Products sold on late-night television often promise to solve pressing life problems like eliminating baked-on crud from cookware, mopping up gallons of spilled milk and preventing falls from ladders when cleaning gutters. But do they work?
Consumer Reports’ tests of 15 products sold through infomercials reveal that many of them are just not worth buying.
CR’s experts suggest that some of the products not worth paying for include The Slap Chop dicer, the Snuggie, the ShamWow, the Ab Circle Pro, Debbie Meyer Green Bags and the iRobot Looj gutter cleaner.
According to the report “Should you buy this now!?” infomercials are a mighty money machine. They can chop marketing costs to as little as one-tenth the size of a traditional advertising campaign and slice posted prices when they increase the total bill with shipping and handling fees and other extras.
The secret, according to an advertising expert, lies in neuroscience – infomercials are carefully scripted to pump up dopamine levels in your brain. The fun starts with dramatizations of a problem you didn’t know you had followed by an incredible solution, then a series of ever more amazing product benefits, bonuses, and giveaways, all leading to the final thrilling plunge of an unbelievably low price. After the ride, dopamine levels drop in five or six minutes, which is why they ask you to buy in the next three minutes.
“Consumers should pause 10 minutes before buying anything from an infomercial and see if they can get the same job done for free or with a product that they already have in their house,” said Jeff Blyskal, CR senior editor. “Think if you can find another solution for this ‘problem.’ Instead of buying an exercise machine, for example, doing sit ups or just following a diet may accomplish the same thing.”
In recent years, CR has turned up a mix of “miracle” gadgets and goops that deceived, delivered, or landed somewhere in between. Here’s a roundup:
Slap Chop. The Claim: By slapping this gadget with your palm, you can “dice, chop and mince in seconds” and remove skins from onions and garlic. Cost: About $20.
The Check: CR slapped mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, chocolate, almonds and other foods.
Bottom Line: No high fives. It chopped unevenly. Harder foods needed about 20 slaps and tended to get trapped in the blades. Garlic peels came off in five slaps, onion skins were only partially separated after 10.
Snuggie. The Claim: “The Snuggie blanket keeps you totally warm,” and is made of “ultrasoft, luxurious fleece.” Cost: $19.95 for two.
The Check: CR testers put Snuggies through 10 wash-and-dry cycles and asked 11 staffers to wear and comment.
Bottom Line: The Snuggie was so far from snug that several staffers had trouble walking. When washed it sheds. Each time CR laundered two Snuggies, they removed a sandwich bag worth of lint from the dryer.
PedEgg: The Claim: The foot file removes calluses and dead skin to “make your feet feel smooth and healthy with no mess. Cost: About $10.
The Check: Twenty-six women and three men with rough, calloused feet tried a PedEgg on one foot and a pumice stone on the other. They used each product once, rubbing PedEgg on dry skin and the stone on wet skin.
Bottom Line: Crack open a PedEgg. It was very good at removing calluses and good with dry skin.
Grease Bullet: The Claim: “Just fill your sink with hot water, drop in the Grease Bullet and soak your toughest baked-on cookware, no more scrubbing!” Cost: $10 for 12 bullets.
The Check: CR tested it on glass, ceramic, stainless-steel, aluminum, and porcelain-coated cookware in which testers baked on a thin layer of beef broth and “monster mash,” an evil mix of cherry pie filling, tomato puree, egg yolks, lard and cheese.
Bottom Line: The bullet is no bull’s eye, but it could be worth a shot. It did a reasonable job with most residues if the cookware soaked for the recommended half hour. But soaking cookware overnight in hot water and dish detergent would also aid cleanup.
ShamWow: The claim: “Like a chamois, a towel, a sponge, works wet or dry, holds 12 times its weight in liquid.” Cost: Four 19 ½ x 23 ½ inch towels and four 15 x15-inch towels cost $19.95.
The Check: CR testers dunked ShamWows in water, soda and milk until each could hold no more liquid and the small ones to see if they could slurp up as much water, milk and used motor oil as sponges.
Bottom Line: CR wasn’t wowed. ShamWow soaked up only 10 times its weight in water or soda and usually 12 times its weight in milk. If testers used a damp ShamWow, they needed another cloth to wipe remaining droplets.
The full investigation is available in the February 2010 issue of Consumer Reports on sale at newsstands now or online at www.ConsumerReports.org.