Friday, January 30, 2015

Modern Day Snake Oil

Critical thinking has always been important, but now more than ever.  In the past the opportunities to make hasty judgments resulting in small mistakes or losses were somewhat limited.  Today we are confronted with advertising messages, gimmicks and enticements many times an hour for most hours of the day.  Fifty years ago it was limited to newspapers, magazines, radio, television and billboards on the side of the road.  Today we have all those plus ads on every website, ads disguised as news reports, bogus cures endorsed by Facebook friends, spam e-mails, and more – and the roadside billboards are electronic videos.  Marketers continue to do research on how to make their ads more persuasive.  There is so much more stimulus, so many more opportunities to waste time and throw away money.

One example comes in this report from a medical watchdog.  “Illinois-based NourishLife LLC and its owner, Mark Nottoli have agreed to pay $200,000 and to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their dietary supplement products can help children with speech disorders, including those associated with autism.”  Parents are worried enough about autism from all the news reports, and along comes this company preying on their anxiety by boasting a cure.

The FTC complaint specifies that for the past six years they have advertised and sold "Speak" products online and through distributors via the Internet and at autism conferences. They contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and vitamins E and K and sell for $70 per bottle.  “The products falsely claimed to develop and maintain normal, healthy speech and language capabilities and improve behavior in children, including those with verbal apraxia—a motor speech disorder affecting the ability to speak clearly.”

They combined the nutritional jargon with (inaccurate) claims that they were scientifically proven to be effective by independent researchers to add an aura of credibility in order to take advantage of distraught parents.  Generally supplements are banned from making any claims that they actually cure illnesses, but some walk a fine line with slick wording while others, as shown here, just ignore the restrictions all together until caught.

This is just one of many examples of how, especially in the health business, service providers prey on desperate, unsuspecting and naive consumers with false hope for themselves or their children.

More than ever, people are trying to profit by selling us things we don’t need, that don’t work as promised, and that take advantage of the human tendency to react quickly on instinct and emotion.  As technology improves and spreads, the pressure to buy becomes more frequent and more intense; and critical thinking, the bias to be skeptical to slow down and investigate, becomes much more important.

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