You can sell people just about anything by dressing someone up in a lab coat. The folks who put out all the “alternative medicine” and herbal supplement nonsense take full advantage of the fact that most people aren’t great at critical thinking. Make up a bunch of claims, get someone in a lab coat to shill for it, and chances are you’ll find more than enough people to not only buy it, but to sit around and sing its praises in testimonials.
The following video clip is from an episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit from last year in which they did just that. Setting up a guy in a lab coat in a shopping mall they had him try out magnet therapy (using demagnetized and fake magnets), a chiropractic coat, and a snail facial mask on various passersby. It didn’t take long to find people who said they felt these alternative therapies were providing them with some benefit, no matter how ridiculous they were:
As P&T point out, these aren’t stupid people. They’re just overly trusting and, I would add, a tad bit overly credulous. The fact that the guy doing the tests was in a lab coat should have set off alarm bells to begin with as it’s one of the most common cliches used in such advertising pitches, but then it’s used so much because it does tend to work. In this case I’m willing to bet the people shown are open to the idea of alternative medicines to begin with and so they fall prey to confirmation bias, which is something we all can fall victim to no matter how intelligent we happen to be. This is why it’s helpful to keep abreast in at least a general way of what the snake-oil salesmen are peddling and what the broader scientific community has to say about it. Or, at the very least, be skeptical of unusual claims until you can dig up the research supporting it.
Who is Kevin Trudeau? He’s the “alternative medicine” slimeball who sells books full of miracle cures that the Powers That Be supposedly hope you’ll never find out about. With titles like Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About and The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About this asshole has made millions off the gullibility of desperate people with cancer and other serious illnesses. The FTC finally broke down and successfully sued his ass back in 1998 for making false and misleading claims in his infomercials getting him barred from making such claims again and a $500,000 fine. In 2003 the FTC charged him with violating the 1998 order by making claims that a product called “Coral Calcium Supreme” would cure cancer and got an injunction barring him from making said claims, which he promptly ignored resulting in a contempt of court finding which fined him another $2 million and banned him from appearing in infomercials. If you’ve spent any recent time flipping channels in the wee hours of the morning, however, then you’re probably aware that he ignored that ruling as well.
A federal judge has ordered infomercial marketer Kevin Trudeau to pay more than $37 million for violating a 2004 stipulated order by misrepresenting the content of his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”
In August 2008, Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois had ordered Trudeau to pay more than $5 million and banned him, for three years, from producing or publishing infomercials for products in which he has an interest. The ruling confirmed an earlier contempt finding, the second such finding against Trudeau in the past four years.
Urged by both the FTC and Trudeau to reconsider aspects of its August order, on November 4 Judge Gettleman amended the judgment to $37,616,161, the amount consumers paid in response to the deceptive infomercials. The judge also revised the three-year ban to prohibit Trudeau from “disseminating or assisting others in disseminating” any infomercial for any informational publication in which he has an interest. On December 11, the court denied Trudeau’s request to reconsider or stay this ruling.
You’d think by now Trudeau would have gotten the message and taken the money he’s already earned and run, but he’s apparently not that smart. Probably doesn’t help that he has past convictions for larceny and credit card fraud, but it does show he has enough brains to move from outright theft to a form of fraud that apparently carries much less risk of going to actual prison (he spent 2 years in prison for the credit card fraud).
Think this one will slow him down any? I doubt it. The folks who put out the craptastic “Airborne” just modified their packaging to make any beneficial claims as vague as possible after their settlement with the government and the CEO of the company that produced the equally useless “Enzyte” dick embigginer product went to prison and yet their infomercials are still on the air with the company doing better than ever. In fact at the time that the CEO of Berkeley – parent company to Enzyte – was put on trial the company had regular customers in the tens of thousands who apparently thought the pill was doing something for them.
The simple fact of the matter is that you can sell just about anything as a cure for, well, just about anything so long as you make your claims as vague as possible while doing so. The CEO of Enzyte didn’t go to prison because his product doesn’t work, a fact he pretty much admitted to in court, but because the company was automatically signing people up for ongoing purchases under the guise of a “free trial” and then refusing to cancel their orders or fulfill the promised money back guarantee. Now that he’s out of the way the company has turned all credit card processing over to an outside company and is honoring any money back refunds it receives and has had no further problems with the government since. The product still doesn’t do a damned thing, but there are enough people out there who think it does that they’re making plenty of money off of it.
Given all of that, and the fact that Trudeau doesn’t seem to give a shit what the courts tell him to do, I suspect we’ll be seeing him again very soon indeed.