An old scam, resurrected

I previously posted about the most deceptive ad I had ever encountered in an article entitled “Selling It.”

Hall of Shame Advertisement

Take away all the mummery, and the thrust of the ad was, “throw away your old rabbit ears and buy our pretty rabbit ears.”

When it comes to separating suckers from their money, old ideas die hard. I mean, why throw away such a good concept if it works, right?

Saw this in WalMart just the other day:



Other than the fact that the old one was analog and this one is digital, it’s the same marketing pitch, with the same marketing weasel words. But the summum bonum of the product? “Works just like your old antenna, ONLY NOW with a sleek design.”

Well, that’s certainly sufficient incentive to throw away my old digital antenna and buy this one. Except for the fact that I haven’t watched broadcast TV for over 20 years, but that’s another story.

Save your money and don’t buy camel ejecta like this.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The ‘10,000 Calorie Sundae’


The image above shows two young girls purchasing a so-called “10,000-calorie sundae” from Blair Parson’s store in Lynchburg, Virginia, sometime in the 1950s. Price: 35¢.

Odds are that this was some marketing license; the average hot fudge sundae comes in at about 284 calories, and these don’t look like killers. But it’s a cute picture.

Woo Water

Visitng a LYS (Local Yarn Shop) in Logan, Utah, I had a glance at the April 2, 2015 edition of Time™ while my wife was finishing up her browsing.

And once again it was confirmed that there’s a sucker born every minute.

Producers try to replicate the success of coconut water

Coconut water, the trendy sports drink that’s exploded into a $400 million-a-year business in the U.S., has new competition. Bottled-water outfits are trying to sell consumers on H2O with vegetables, tree saps and other flavored ingredients. Startups and small companies especially are marketing a raft of new products spiked with a little extra…

Coconut water? I had never heard of such a thing. But have a look at all the wannabes who are jumping on the money train:


©Time Magazine

Claims, claims, claims! Improves digestion, soothes sore throats, revitalizes, liver detox, hangover relief, woo, woo, woo! In today’s atmosphere of anti-science and galloping gullibility, there is more opportunity to profit from the ignorance of the masses than ever. Plus ça change…

Edit: Props to Sharon Neeman for catching an error: Victoria’s Kitchen Almond water makes no claims at all, except that it’s delicious and refreshing, which I could certainly get behind if that sort of thing appealed to me.


Lucky Luke, “À l’ombre des derricks”

Snake oil salesmen and purveyors of medical quackery have been around since the dawn of time, but let marketing departments get a whiff of a trend, and the trickle becomes a deluge.

I have nothing against natural remedies per se, and have expanded on this topic in other articles. What I do object to is pure

BS Meter

which these products are, and I recommend that you save your money.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Brand Imitation – the Sincerest Form of Marketing

Cross-posted from LiveJournal

We’ve all seen them on the shelves, usually down at floor level. Oatie-O’s, Fruity Hoops, Crisp Rice. Store brands trying to cash in on decades worth of marketing by the big boys.1

Depending on your locality, you can find over 50 knock-off brands of Dr Pepper™.

Dr Pepper Clones

As a general rule, these knock-off brands are the abomination of desolation. Mr. Pibb, for example, Coca-Cola’s ubiquitous knockoff of the Doctor, tastes like something wrung from a very ill moose – and yet if you go to a restaurant whose nuts are being tightly squeezed by the Coke™ conglomerate, that’s all you can get. ²

In the case of cereals, the clones sometimes come close, but almost never approximate the quality of the real thing.

Until now.

I’m particular about my cereal. Just about the only one I eat on a regular basis is Quaker’s Life™. I’ve been loyal since it came out in 1961. When it was reformulated in 1998, I was one of many consumers who complained, prompting Quaker to revert to its original formula. So when my better half brought home a box of a new concoction by Kroger called “Living Well,” my thoughts turned darkly to glowing braziers and hot coulters.

(Image from Drawn and Quartered by Charles Addams)

How could they? Like Dr Pepper™, Life™ is unique, with no real head-to-head competition. No one had ever tried to clone it before, and this effort couldn’t possibly be worth the powder to blow it to Hell with. Could it?

Here’s the scary part: Kroger nailed it. Either they have a mole inside Quaker, or they’re buying Life™ in brobdingnagian quantities and repackaging it. Taste, texture, smell, looks – I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. It’s that good.

What’s a loyal consumer to do? The driving factor in this economy, I fear, will be price. If Life™ costs $3.00 a box, and I can find Living Well™ on the shelf for $2.50, I’m afraid the clone will win. If, on the other hand, the prices are equivalent or just pennies apart, I’ll go for the real thing.

Sorry, Quaker.


1 Some particularly egregious examples of cereal knockoffs can be found at The Cheapass Cereal Hall of Fame

² Edit on New Year’s Day 2019: It’s gotten better since I last posted. Here in Maine, Hannaford carries it’s own version of Dr Perky and the diet one as well, and they’re pretty acceptable – and half as expensive as the real thing.

Frightfully clever crossover technology marketing

The picture below submitted to reddit by /u/golmal7 shows a flexi-disc CD by Kid Koala entitled “15 Blues Bits.”


The top side of the CD comes impressed like a vinyl record, and the disc comes with a cardboard gramophone that you can play.

Here’s a video of the record being played with the included kit:

And here’s what it sounds like on a regular turntable:

I have no idea whether the music on the CD is any good, but that’s innovative marketing.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Forskolin – It sounds vaguely indecent.


Just got this in my spam box today. It appears that Dr. Oz has now moved from hawking garcinia cambogia to this new garbage, Forskolin. The name sounds thoroughly unsavory for reasons I won’t go into here.

I found a great post over at Science Based Medicine that says many of the things I’d normally post here, so I’ll just refer you to that article, and other posts on the same website are worth reading as well. One good quote I will extract – all of these weight-loss nostrums

“…fit the same pattern: a small grain of plausibility, inadequate research, exaggerated claims, and commercial exploitation. There are always testimonials from people who lost weight, probably because their will to believe in the product encouraged them to try harder to eat less and exercise. But enthusiasms and fads don’t last. A year later, the same people are likely to be on a new bandwagon for a different product. Dr. Oz will never lack for new ideas to bolster his ratings. Enthusiasm for easy solutions and for the next new hope will never flag as long as humans remain human.”

In short, it’s all bulldust. But as network marketers will tell you, health and wellness is a trillion-dollar industry, and everyone is trying to get a slice of that pie. As one associate put it, that business is big enough that it would be sufficient to lick the knife that cut the pie. The sad part is, the pie is a lie. Most of what is hawked and marketed has little or no value. As I mentioned over here, if you want to release weight, eat less, eat better, and exercise more.

As a final note, a couple of rules of thumb regarding spam messages like the one above.

  1. It’s a scam. Legitimate businesses don’t advertise using spam
  2. Never click the link that says “unsubscribe.” You’ve just confirmed to these unethical dipweeds that your email address is real and active. It will be sold to other scumbags, and your level of spam will increase.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Packaging Snake Oil

I’ve posted numerous times about health-related scams and sleazy marketing. For this reason, I have no small sense of irony spending time as a temp worker for a local nutraceutical company that serves many herbal and health-food concerns. Today I spent 8 hours helping to package about a million capsules of… wait for it… garcinia cambogia.

Temp work is fine, I guess. It’s pretty mindless work, although it can be physically demanding, and it provides some income where there would otherwise be none. But as one works, one’s mind drifts to the customers who will be buying this stuff at grossly inflated prices, thinking that this is the magic bullet to help them lose weight; it’s not, and they won’t. They’re just throwing money away on a powdered fruit product of dubious value.


From “Lucky Luke 18 – In the Shadow of the Derricks”


Competition was also lively in the 1740’s among some half a dozen proprietors marketing a form of crude petroleum under the name of British Oil. Early in the decade Michael and Thomas Betton were granted a patent for “An Oyl extracted from a Flinty Rock for the Cure of Rheumatick and Scorbutick and other Cases.” The source of the oil, according to their specifications, was rock lying just above the coal in mines, and this rock was pulverized and heated in a furnace to extract all the precious healing oil. (Old English Patent Medicines in America, George B. Griffenhagen and James Harvey Young. Found at the Gutenberg Project.)

Snake-oil salesmen have been around since the dawn of time. Sometimes they took the guise of shamans or medicine men – now they’re just con men and marketing specialists. Now, don’t get me wrong – I am a proponent of optimal nutrition including an adequate intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and co-factors, and there is a significant body of peer-reviewed science that documents beneficial effects from many natural sources: fruits, vegetables, plants, herbs, chemicals (think of aspirin), and so on. I have nothing against natural remedies, especially when there is adequate proof to show that they are effective. What rubs me the wrong way more than anything are the outrageous claims touted by advertorials and infomercials, picked up on by celebrities such as Oprah and Dr. Oz, and marketed in multiple millions of dollars to the gullible proletariat.

The nutritional industry is a trillion-dollar scam waiting to happen, and very little of what is sold imparts benefit commensurate with price paid. Add to that the fact that the landscape is so unregulated that one can claim almost anything as long as you include the standard disclaimer that your product is not intended to cure, prevent, diagnose or treat any disease, and that your claims are not approved by the FDA. That makes nutritional labeling similar to the CAN-SPAM act… you can get away with selling the moon as long as you word it right.

Let’s look at another product: Galaxy juice marketed by Joy Life international, a Chinese MLM company.

From their web page:



  1. Boosts energy levels in a novel way
  2. Contains a unique proprietary blend of antioxidant ingredients that may slow-down the aging process
  3. Enhances ability to focus and concentrate
  4. Taken with breakfast, this product has the singular unique property of reducing stress and in some manner enhances a positive outlook for the rest of the day
Ingredients:  Water, Super Fruit Blend: (Acia, Pineapple, White Grape, Pomegranate, Red Raspberry, Aronia, Red Grape, Cranberry, Elder-berry, Plum, Red Sour Cherry, Mangosteen, Goji), Chicory Root Extract, Xylitol, Super Food Blend: (Barley, Cayenne Pepper, Buckwheat, Flaxseed, Alfalfa Sprout, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Soy Isoflavones (40% Extract). Garlic 4:1, Wheatgrass 33:1), Antioxidant Blend: (Green Tea Extract, Alpha Lipoic Acid, DMAE, Idebenone, Ascorbic Acid), Citric Acid, Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate.
If this stuff boosts energy levels, it does so because of the natural sugars contained in the fruit blend, which is hardly novel; but I especially love the “in some manner,” which conjures up visions of handwavium and unobtainium. Don’t ask questions, it just works. Remember that Chinese medicine has largely been marketed to a Chinese population, a large percentage of whom are essentially ignorant of modern scientific realities. Were it not so, the rhinoceros would not be an endangered species today.
In Bernard Read’s translation of the 1597 Chinese materia medica “Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu”, the complete section on rhinoceros horn (“the best is from a freshly killed male animal”) reads as follows, with no mention of any aphrodisiac qualities:

“It should not be taken by pregnant women; it will kill the foetus. As an antidote to poisons (in Europe it was said to fall to pieces if poison were poured into it). To cure devil possession and keep away all evil spirits and miasmas. For gelsemium [jasmine] and snake poisoning. To remove hallucinations and bewitching nightmares. Continuous administration lightens the body and makes one very robust. For typhoid, headache, and feverish colds. For carbuncles and boils full of pus. For intermittent fevers with delirium. To expel fear and anxiety, to calm the liver and clear the vision. It is a sedative to the viscera, a tonic, antipyretic. It dissolves phlegm. It is an antidote to the evil miasma of hill streams. For infantile convulsions and dysentery. Ashed and taken with water to treat violent vomiting, food poisoning, and overdosage of poisonous drugs. For arthritis, melancholia, loss of the voice. Ground up into a paste with water it is given for hematemesis [throat hemorrhage], epistaxis [nosebleeds], rectal bleeding, heavy smallpox, etc. (Found at Save the Rhino)

But how is Galaxy juice being represented to their sales force, and hence by the sales force to potential customers? As an anti-cancer agent. Now, if US reps don’t want to run afoul of the FDA, they won’t say anything about that in a direct manner, but have a look at some of the slides from their own inspirational Powerpoint presentation:






Joy Life found a willing scientist, gave him a research grant, and wildly extrapolated his results. And a bottle of this fruit/grain concoction sells for $130.00 in China. Is it worthless? Well, looking at the ingredients, it’s probably a good source of antioxidants, but it won’t cure cancer, and it’s hardly worth the end-user price. Let it also be mentioned that Joy Life sells a few other things in the USA that are highly questionable, including:
  • The “Energy Cup“, a filtration system that ‘converts everyday drinking water into ionized, alkaline water, helping sustain the body’s natural pH levels
  •  The  “Anion Emitter” which is supposed to  ‘contain semi-precious stones infused with proprietary frequencies that carry a negative charge‘ designed to ‘bring the body into balance and energetic homeostasis while restoring health and reducing pain‘
  • The “Cation Shield“, Joy Life claiming it ‘helps strengthen your body’s bio-field while bathing you with the beneficial effects of negative ions to help combat EMFs.

Things of this nature fall directly into the quackery zone, and I’m astonished that they can get away with marketing this sort of garbage.

Fortunately for me, I won’t be working at this particular outlet much longer; another opportunity has come up which strikes me as being much more upstanding and worthwhile. But the size and scope of the former enterprise made me realize once again that the business of separating people from their hard-earned cash often has very little to do with providing honest value in return.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Cigarettes, grammar, failed marketing, and everything.

Back in the day, tobacco companies could advertise, and advertise they did. Everywhere. Subways, buses, magazines, radio, television, courtesy packs on airplanes, you name it. The more powerful ads drove the more powerful brands. The Marlboro man was everywhere:

Rugged, strong, and healthy – notice the absence of the Surgeon General’s warning on this example from the 60’s.

But in those days, tobacco execs would go on national television and swear that tobacco wasn’t harmful, even to pregnant women (many of whom actually preferred smaller babies)…

… which babies were also used to hawk tobacco products.

Of course, now we know more than we did then:

But this is now, and that was then.

Two of the more popular cigarette campaigns actually capitalized on bad grammar:

This slogan was routinely held up by prescriptive grammarians as an example of abominable usage: “like,” they said, is a preposition governing nouns and noun phrases, and should never be used as a conjunction introducing an adverbial clause. “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should,” intoned the English teachers, was the only acceptable form. Naturally, the ad execs picked up on the furor and capitalized on it:

Not to be left out of the action, MAD magazine put this on the back of their January 1971 issue, which shows that many folks were quite aware of the dangers of smoking, thank you, even while the Tobacco execs were perjuring themselves on the national scene.

In fact, “In December 1952 [Reader’s Digest] published “Cancer by the Carton“, a series of articles that linked smoking with lung cancer. This first brought the dangers of smoking to public attention which, up to then, had ignored the health threats.” (Wikipedia) An interesting article summarizing the history of tobacco and health concerns can be found at CNN Interactive.

Popular stars shilled for tobacco on a regular basis – it seems so bizarre to watch Granny Clampett and Jane Hathaway discussing the merits of Winston, but it’s amusing to see how they worked the grammar issue in at the end in a Madison Avenue “double whammy”.

The Flintstones got into the act as well:

I confess with some shame that tobacco contributed to putting bread in my mouth for some time; mother functioned as a spokeswoman for Camel cigarettes for a year.

But when it came to using bad grammar, Winston was hardly the only offender – Tareyton’s campaign confused nominative and oblique to good effect in their highly successful slogan, “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.”[1]

Despite the peccadillo – it seems that cigarette ads thrived on controversy – this particular advertising campaign was wildly successful in the 60’s, and pushed Tareyton’s popularity close to the top of the charts.

But not all products, even those from the makers of successful brands, were an instant hit.

Back in 1966, when I was 15, I was on one of my semi-regular visits to my mom’s brother in Salt Lake. We took a trip up to Idaho to see some additional relatives, and I remember spending some time in a tobacco warehouse, helping to run cartons of cigarettes through the tax-stamp machine. (Had the government gotten wind of our little diversion, the owner could have been shut down, but oversight was lax and attorneys less numerous in those days.) While I was working there that day, I noticed something unusual – a carton of Tennyson cigarettes, which I had never before heard of.

Now, the more astute among my readers will be asking themselves, “What does a 15-year-old know from tobacco?” As it happens, even at that tender age I was somewhat of a tobacco connoisseur. I had started smoking in high school, finding that it was a gateway to a certain level of acceptance, for as little as that was worth. And I parlayed my small bit of social coin into a minor fortune by becoming a user of odd and revolting brands.2 (In Connecticut, the legal age for tobacco was 16, but even before that I had no end of “friends” who would procure for me in exchange for a small consideration.)

Strong and with a different flavor than American standards.

Oval cigarettes. Cute gimmick, but nothing special otherwise.

Absolutely foul. If I had these, I was guaranteed nobody would bum off me.

Tasted just about like smoking a cow pie. Or so I imagine.

Had kind of a fruity taste, unlike anything else I had ever smoked. Meh. However, Lark’s claim to fame was their commercial, the 1960’s version of Google Street View – the Lark truck would run around different places with a TV camera on the back, blaring the William Tell Overture, and asking people, “Show Us Your Lark Pack!” I saw this truck run down 1st Avenue in Manhattan one day; even if I had had a pack of Larks on me, I decided that discretion would have been the better part of fame, since I was still underage in New York.

[Edit: I had a copy of the commercial in question here, which I had posted at YouTube. Even though it was listed as public domain under a Creative Commons license, it appears that the brand is still owned by Trademarks LLC. The video was removed at YouTube, but for some odd reason still played here. In light of some communication with the above-mentioned company, I have removed the video. Unless it is taken down elsewhere, however, you can still see it here (3rd one on the list).

Now, since we’re on the subject of advertising in general as well, I nominate Salem cigarettes for the most insidious commercial ever devised. As a linguist who has studied close to 20 languages over the course of my life (although I don’t claim to speak them all), I can tell you that anything you produce will remain in your memory much longer than anything you hear. When learning a language, speaking is much more powerful than listening; they are different skills, yes, but the first cements things in your memory a lot longer than just hearing them, even multiple times. The following ad is much like getting up at 3:00 AM in the home of a musician, and playing only the first five notes of “Shave and a haircut” on the grand piano. It’s a guarantee that an irritated and foggy victim will stumble down the stairs to finish the “two bits” part before being able to go back to sleep.[3]

Unfortunately, despite these commercials being ancient, many of them have been taken down on copyright grounds. But go here and advance to 6:40, and you’ll get one of the ads that I’m referring to. Unless you are some kind of superhuman being, you will finish the line, and you will sing the brand name in your head. There is no escape.

There were others. I knew every brand on the market, and some that weren’t. I even rolled my own for a while, although not very skillfully, but when I couldn’t get these, I’d smoke anything I could get my hands on. My mother smoked Carltons (why bother, I wondered?) and when I’d cadge hers, I ripped the filter off; ultimately I settled on Luckies as my brand of choice. And of course, in the process, I became a 3-pack-a-day man by the time I was 18. The end of that story is that I quit, cold turkey, that year and never looked back – but my lungs paid a lifetime price.

So that brings us back to Tennyson, and by now I think you’ll understand why it caught my eye. A brand I didn’t know about? Intriguing! But in those days, there was no Internet, and such arcane knowledge was not to be found anywhere. Only later, thanks to the miracle of the Intertubez, was I able to dig up a bit of history, but even today what’s out there is pretty sparse.

In 1966, Tennyson launched a fairly comprehensive media blitz to publicize their new brand. I’m not sure why Tareyton simply didn’t choose to introduce a menthol version of their already-famous brand.[4]

I even remember the jingle. I began to wonder later if I had imagined it, but fortunately the original sheet music which was submitted to the legal process was conserved:


So I’m not senile after all. I may be crazy, but that’s different. As a final bit of curiosity, I also found this:

Same package, same font, same look as Tareyton – but nary a whit of information to be found about what these are, or when or where they were sold. Possibly a European version of Tareyton? One clue:

This has been a bit of a ramble, but I got a good bunch of things out that I won’t have to worry about later (‘Now where did I archive that?’)

The Old Wolf has rambled.

1 In case you’re wondering, it should be “We Tareyton smokers.”

2 Plus ça change, plus ça reste la même chose. Visit The Old Wolf’s Banquet from Hell.

3 Brooke McEldowney, both a very gifted musician and a supremely talented artist who does the webcomics 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn, riffed on this twice. In the first one, Edda and her mother Juliette engaged in this very exercise here; the second, where poor Seth is tormented by his ballet company, is here.

4 As it happens, such a thing exists, even though I only found out about it later as I was researching the topic. Never once did I see these in stores.

The Ümlautization öf Ämërica

Edit: An update has been added down at the bottom

Back in another geological epoch (about 40 years ago or so), I worked for an outfit called “Dër Ratskeller Pizza Shoppe.” That’s right, “Dër.” When the time came to build a second shop, I helped in the process and ended up as the assistant manager there. During the course of construction, I mentioned to the owners that “ë” only exists in Albanian, Kashubian, and a few other esoteric places for phonetic disambiguation (like the archaic English form reëntry, or the French noël), and that “dër” is decidedly not German. My input was ignored.

First of all, you may rightly inquire why pizza is being served by a sprightly lad in Lederhosen. Well, the original shop served beer on tap (a rarity in Salt Lake City in the 70’s) and so the concept of a Ratskeller made sense… and they happened to serve pizza as well. Dang good pizza, too – but that’s another story.

I guess they thought that adding those two little dots would make the name look more German to the untutored public, and – looking back at it – that may have been the case, because now you see them everywhere. Madison Avenue, in a mad rush to give foreign panache to their products, appears to have gone crazy for European accents.

On a recent trip to Florida, I happened across these examples in the brief space of a week; I have no doubt that were I to scan the aisles of any reputable grocery store or supermarket, I would see many, many more.

This stuff looks more like a can of Raid™


This one uses the “é”, which does not appear in the Italian word “due” (two).

The grand-daddy of them all. How is this supposed to be pronounced, really?

Americans tend to ignore the umlauts and other accents, pronounce the words as though they weren’t there, and toddle blithely along their monolingual way.  But friends of mine from the Teutonic or Scandinavian countries, without the benefit of television commercials, would say these names in ways that might make them unrecognizable; good thing they don’t count. (Just kidding, folks, just kidding.)

It’s the fad of the moment. How long it will last, whether it has hit its peak, and what the next spate of nonsense will bring, no one knows. All I do know is that if I ever open a Pån-Ëurøpëan Яešţaüranŧ, I have just as much chance of succeeding as Joe’s Grill.

Edit: Only in the wee hours of February 2021 was I made aware of the concept of the “Metal Umlaut” or “röck döts” – heavy metal not being among my preferred music choices I had no idea this was such a common occurrence in the music world to have become worthy of a Wikipedia article.

The Old Wolf has spoken.