Do you feel forgetful sometimes? Worrying about whether you left the iron or if you need to buy milk?
You need BRAINMax. BRAINMax is a natural, organic, traditional supplement which will regularise your brain aptitude and at the same time promote memoriness. It can also help reduce thought-decay, while its natural, soothing essences help the brain reconstruct idea-cells, meaning you can relax and enjoy your life!
Sounds pretty good, eh? Five'll get you ten that I could sell this product successfully to any number of chumps who'd lap this kind of sillyness up. It doesn't matter what's actually in the bottle - probably a few vitamins and exotic sounding plant extracts like Salvia lavandulifolia, which incidentally is used as a 'memory aid'. Just to be clear, the above product is a figment of my beer-happy brain.
It *should* raise the eyebrows of anyone with a basic skim of GSCE level science yet the world is full of it. You'll probably have come across things like 'cellular health', 'brain boosting supplements', and 'wellness' or the liberal sprinkling of real terms used flippantly like "mental fatigue". All are marketing terms, used effectively to avoid using real words with real meanings, because that would make their claims falsifiable - i.e. you could be asked to prove what you're saying and therefore not just make shit up.
It's easy to claim that a product 'supports good heart health'. It is a completely unfalsifiable statement. How could you test it? The phrase 'Good heart health' is so woolly that trying to probe what it means would be as futile as liquidising a ghost.
But it has been forever thus, and really all that happens is marketeers get ballsier and better at mangling science, to provide the intelligent-sounding copy that will hopefully shift whatever units they're selling. There's a huge subject on the psychology of sales and selling, but that's for others to harp on about.
What prompted the outpouring of pseudoscientific dangly-bits above was a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority, the industry-funded regulator of all things adverty. Whilst it is generally a force for good, it's pretty weak when it comes to sanctions, but does seem to act fairly and efficiently on behalf of the consumer.
This week, the ASA ruled on a company called Healthspan Ltd. Healthspan Ltd are no strangers to ASA rulings, having 5 previous complaints against them upheld for misleading advertising of one sort or another.
It should also be noted that the head office is given as St Peter's Port, Guernsey, which was also, for a while, the address of serial ASA-offender and regular feature of this blog, Intramed.
This time, however, the ASA deemed the complaint unwarranted and it was not upheld. The complainant had felt that words and phrases like "optiflex" and "joint synergex" implied the product being advertised had some efficacy (presumably against arthritis of various forms) and asked whether the claims could be justified.
The ruling from the ASA is intriguing:
We (ASA) ... noted that "Synergex" was not a word in the English language, and not defined in the context of the ad. We therefore did not consider that the word Synergex implied efficacy, and concluded the ad was not misleading on that point.
So, if I can put it this way, as long as you use words that aren't used in the English language (i.e. have a defined meaning) then it's open season. So my ad above talking about "memoriness", "thought-decay" and "idea-cage" would be given the all-clear by the watchdog. It's also worth noting that
Healthspan had ensured that Optiflex advertising was accompanied by a prominent disclaimer stating "Not clinically proven to optimise flexibility"
(It's well known within and without the pill industry that glucosamine is pretty much a placebo, but it is a cheap product with a big markup, so continued belief is important for revenues. Everyone knows the game is up, except those people spending their hard-earned cash on a glimmer of hope of release from the grinding and unrelenting pain of arthritis. Classy ethics.)
In fairness, the ruling is reasonable enough - no-one complained about the Renault Clio's "Va va voom" adverts, even though we all knew what the implication was. (Ironically, the adverts were based around trying to pin down exactly what va-va-voom meant).
The important thing is to beware of new words and phrases used in adverts to describe products or benfits, where you know what they mean/imply but they don't seem quite right. Ask yourself the question.... why didn't they use the right word?
Are they offering some fraudulity with extract of poppycock?
JDC325 has also covered this on Stuff And Nonsense
DC has also covered Healthspan and their antics in previous blogposts here and here.
Edited 4/3/11: In a slightly cheeky way, I offered this blogpost to the Pod Delusion, as I thought maybe the format of the advert could be a bit of fun to do in audio. Mr O'Malley kindly agreed and allowed me to take 'prepublished' blog material for the Pod Delusion as a one-off. The script is changed a bit for clarity and for a different audience - extra thanks to @noodlemaz for cracking (dare I say 'sexy'?) voiceover in the Advert and to Beastie for being the voice of the ASA.