Deceptively Simple Demonstration
Every infomercial advertiser wants to show its product in action, working flawlessly to solve the problem it was designed for. But what do you do if your product doesn't really look all that good in use, or if the difference between your product and your competitor's isn't obvious to the naked eye? Worse, what do you do if your product isn't any better than the competition?
You could hire actors Too Incompetent to Operate a Blanket
to highlight the supposed deficiencies of the competition, you could hire an actor to play the Insane Proprietor
(or hire two actors to be Two Guys in a Garage
), or you could use "Before" and "After" Pictures
to showcase your All-Natural Snake Oil
. Or... you could show your product doing something it was never intended to do - and doing it well.
The secret behind the Deceptively Simple Demonstration
is that the supposedly "difficult" task shown in the commercial is far easier than it looks - and is usually much easier than the task the product is designed for. It's a lot easier to blend a mobile phone into powder than it is to puree half a pound of cooked chickpeas, for instance. The advertiser is hoping that the customer doesn't realize that the demonstration is actually easier than it looks, or that he'll be so impressed by the demonstration (and especially the "power" of the motor, something relatively unimportant in most cases) that he won't even notice that it has little to no bearing on the job the product is supposed to do.
This doesn't mean that the advertiser is lying to the viewers, though: the product really works as shown. It's just that nobody is ever, ever
going to buy the product for that purpose.
If the use shown is outstandingly different from its intended use, it might be a Parody Commercial
- The ur-example might be the 1970s Ginsu knife commercial that showed someone using a Ginsu to cut through an aluminum can. Even comedians of the time wondered why.
- Later Ginsu commercials showed the blade cutting through an orange juice can - a CARDBOARD orange juice can.
- When making the commercials, the staff tried cutting anything they had on hand, and if it worked they'd put it in the ad. This included a radiator hose, which was actually installed on an employee's car when they tested it. It's a wonder they didn't go for battery cables and electrocute themselves.
- The Miracle Blade 3 infomercial shows a guy wielding a knife like a sword to cut right through a pineapple that's hanging by a thread from the ceiling. It's supposed to make the user think the blade is as sharp as a sword (not that most swords are particularly sharp, but they're counting on you not to know that) - it must be to cut through that tough, spiny pineapple rind, right? But pineapples are actually quite easy to cut through, especially just below the crown.
- Host "Chef Tony" Notaro also cuts up a strip of paper in the same infomercial. Totally effortless, just like any other knife.
- Most people use a blender for three things: to blend liquids with ice, making milkshakes, and to puree vegetables or fruit. In the "Will It Blend??" series, Blendtec's friendly nerd blends iPhones, laser pointers, video cameras, golf balls, and the like. But they all blend easily because they're relatively high-density solids that pulverize into powder when blended. Most food doesn't act like that. When Mark Bittman attempted to use a Blendtec to puree chickpeas in a New York Times video, the viscous mass of peas was too thick to circulate properly and a bubble of air formed around the blades - not surprisingly, because all blenders do the same damn thing. To process thicker, denser foods, a food processor is your best bet.
- In fact, the Blendtec spins so absurdly fast even on the lowest settings that it's ideal for blender drinks and frappes (which is why so many coffee shops use BlendTecs), but anything thicker will form an air bubble almost instantly. Luckily, they do make a special jar now for handling extremely thick subtances.
- The original Oxiclean ads showed Billy Mays removing orange-brown dye from a large bowl of water. While it's undeniably impressive, very few people need to clear dye from water on a regular basis.
- Additionally, the main reason it's difficult to remove an old coffee stain from a button-down shirt is because the stain has been set into the fabric over time. With a bowl of water, there's nothing for the dye to "set into"; it just suspends, and while it might be impossible to take it out with your hands, a chemical should do just fine.
- The dye used in the water was likely some sort of Iodine solution, which has a very specific chemical reaction sodium which turns the iodine colorless. This trick only works on a very specific chemical.
- Vacuum commercials and demonstrations work on this principle. Yes, the suction in a Dyson or an Oreck is strong enough to suspend a bowling ball, but what does that mean for your home? Not much, it turns out: without a decent beater bar to dislodge the dirt from carpeting and high-quality, thick brushes to sweep the dirt off hard floors, a vacuum with strong suction is little better than a vacuum with no suction at all (and even worse in some instances - strong suction can actually damage some surfaces).
- Not only that, but the pressure produced when the nozzle is completely blocked by a bowling ball does not necessarily have anything to do with the air flow rate when the nozzle is against a surface being vacuumed (which is what actually matters for cleaning).
- There was an infomercial back in the 90s for an iron cover which apparently was supposed to prevent users from scorching their clothing because they were too stupid to set the iron's thermostat correctly. (It worked by insulating the face of the iron, which meant you were basically setting your iron to High and ironing on Low.) One of the demonstrations showed the presenter meticulously ironing a thick wool casual sweater. Certainly wool does iron beautifully with very little effort and looks wonderful on camera, but who in the history of humankind has ever ironed a thick wool casual sweater?
- A related gimmick is, as an example, using a dirtier floor or a darker stain on a lighter shirt for your product, and only cleaning the middle. Because the contrast between cleaned and uncleaned is greater, the product seems more effective.
- Every insurance company likes to point out that people who switch to their company save hundreds of dollars. Impressive, until you realize that people who won't save money don't switch and are excluded from the calculation. Also an example of lying using statistics.
- Twenty or so years ago, Crest showed commercials where half an egg had been treated with their toothpaste, then the whole thing submerged in an acid solution. The treated side remained hard while the untreated shell became soft and malleable. What they didn't tell you is that virtually any fluoridated toothpaste would give you the same result.
- This is why toothpaste is usually the go-to example of a parity product — i.e., one in which all competing brands are equally effective and largely interchangeable. In order to sell different brands, marketers have to resort to inventive (if mildly unethical) tricks like the egg-in-acid wheeze.
- Every commercial advertising a pillow will show someone testing it by dropping a bowling ball, dumbbell or other heavy weight on it to show how supportive it is, often with a nice fragile egg under it to make a big messy result. But, unless you're a metalhead, you're not going to be slamming your head into the pillow at that high of a velocity.
- Deadliest Warrior often makes use of these demonstrations for entertainment value when testing various weapons. Hand weapons are often swung at targets that are braced for impact so that the full force of the weapon is transfered to the target. Fragile targets are also used for weapons that don't supply very much force. This ensures that each weapon cleaves or pulverizes its target to impressive effect.
- Houdini frequented this. Tricks seem more impressive if the audience only thinks they're difficult, for example in escaping from being locked in a safe. Ask yourself: are safes designed to keep people in, or out?
- American Standard markets toilets that are powerful enough to flush several golf balls without clogging. Unless you poo like an elephant, or radically overuse toilet paper, you don't need this much flushing power.
- In the Edge of Glory ad, Anthony Sullivan uses the product to sharpen a credit card into a blade, which he then uses to cut up a tomato. Who knows why the company thought anyone would be impressed with their product's ability to cut plastic.
- In the Brazilian Juicer Walita ad, the host shows the product's sturdiness by using it to get raw cassava juice. Raw cassava is much harder than any kind of fruit (it's supposed to be boiled - and it takes quite a while to boil it to the right point - and then either fried or used in soups), but the funny part is that raw cassava is actually toxic. So, on the course of the ad, there was a huge yellow disclaimer explaining that while it can make cassava juice, you are not supposed to drink it.
- In one commercial for Bridgestone Tires, they coated a bowling ball in the roll-surface of their tires, allowing it to be rolled down the lane in a perfect line for a strike. Actually, the main difficulty in aiming a bowling ball is the fact that it's heavy, has a polished or just very smooth surface, and that the floor you'll be rolling it on is also heavily polished and oiled, and therefore slippery. Coating a bowling ball in ANY rubber, whether it be from these tires, that of their main competitors, or even from a pencil eraser will give it much more traction and give you similar "perfect" results.
- In fact, it's the oil that's the key to the curve of a bowling ball: The slippery oil prevents it from curving until it gets to the dry part of the lane, where the ball then grips the lane and curves. The reason bowling balls aren't made of rubber is that they're more elastic (read: bouncy) than the current standard (plastic or polyurethane), thus actually harder to get a consistent curve, even on a smooth surface.
- Bathroom cleaners and the like often do a demonstration where a dirty coin is left half dipped in the product and comes out looking shiny and new looking. This becomes a lot less impressive when one talks to an actual numismatist (coin collector) - or someone with a knowledge of basic chemistry. They'll be able to tell you that plenty of stain producers such as ketchup, toothpaste, or—as the MythBusters showed—ordinary cola) will do an equally good job of removing coin tarnish; in a slightly incidental note, those aforementioned coin collectors will reject coins that have undergone cleaning with chemicals outright, since the process can remove thin layers of metal from the coin as well as the natural patina, and therefore reduces their value significantly.
- Nicely averted by the Macho Monster 7000 waste treatment shredder, more commonly known as the machine that destroys EVERYTHING. You'll notice that most stuff going into the shredder is mostly "soft" garbage like shoes and tampons, with the "strongest" stuff being a trio of paint cans or an old rotting crate palette. This is because the machine's selling point isn't how much damage it can do, but how resistant it is to jams.
- As Cracked pointed out, Swedish scientists proved human sense of touch can distinguish on a surface wrinkles the size of a virus. In practice, the sense of touch can distinguish between surfaces with more friction (as in "apparently smooth, but friction can be felt") and less friction (as in "feels smoother"), this doesn't mean someone can touch a surface and say "geez, it's a virus down here!"
- Parodied in this knife commercial: "If you want to cut through a tennis ball, for some reason, you can do that too."