Consumer Basics


What to know before you bite on that revolutionary infomercial product.

So the 30-second commercial just isn’t long enough anymore?  Can’t get the message across quite that quickly, advertisers?  You’re going to ask us to sit through 30-minute or 1-hour ads for your revolutionary new product?  It seemed like, not long ago, we’d only see these ads if we happened to be up at 3:00 in the morning.  Now they’re a fixture of every possible time slot there is.

In the world of the infomercial, Donald Barrett may not be king, but he’s definitely a strong contender for the throne.  On YouTube, you can find a seemingly endless stream of ads in which he passionately promotes products that might appear to be, well, worthless.  One of the products he pushed on consumers over the years was a If you believe the late-night ads, the nutrient is a ‘cure’ for a wide range of serious diseases, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease product that was found by regulators to have defrauded consumers.  Wall of Shamer, Kevin Trudeau is another example of a guy who thrives in the infomercial space, bilking consumers out of millions to the point where the FTC got him banned from selling products through infomercials.

The FTC has put in place some guidelines in response to abuses that have occurred in the marketplace since the infomercial became a staple of broadcast television in the mid-1980’s.  Some of the more interesting rules include prohibiting infomercials that mimic news broadcasts or talk shows, as well as holding normal, everyday people who participate in an infomercial (perhaps by giving a testimonial) subject to enforcement actions if their claims are found to be deceptive or misleading.

Despite these measures, however, questionable marketing practices – and products – continue to emerge.  One need look no further than the enforcement action taken in the coral calcium case above.  So, the best approach when encountering these extended ads may be to proceed with extreme skepticism and caution.

And maybe don’t proceed at all.

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