The How and Why of Exercise Infomercials
What category of late-night commercial always seem to make the most outlandish claims but still
find enough people calling in to order? The answer is novelty home-exercise equipment.
In a recent Consumer Reports magazine article, the consumer advocacy folks there examined hese products and their claims and put them to the test. In most cases, the marketing claims, whether stated or implied, could not be supported by the objective testing. The article covers the claims and testing of 10 devices sold through infomercials. Along with the testing results, they throw in tips on what to look for and how to know if the product is or is not worth the money.
The first group of exercisers tested was made of four products marketed as abdominal exercises. The infomercial claims included, “The easy, scientific way to target your abs!”, “Exceeds the aerobic benefits of walking by 143%!”, “Blast of stubborn belly fat!”, and “Lose four inches off your midsection in two weeks!” The test results indicated that none of them worked your abs better than traditional floor exercises, like crunches or leg lifts.
Another group of implements tested was made up of aerobic devices. The claims included “Lose 10 inches and 10 pounds in 10 days!” and “The most fun and effective exercise you’ll ever do!” According to the article, the products did not measure up to their lofty claims.
The final group of devices reported on was total-body exercisers. One billed itself as the “total-body makeover machine”. Not surprisingly, the article painted a dim view of this group’s performance.
The article included some tips to remember such as “read the fine print”, “calculate the total
cost”, and “be wary of trials”. It also included a sidebar explaining its testing procedures, including the use of a focus-group-like testing panel. (Kotler & Keller, p.101)
Not surprisingly, Consumer Reports gives most novelty home-exercisers a big thumbs down. Most fitness professionals would back that up. Why then are there still new wacky commercials coming out with the latest and greatest guaranteed to make you slim/buff in the comfort and convenience of your own home? The answer, in one word, is “marketing”. The companies market these products as the superior value to the commercial-watcher. (Kotler & Keller, p.65)
The ads are designed to target a specific audience and they do that very well. This audience of the targeted marketing supports a new and diverse crop of “latest and greatest” every year because the commercials are tapping into what they want. They want to slim down or bulk up, but to do so at home, without too much effort, and for a relatively cheap price. The article did not go so far as to conjecture about the success of the marketing schemes, but the implication is clear, so eloquently quoted by P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
1. Unidentified author. (2008). Exercise Devices: We put amazing
claims to the test. Consumer Reports,
2. Kotler, P., & Keller, K. (2006). Marketing Management, 12th ed. South Asia: Pearson