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.
- Ginsu knives:
- 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 - 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. It's also easier to cut through tough foods with a wide-arced hacking motion than with the kind of careful, controlled slicing you should be using in the kitchen. Host "Chef Tony" Notaro also cuts up a strip of paper in the same infomercial. Cutting through paper is actually the bare minimum of whether or not a knife is sharp enough to be used for normal knife things.
- 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 to sodium which turns the iodine colorless. This trick only works on a very specific chemical. Really this ought to be obvious - of course the dye cannot be made to disappear, so the only explanation is a chemical reaction. Cleaning clothes involves dissolving dirt and stains and washing them away, which is completely different to turning a solution colorless.
- 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. Insurance rates also tend to drop as you get older, but most insurance companies won't recalculate your rate in the middle of a policy, and will try to keep charging the same when you renew a policy for as long as they can. This leads to people "saving" money not because the service is actually cheaper, but because their rates are being calculated using current information.
- 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.
- This was parodied in a nineties Russian TV guide journal comercial, which began with placing the journal in distilled water and the "ordinary newspaper" in sulfuric acid.
- 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.
- The Sobakawa Buckwheat Pillow goes even further by proving that not only will feathers not protect an egg from a ten pound dumbbell, but that (unlike their product) feathers and foam can "burn and melt", which they prove by blowtorching them. While pillows do heat up, most people will just turn their pillow over and use the cool side if it bothers them. If your pillow needs to hold up to a blowtorch, you're using it wrong.
- 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 reduce 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.
- The Fridge Locker ad brags about how even an 800 pound bear can't break their product (basically a lockable lunchbox). Throughout the demonstration, said bear does little more than curiously poke the fridge locker.
- Similar to the various kitchen cutlery products above, this also occurs in the bladed replica and reproduction market. Some sellers will attempt to up-sell "wall-hangers" (cheaper, dull or fairly dull blades, with the only purpose being to be hung on a wall plaque or table stand) by demonstrating how they can cut things like their business card (or just scratch off a layer from it), bottles of liquid, fruit, or vegetables, implying they're usable. And here's a video helpfully showing why attempting to use such replicas outside their intended purpose for whatever reason, is a bad idea. And here's another video, from Skallagrim showing why cutting watermelons is not as impressive as some people would like to imply.
- A famous Tonka ad showed them pushing a Tonka dump truck off a cliff alongside a full-sized dump truck, to show the toy's resistance to damage. The toy was fine while the real truck was smashed... but that's because the toy is a few pounds of plastic and the real thing is dozens of tons of metal. A Tonka truck just flat-out isn't massive enough to damage itself in a fall like that, while a giant dump truck certainly is. Hell, the Tonka truck actually hit the sides of the cliff and bounced on the way down, so on top of weighing ten thousand times less than the competition, it also didn't have any time to build up velocity. (Admittedly, there were a fair number of Tonka ads that showed that Tonka trucks really were pretty survivable, this just wasn't one of them.)
- The Sun Genie is a solar powered lamp that is advertised as (among other things) being able to light up a staircase. Said staircase has over a dozen such lamps on it, with two on each stair and three on the landing. And the woman on the stairs is holding another Sun Genie in her hand. Given that each Sun Genie costs $15, that's roughly $200 just to light up stairs. At that point, it's cheaper (and easier) to just leave the stairwell lights on all night.
- The Dutch Glow ad shows how oil and water don't mix together but then adds their product which causes them to mix smoothly, allowing the oil to be washed away. Anyone who's ever taken high school chemistry, or even just used soap at any point in their lives, can tell you that literally all soaps will do the exact same thing.
- Those "detox foot pads" that purport to pull "toxins" out of your body through the pores in your feet. Not only do they not do what they tell you they do (because that is literally impossible), they make you think they're working because they turn sort of brownish-greyish-black on the bottom. How do they do that, you ask? Simple: they're made from fabric that changes color when exposed to moisture (such as your sweaty or freshly-washed feet).
- A semi-infamous ad for Naruto merch (toy versions of Zabuza's sword and Sasuke's giant shuriken) had the actors very dramatically using these weapons to hack through thin hanging sheets of rice paper. Realistically, rice paper is probably the only thing they could cut through; you could probably get the same result with a pointy stick. Of course, they are toys, so presumably amazing cutting power would actually not be a positive.
- Tesla, Inc. demonstrated the power of its electric Cybertruck by showing it easily winning a tug-of-war contest against a Ford F-150 pickup truck. The determining factor is actually that the Cybertruck weighs more and is a 4x4 model, while the F-150 shown is rear drive only and has less of its weight distributed over its rear wheels than its front wheels. This means the Cybertruck has more weight over its driven wheels, and therefore more traction. So it isnt a fair contest, and all it really tells us about the Cybertruck is that its heavy.
- The Aero Knife uses a side by side demonstration of a regular knife versus their knife. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention will notice that the regular knife is always just pushed straight down to cut a given object while the aero knife is used with a proper slicing motion. Not helping is that the regular knife is still cutting just fine, if not as prettily as the aero knife.
- The painting "Rachinsky's School"◊, by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky shows Russian children from village school in 1895 calculating things in mind, without pencil and paper. They were not unknown mathematical prodigies, just accustomed to memorizing a lot of facts and figures by rote. Those who memorized the squares of natural numbers up to 20, as a lot of children back then did, quickly find out the final result of the calculation in the picture is (365+365)/365, that is 2.
- In one Encyclopedia Brown story, High-School Hustler Wilford Wiggins tries to sell a device he claims can controls birds, and demonstrates this by having a rooster crow at sunset, as opposed to sunrise. Encyclopedia ruins the scam by pointing out that since the rooster was kept in a bag before hand, the bird probably thought it was sunrise and Wilford's so-called invention did nothing. (Of course, this isn't how roosters work.)
- 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.
- Mythbusters regularly discusses this in the examination of a myth. Adam once showed that ripping apart a phone book barehanded is actually quite simple when you know the technique, even teaching Jaime. Another episode in discussing a viral video on unlocking a car with a tennis ball, after the method was busted actually explaining the video was a simple matter of the car having a remote.
- 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.
- Parodied in this knife commercial: "If you want to cut through a tennis ball, for some reason, you can do that too."
- 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. Then again, it's a handy way to demonstrate a toilet without it becoming a huge case of Squick.
- Occasionally, this is inverted (as in, the people making the claims are working against the product) by viral videos, social media posts, urban legends, etc. that attempt to show how harmful soft drinks and junk foods are by doing something other than actually consuming them. For instance, one e-mail used a list of alternative uses for Coca-Cola to argue that it's unsafe to drink. Indeed, this was a lot of the joke behind "dihydrogen monoxide" - using exactly the same logic to argue for a ban on drinking water.
- Low mileage vehicles. While mileage can be a factor in an used vehicle's condition, a better guidance while buying a car is the state in which it currently is. For example, a 50k mile car which spent all its life on badly-kept road and received literally no maintenance would be in a worse condition than a meticoulusly cared-for vehicle driven only on smooth suburban roads for 300k miles.
- Many "torture tests" fall into this. A brand-new item may be able to take a lot of damage over the short term, but the real worry for such things is more long-term wear and tear and reliability, which can often be a different story. For instance, a phone might be able to still work after being hit by a hammer, but that doesn't mean its parts can't burn out or get jostled out of place over time, both of which are a lot more likely than people hitting it with a hammer.