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.