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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.

By Karen Datko Jan 5, 2010 4:27PM

This post comes from James Limbach at partner site


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.


CR's experts suggest that some of the products not worth paying for are the Slap Chop dicer, the Snuggie, the ShamWow, the Ab Circle Pro, Debbie Meyer Green Bags and the iRobot Looj gutter cleaner.


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 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.

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.

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