CR: Many infomercial products not worth buying
After the show, take 10 minutes and allow the dopamine level to drop. Then decide whether you need to buy that thing.
We've all seen those products advertised on late-night TV infomercials that promise to solve problems like scrubbing baked-on crud from cookware, mopping up gallons of spilled milk and falling off ladders when cleaning gutters.
But -- surprise, surprise -- Consumer Reports' tests of 15 such products reveal that many of them are not worth buying.
According to the report, infomercials are a mighty money machine. They can chop marketing costs to as little as one-tenth the size of a traditional advertising campaign and slice posted prices when the total bill is pumped up with shipping and handling fees and other extras.
The secret, according to an advertising expert, lies in neuroscience. Infomercials are carefully scripted to pump up dopamine levels in your brain. The fun starts with dramatizations of a problem you didn't know you had, followed by an incredible solution, then a series of ever more amazing product benefits, bonuses and giveaways, all leading to the final thrilling plunge of an unbelievably low price. After the ride, dopamine levels drop in five or six minutes, which is why they ask you to buy in the next three minutes.
"Consumers should pause 10 minutes before buying anything from an infomercial and see if they can get the same job done for free or with a product that they already have in their house," said Jeff Blyskal, senior editor at Consumer Reports. "Think if you can find another solution for this 'problem.' Instead of buying an exercise machine, for example, doing sit-ups or just following a diet may accomplish the same thing."
In recent years, the magazine has turned up a mix of "miracle" gadgets and goops that deceived, delivered or landed somewhere in between. Additionally, a check of the ConsumerAffairs.com database found consumer complaints about the way these products were marketed.
Here's a look at some of the products:
Slap Chop. The manufacturer claims that by slapping this gadget, which costs about $20, with your palm, you can "dice, chop, and mince in seconds" and remove skins from onions and garlic. CR slapped mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, chocolate, almonds, and other foods and found that it chopped unevenly. Harder foods needed about 20 slaps and tended to get trapped in the blades. While garlic peels came off in five slaps, onion skins were only partially separated after 10.
Snuggie. "The Snuggie blanket keeps you totally warm," the company claims, and is made of "ultrasoft, luxurious fleece." You get two for $19.95. Consumer Reports testers put Snuggies through 10 wash-and-dry cycles and asked 11 staffers to check them out. The staffers found the Snuggie was so far from snug that several staffers had trouble walking. Each time CR laundered two Snuggies, they removed a sandwich bag worth of lint from the dryer.
- Bing: Snuggie pop culture
ShamWow. The ShamWow claim tells you, "Like a chamois, a towel, a sponge, works wet or dry, holds 12 times its weight in liquid." You get eight towels -- four 19½-by-23½-inch towels and four 15-by-15-inch towels -- for $19.95. Testers at the magazine dunked ShamWows in water, soda and milk until each could hold no more liquid, and tested the small ones to see if they could slurp up as much water, milk and used motor oil as sponges. As it turned out, ShamWow soaked up only 10 times its weight in water or soda and usually 12 times its weight in milk. If testers used a damp ShamWow, they needed another cloth to wipe remaining droplets.
Related reading at ConsumerAffairs.com:
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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