How To Avoid Fitness Scams and Slick Advertising Tricks

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In the past two articles, we explored various ways fitness and weight loss scam artists may attempt to convince you to buy their products even though they stand little chance of actually helping you reach your goals. Read How To Avoid Fitness Scams – Part 1 and How To Avoid Fitness Scams – Part 2.

We’ve looked at how numbers and sales copy can be manipulated to make mundane results and product sound bigger than life. We’ve also checked out how some sales copy is aimed at making you feel powerless to improve your fitness so you have little choice but to buy the product.

In this final article, we’ll explore two very common tactics that make a product sound promising even though the ads never say the product will help you reach your goals.

Tactic #6: Inferring a Benefit without Actually Stating the Product Does Anything
One of the trickiest aspects of fitness product advertising is letting you believe there is a benefit to using the product, even though the company and the ad don’t actually say that their product will help you at all.

Some products will infer they help you burn fat with phrases like “contains twice as many fat burning enzymes” or “guaranteed to crank up your metabolism”. Will more fat burning enzymes actually cause you to burn more fat? Will increasing your metabolism (notice how using the word “crank” is kind of vague) really torch your body to a thinner self?  I wouldn’t bet on it.

The same can be said about products that are said to “improve testosterone production”, or will “slow muscular protein breakdown”. Again, we are looking at possibly buying a product that might do something, but that doesn’t really mean anything on the bottom line.

Instead, the scam artists are betting that you will make a leap in judgment in your own mind and think “that means that I will lose more weight and build more muscle”.  In this way, the advertisement is actually letting us deceive ourselves a bit, rather than trying to do all the deception on its own.

It’s a clever sales tactic that infers a product will help you, without actually saying it will. This way the producers can cover their tail so if they ever end up in court they can truthfully say “we never stated that this product helps the body burn fat”.

Another clever way of using this tactic is through the use of images of fitness models. They put a picture of a svelte and sexy body on the ad, and even though they don’t say “this product created this body”, they hope you will jump to that conclusion. Even the world’s most lipo-sucked, plastic surgery laden and steroid injected bodies take years to develop into the image you see in the ad.

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An interesting trick I always use when I see a model selling a product is to ask myself this, was this celebrity, model or athlete in good shape before this product was invented? If the answer is yes (which it almost always is), then I know the product is not really that important. If the model in the ad were able to get in great shape before the product was even conceived then it couldn’t be that important or essential.

So unless they blatantly state concrete benefits like “You will burn five pounds of fat in 48 hours”, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions or jump to make the purchase. I also wouldn’t put much stock into an endorsement by anyone who has a longer history than the history of the product.

Tactic #7: Result Hijacking 
I once had a couple of friends who bought a special necklace that was supposed to make them stronger and more muscular. So they wore it for a few months and surprise, they gained exactly those benefits!  They got strong, they became ripped and they lost weight. Did the necklace work? Nope!

Included with the necklace was a special book filled with basic exercises like push-ups and a simple diet plan. They followed the information in that book to the letter and it was that basic fitness information that made them stronger.

Sometime later, they rediscovered those necklaces but long forgot the diet and exercise advice. It was almost funny when they asked me why the necklaces were no longer working for them the second time around.

This is a perfect example of what I like to call result hijacking. It’s done when a company produces a product that does little to nothing for you, but as a side note they also give you some basic fitness and diet advice that holds the real power. What happens is the product is claiming the results from another activity.

It’s very prevalent with products that promise the world, but at the same time highly recommend a sensible diet and exercise. I figure that if a product was really worth its salt, then it should be able to stand alone. I would love to see an effective product with ad copy that said:

“You don’t have to do anything, you can eat all you like and watch TV all day. As long as you take this product you will reach your goals.”

There are examples of just such sales copy. Unfortunately, most of these claims land the company in court from misleading claims and false advertising.

Sometimes a product will come out that puts a spin on a successful exercise but the product lays claim to all of the effectiveness. A perfect example is the rotating pushup handle. The sales copy is pretty exciting and promising that by rotating the hands during a push up you unlock all sorts of potential.

While products like this are not bad, they often take far too much credit for the success of their users. I myself use pushup handles, but I know the real value in using them is coming from the pushup exercise itself. The handles simple add some flavor or spice to the move. It’s nice to have but crediting a special handle with the results of doing pushups would be like crediting salt and pepper with the flavor and satisfaction of a 5 star gourmet dinner.

The bottom line is simple; all of the power to improve and transform your body lies within you. Nothing you can buy or consume deserves nearly as much credit as our consumer culture likes to bestow on our toys.

We don’t credit the finest works of art to the brushes or chisels that were used to create them. We credit the artist whose passion and hard work were 99% responsible. Sure they could not have done it without their tools, but that doesn’t mean those tools were in any way special.

There is nothing you need to buy or rely on to get in great shape. Purchase goods and services because you enjoy them, not because you need them. Feel free to discard almost anything you don’t enjoy using. There are always alternatives to reaching your goals so you never should feel like you must buy something.

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About Author

Matt Schifferle

My name is Matt Schifferle and I'm an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Level 1 coach, underground strength coach and I'm a 5th degree black belt in Taekwon-Do. I specialize in outdoor and playground based underground and CrossFit style bootcamps. See my profile page for more information!

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