Monday, July 04, 2005

Gullibles Travails



If you are a surfer of late night television, you cannot miss the ubiquitous teleshopping ad. From magic mops to machines which make your stomach as flat as Lijjat papad, there's a whole range of dubious products on offer.

Products which - they promise - will work like magic on problems of magnificent and everyday importance.

Do they? Of course not! Phir unka dhanda kaise chalta rehta hai, you wonder? Adman Prasoon Joshi offered a bunch of reasons in a recent column for Businessworld magazine:

The first is timing: often either late at night or in the afternoons. At this time, one is not at one's sharpest best. Or maybe, not much is happening with life at that moment, and boom! Somebody and some magical thing promises to change one's life so quickly and easily. It is hard not to get tempted.

Second is repeated reinforcement: instead of the regular 15-30 second commercial, what gets beamed ad nauseam is a 3-minute hard- sell of the product in question, literally lulling you into believing.

Next is the extensive use of testimonials, especially by many has-been or not-so-happening celebrities. What is disturbing is the use of celebrities, who are regarded as trustworthy by their screen image alone.


To the above list I'd like to add a few more factors:

The late night or afternoon time slot is one where you are likely to be watching TV alone. This is important because otherwise there would be some sensible soul around to scream "stop"! Before you actually 'call now' and give out your credit card number to buy a jar of magic car wax polish for Rs 1999. (two 'free' magic wipecloths included at no extra cost).

Secondly, the 'repeated reinforcement' is done in a very clever way. It's not like when you watch the same ad 3 times in a row before the movie starts at Sterling theatre. That's plain irritating.

The teleshopping ads are more like mini-soap operas with a mix of characters, drama and emotion. The 'Miracle Blade Knife' is an excellent example.

It's not just the way that chef chops up everything from tomato and bread to pineapple and fish. It's also the non stopbak bak and excited oohs and aahs that go with it.

Kadwa sach
The fact of course is - however great the knife and the blade - ultimately only years and years of skill and practice result in the spectacular cutting demonstrated on-screen.

Same goes for all those 'ab isolator' equipment. The guys who demonstrate it on screen are already reasonably fit. A genuine fatso - looking for the easy way out - would not have the strength or willpower to actually do those exercises!

But what teleshopping networks bank on is this: the gullible fools who bought those magnetic earrings hoping to miraculously lose weight will be too embarassed to tell anyone they've been duped.

And even if - over the long run - a particular product is discredited, there are always enough new products to be advertised. And enough bakras to be mesmerised.

Kya idea hai
If nothing, one has to admire the grasp these companies have over human psychology. And their 'creativity' in coming up with more and more saleable ideas.



My all-time favourite is the 'Butterfly abs' - a small device which they claim makes you lose weight from whichever part of the body it's strapped onto. So, you're told, wear it while sitting around watching TV, or in the gym, or even in office. Yeah right.



A person who used the product (tho she claims did not buy herself :) says the vibration or "buzz" from the butterfuly abs is so strong and uncomfortable you can't stand it against your skin for more than a couple of minutes.

Besides which - it doesn't actually work. If it did, I'm sure McDonald's would set up a factory and hand out a 'butterfly abs' free with every order! Now that would make their greasefest a truly 'happy meal' :)

The spirit is willing...
The new and ultimate masterstroke has been to transcend into another realm of products. A realm where performance is simply not a parameter. Where purchase is made on faith alone.

It started with 'Shree Yantra' - a crystal pyramid with beneficial properties which Tulsi bahu promoted as the harbinger of sukh, shanti, chain and aman in every Hindu household. Little mythological playlets and references to Ram, Sita etc are slipped into the ad. I'm sure they've had plenty of sales...

Now, Kader Khan appeals to Muslims to order 'Allah ke Darwaaze ka aks'. The infomercial used terrific Urdu, mixed with a muezzin's call playing subtly in the background and actual maulvis in the foreground. Declares an impassioned Kaderji: "Hum aapse is darwaaze ki keemat nahin maang rahe hain... hadiya maang rahe hain". (sirf Rs 1999, naturally)

I can tell you this product has just the right mix of novelty + religious call of duty to become a huge success. And surely Sikh, Christian and Jain products will follow...

Bottomline: Teleshopping may be borderline legal and you can argue it's upto each individual to safeguard his or her own interests.

But must these infomercials run on trusted channels - like Discovery and Sony? And are our celebs so desperate to make an extra buck that they will lend their names to any old thing?? Certainly looks like it - right now.


Some kind of regulation - whether self imposed or by an external authority - is surely in oder.

17 comments:

  1. "But must these infomercials run on trusted channels - like Discovery and Sony?"

    What takes the cake are the bikini-clad "health experts" of the "Butterfly Abs" commercial -- on Aastha and Sanskaar channels. Amazing stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think I will buy the Miracle Blade--your reinforcement has done it for me :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous6:56 PM

    Agree with Blackops (wink)

    ReplyDelete
  4. these shree yantras r new ones i guess, i was a late-late night TV watcher till recently, and never caught these ones. and well, easy to say that some regulation is in order, but tough to implement it. and to think that there r whole channels devoted to telechopping, AND making money!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Vivek Gupta10:44 PM

    Rs 1999 is bit too expensive. Here in US all these cost only $19.99 mostly.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Actually, that is not always true. I've seen a documentary made about these informericals and the reason why they are "informericals" is because most of the products featured are invented by inventors who find it hard to commericilize the products. Some of the products features are quite good by the way.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have been living in US from past 2 years and such things are pretty common here. When I hear news such as this, I wonder if I should be happy that we are progressing and moving in direction of consumerism/capitalism, or should be sad that coke/burger culture and associated obsesity and other deceases are engulfing India too.

    On partially related note, can someone tell me, if "progress" is single direction and path? I mean, if India were to progress will it become just like US/Europte after n years from now, or can we be developed without coming to current state of US? It doesn't seem so, as of now (progress seems to be moving in same direction, with benefits and deficiencies) but 50 years from now?

    ReplyDelete
  8. When people talk about commercialism in the US and the consumer culture, I say to them: You ain't seen nothin yet. Us Indians (in country or out of) are the biggest purchasers of consumer products and will probably surpass china in the consumer market (china is currently overtaking the US in consumption) at the same time we overtake them in population. I was seeing these miracle knife ads on tv since 1996, and they were primetime afternoon infomercials then. It would basically be an infomercial with white people with a european/american looking audience and at the end of the show they would do a blatantly obvious insert citing contact phone numbers and cost in indian rupees.
    The reason these infomercials run from about 1:00 AM to about 6:00 AM is because very few people watch TV at that time. Some channels in the US still broadcast regular shows (like cartoon network) but most switch to infomercials because there's no battle for ratings for that timeslot so advertising cost is very low and any tom dick and harry can sell whatever they want to. If you've seen napoleon dynamite, the "time machine" is a hilarious example and caution against buying products that look ridiculously easy and "convenient".

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous10:15 AM

    interesting article. always wondered how they managed to get SO MUCH footage.

    i love the way they use fake doctors and fake theories to get their point through. we have iron in our blood hence if we wear a magnetic belt around our arms we can control our BP. wear it on ur right hand if you have high bp or left hand if you have low bp!! wat a theory!

    and yeah even timings are important. in the afternoon they sell some cream they found in the jungles of africa that can increase boob sizes in just weeks.


    even celebrities like bejaan daruwalla and the rest jump on the band wagon selling ppl their lucky stones. if it was lucky i wud get it for FREE!

    besides i think we also have a whole channel dedicated to such dubious activies. Watch mircalenet. handicapped ppl start walking and what not.
    one way or the other they are asking for ppls money and as long as ppl are foolish enough to give it , you cant blame the channels

    ReplyDelete
  10. My current fav. is the height-increasing foot-sole. There is no point in regulating this nonsense, as long as there are other crooks like astrologists, godmen, homeopaths etc who are benefiting out of a much larger-scale ignorance of the general public.

    Ofcourse, its un-ethical to benefit out of people's ignorance. But its this ignorance mixed with false-hopes which is the real reason for the success of such tele-marketing shows. So, as long there is a market for such ignorance we'll continue to see such things.

    Oh!! Does that means its going to be there forever!!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Another hoot of a commercial feat Bhagyashree (of the erswhile actress fame), promises instant freedom from the miseries caused by dark skin.
    Ludicrous depictions of applying the concoction that causing the dark melanocytes to rub away, (like cleaning dirt with soap), revealing fair, and baby soft skin.
    I guess PT Barnum was right--" A sucker is born every minute"

    ReplyDelete
  12. I can tell you this product has just the right mix of novelty + religious call of duty to become a huge success

    I agree, But unfortunately for these people, Islam has an in-built mechanism for protection against religion encashing TV marketeers. It condemns but-parasti

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Hi Rashmi,
    Do you know about "Landmark Forum" ? Could you expose such institutes ?
    Someone is helping people from getting misguided.
    http://www.rickross.com/groups/landmark.html

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am a 50 year old Muslimah. I converted to Islam 22 years ago. I observe Hijab and always have done.
    I am a 'graduate' of Landmark Education. It was the most interesting and life changing thing I have undertaken to do in my life.
    I was apprehensive at first because I thought it was a cult that may try to draw me away from Allah (swt) and our Blessed Prophet (saws) but it was soooo in tune with how a Muslim should 'truly' live that it was uplifting. It stengthened my Iman and gave me clarity for life and the hereafter. Human nature dictates that we be suspicious and none more than Muslims....quite rightly because we have the final 'word'. Landmark Education actually directs you (it doesen't 'tell' you to do anything) to connect with loved ones, family & community for the sake of Allah (swt) except they do not say the word 'Allah'. It reveals to you the disease and consequences of Shirk without mentioning the word 'shirk'. It equips one with the tool to dispel fear which is entrenched in almost every human psyche (whether we like to admit it or not). And for Muslims especially they would never admit this....that is why they are most resistant. I say that if one only fears Allah(swt), then what is to fear by going to a Landmark Event. I did and my life and view of death will never be the same. My prayer is regular, relaxed and comfortable as it should be and I pray to Allah(swt) that I go from strength to strength and to death with no fear........ all of this 'because' of Landmark Forum, not in spite of it.

    Maryam McKenna

    Feel free to email me sahar_mckenna@yahoo.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  15. I am a 50 year old Muslimah. I converted to Islam 22 years ago. I observe Hijab and always have done.
    I am a 'graduate' of Landmark Education. It was the most interesting and life changing thing I have undertaken to do in my life.
    I was apprehensive at first because I thought it was a cult that may try to draw me away from Allah (swt) and our Blessed Prophet (saws) but it was soooo in tune with how a Muslim should 'truly' live that it was uplifting. It stengthened my Iman and gave me clarity for life and the hereafter. Human nature dictates that we be suspicious and none more than Muslims....quite rightly because we have the final 'word'. Landmark Education actually directs you (it doesen't 'tell' you to do anything) to connect with loved ones, family & community for the sake of Allah (swt) except they do not say the word 'Allah'. It reveals to you the disease and consequences of Shirk without mentioning the word 'shirk'. It equips one with the tool to dispel fear which is entrenched in almost every human psyche (whether we like to admit it or not). And for Muslims especially they would never admit this....that is why they are most resistant. I say that if one only fears Allah(swt), then what is to fear by going to a Landmark Event. I did and my life and view of death will never be the same. My prayer is regular, relaxed and comfortable as it should be and I pray to Allah(swt) that I go from strength to strength and to death with no fear........ all of this 'because' of Landmark Forum, not in spite of it.

    Maryam McKenna

    Feel free to email me sahar_mckenna@yahoo.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
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