely ordered the "$29 trial" of Lipozene, ended up getting billed for a total of $205.

Now that is an authentic "miracle"! Once again, $20-something has turned into $200-something, right before our eyes.


Anonymous said...


Shouldn't any product that "melts away body fat" be covered under the PT Barnum exception clause regarding any false advertising claims? It's a simple litmus test, and any moron who falls for it should also lose their right to vote in all elections, too.

"No money down!" auto leases are also annoying ads - usually you have to trade in a car worth $5,500 in order to get that "no money down" deal. The local car delaers are advertising this heavily during March Madness round 1 games.

Are sports fans as dumb as the advertisers think?

Steve Salerno said...

Well, sports fans tend to buy into what I call "sportsthink" lock, stock and barrel. (Look up some of the tags on the posts.) So, yes, in a word, many sports fans are that dumb, I guess.

Steven Sashen said...

The thought of body fat MELTING away has now left me with an indelible image of walking down the street leaving puddles of melted body fat in my wake.


BTW, for a blood-boiling good time, read "Gotcha Capitalism" which is all about this situation that has you so vexed. One problem, human beings with their cognitive biases are more likely to buy the $24 that becomes $200 than they are to a pitch that says "It's $200"...even if they KNOW the $20 becomes $200.

Anonymous said...


Your PR Guy said...


This is a prime example showing how advertising is dead. You're not the only one saying, "Oh, please! Give me a break."

But there will always be a sucker born everyday.