The Nutritional Supplement Industry - Part 2
Carrying on with what we covered in Part 1, there are several other deceptive and underhanded strategies that are used by many nutritional supplement companies to convince you to buy their products.
Most reputable supplement companies won’t give you a guarantee. And there are reasons for this. The main reason is that the effectiveness of supplements is largely determined by the way they interplay with your lifestyle, nutrition, work ethic, and training.
And unlike what most people think or are led to believe, in today’s market environment, a guarantee for a nutritional supplement is often a sign of a supplement that’s not effective and often part of a scam.
The main reasons the not so reputable companies offer guarantees was explained to me by a supplement company that had a product on the market that was obscenely marked up. The supplement cost $3 to make and was sold for $150, and of course widely advertised even on TV. A few hundred thousand people were taken in by this scam and a lot of it had to do with their “ironclad” money back guarantee.
Even though the product was ineffective and a rip-off, they only had about a 10% return rate. Why? Apparently most people either think that for one reason or another it’s their fault that the supplement didn’t work or because they just can’t get around to returning the supplement within the allotted time (in this case 30 days).
And even with the 10% return rate they only honored about 2% of these by using delaying and other tactics.
So with this kind of scenario on returns and with the huge profits being made, you can see why the scammers offer guarantees on products that don’t what they’re advertised to do.
In my mind offering a money back guarantee is one of the best signs that the product is overpriced and likely a scam. After all even the best of medicines don’t offer a guarantee of effectiveness so why should first rate supplements?
And then there’s always the placebo effect in those that need reassurances in their life. It’s likely that hyping the product up, giving money back guarantees, glowing testimonials, and using other dubious practices including shills, will result in many people thinking they’re actually getting an effect from the product.
Products that offer weight loss, fat loss, improvements in sex drive, sleep aids, etc. often work because gullible people believe the hype behind the product. Just taking something that you think may help you train, sleep, have sex better often gives some results not from the effectiveness of the product but because you believe that it will help so you try harder. In the case of sleep aids taking something that promises a better sleep can take away some of the anxiety surrounding sleep and this alone can result in a better sleep experience.
"Before" And "After" Pictures
No doubt you've seen those "before and after" pictures for ads and testimonials in the magazines and on the internet, where, due to some miracle product, a person is shown making remarkable changes in body composition in a few weeks or months time.
The most blatant ones are those showing a bodybuilder making remarkable progress in a few months time, going from a wimp to a Mr. Olympia contender. It’s obvious that the changes were due to extensive drug use but they’ll swear up and down, at least in the ad, that the secret to their transformation were the remarkable supplements by XYZ company.
Of course this type of deception is also seen with weight loss products, and in the past several years many new companies have gotten in on it and you see this kind of scam more and more not only in magazines but also on TV and the Internet.
In some cases, these pictures are staged. In the case of bodybuilding ones you’ll often get that "before" picture taken when the bodybuilder is just starting to get back into training or is in a bulk up phase and isn’t pumping up or doing anything special to accentuate his physique. The "after" picture will be taken several weeks later when the subject is in contest shape, usually after training hard and fine tuning his drug regimen.
And in other cases the before picture will be taken several weeks after a competiton, when the bodybuilder is taking a break and lost some size while gaining body fat, with the after picture actually taken just before or even at the competition.
Not that this is anything new. Those "before" and "after" weight loss advertisements they've been running since the invention of the printing press are based on the same principles. In the "before" picture the subject is shown relaxed with his gut hanging down, the lighting isn’t flattering and he likely has on something that isn’t as flattering as in the after picture. Then in the "after" picture, he's shown cleaned up, better lighting and with his gut pulled and perhaps with some more muscle and less fat, usually not the result of using the “supplement.”
One of the more dramatic scams of this sort involved a famous bodybuilder over 3 decades ago. This bodybuilder had his picture taken at a time when he wasn’t training, had been involved in an accident and had lost a lot of weight. In other words he was so depleted that he was ready for a dramatic rebound no matter what he did.
That rebound state, along with training and optimizing his diet, and with the right drugs, caused him to gain an unbelievable amount of lean body mass over a few months time. The reason for this dramatic transformation was claimed to be a specific way of training. It could easily have been XYX supplements.
The before and after scenario, or at least the promise, is not confined to bodybuilding and weight loss products. Recently a certain company has alluded to the fact that if you use their products you can go from a 98 pound weakling to a world class fighter.
Testimonials are as bad as the before and after pictures. Most of them are fabricated. There are even companies dedicated to making up testimonials for whoever needs them.
Sure testimonials can be real, and in some cases they are. But the only way you can make sure is if you somehow could contact the people making them so that you could get the real scoop.
But then that’s never done because first of all most testimonials are phony, and secondly even if they weren’t it would be an invasion of that person’s privacy to give out contact information on testimonials.
The bottom line is that most testimonials don’t mean much so you shouldn’t let them influence you one way or another.
The only time they do mean something is if you find out about them first hand from people who aren’t involved with the company in question. This is called word of mouth and it’s the best way, short of trying the product yourself, to find out whether a product is worth using.
You'll also find individuals with some claim to fame, including elite bodybuilders and other athletes, and even teams touting products they may have a financial interest in. Often they'll promote some supplement in conjunction with a diet or training routine they support. They'll say things like, "I owe all this to XYZ supplements." But it's always kind of strange how the product's only been out a year or two and many of these guys having been premier bodybuilders and athletes for several years. You can't help but wonder what they did to get results before "XYZ" supplements came along.
It’s really amazing that people think pros use steroids. No,No,No. Its just the innovative technology of whatever company is parading them. Is it possible that these drug monsters only use their supplements? Is their use of anabolic steroids, GH, IGF-I, thyroid, insulin, cytokines, etc. just a side show to the main event?
Of course, endorsements are nothing new. All areas of sport find athletes endorsing products today, very few of these are on the level. Some athletes have actually used the endorsed product and believe in it. Unfortunately, most haven't and in these cases the only reason they believe in the product is because of the anabolic effects it has on their wallets.
As a result, because of the financial incentives, they’ll make statements that simply aren't true. Advertisements, TV infomercials, Internet exposure, and even magazine articles will broadly overstate a product's abilities. Scientific research will be misreported or distorted. Preposterous claims will be made. They'll say a product is "as good or better" than anabolic steroids with "none of the side effects" when in fact the product may have no anabolic properties at all.
Shills are testimonials and endorsements made to look like they came from unbiased consumers.
If you look up shill on Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com) you'll find the following information:
“A shill is an associate of a person selling goods or services who pretends no association to the seller and assumes the air of an enthusiastic customer. The intention of the shill is, using crowd psychology, to encourage other potential customers unaware of the set-up to purchase said goods or services. Shills are often employed by confidence artists.”
Shills have been around as long as there have been products to sell. The bottom line is that regardless of how they represent themselves, they’re the lowest of the con men in the supplement business.
They’re set ups, paid by the various manufacturers to persuade you on the merits of whatever it is they’re representing. They participate in forums, on line discussions, message boards, newsgroups, blogs, etc. They’ll pose as gamers, athletes, independent experts, users, abusers, and whatever else it takes to take you into their confidence. And then by assuming the air of satisfied customers and/or unbiased experts, give testimonials and/or reasons as to the merits of a given product.
Often the shill or confidence man will put in some personal stuff or talk about something else to help convince you that they’re impartial, but the basic message is that you should buy whatever they’re talking about. This type of misleading advertising is especially devious as it’s supposed to be coming from someone who’s on your side and telling you their personal story.
In the next article we’ll discuss other ways to cut through the hype so you can be more supplement savy and make some wise decisions as to which companies to trust and what supplements actually work, are safe, and for the drug tested athlete won’t result in a positive drug test.