A Prescription in Marketing

Thursday, October 12, 2006

They Give Marketers A Bad Rap

A few weeks ago, Dateline NBC revealed a new skin-care product called Moisturol. The product was supposedly developed to keep your skin moist and wrinkle-free. Their USP was the fact that Moisturol came in pill form, which worked from the inside out. Unlike other skin moisturizers, they said, there's no need to apply creme or ointment to your skin.

However, the "company" who marketed Moisturol never revealed that the product was a complete fake. The inventors never conducted any clinical trials to prove that Moisturol would work, because they knew it wouldn't.

In fact, Moisturol was nothing more than a pill filled with Nestle's Quik. As in the powder used to make chocolate milk.

And the "inventor" was actually Dateline NBC, who wanted to test how easily a phony health care product could be sold through an infomercial to an unsuspecting public.

Masquerading as a representative from "Johnston Products," a Dateline reporter contacted a marketing firm and told them up front that he didn't think the product would help many people, and that no clinical trials were run to test its effectiveness.

And what did the marketing firm think? They thought there wouldn't be a problem, as all that was needed was "somebody in a white coat" to give the impression that the product had been scientifically tested. That and a few paid testimonials.

So they got some actresses claiming Moisturol worked wonders and paid $140,000 for an infomercial to be produced. And the marketing firm delivered on their promise to provide the "white coat," who actually turned out to be a real physician. And not just any physician, but a certified Dermatologist.

Her name was Dr. Margaret Olsen, board certified, and at the time Chief of Dermatology at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, CA.

I quote Dr. Olsen: "So in this situation Moisturol would be really helpful for people. Moisturol is one of the new products out that is going to help get rid of lines and wrinkles from the inside out. The idea being is if you can make happier, healthier cells that make better collagen and this is a very innovative way to do it and very practical."

After the fact, Dr. Olsen admitted she had never even seen the product.

So what are consumers supposed to think when a real doctor gives a testimonial and endorsement for a product? In many cases, it overcomes their skepticism. Except when it's revealed often enough, like in this case, that it's a bunch of hogwash.

The bottom line is it hurts reputable marketers dearly.

Doctors like Olsen are paid to sell products. It's anybody's guess as to how many of them actually examine the products they're pitching.

And if you think it's only doctors who do this, I have some prime real estate in North Korea you may be interested in.

Here are some other products that the FTC eventually shut down. But not before the damage was done.

  • Omexin, a cure for baldness.

  • A dietary supplement called Coral Calcium Supreme. It was claimed that the product "provided the same amount of bio-available calcium as two gallons of milk, [and] could be absorbed into the body faster than ordinary calcium, and could cure cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, lupus, and other illnesses."

  • The Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet, which the FTC eventually cracked down on for claiming that it relieved sciatic pain, headaches, and sinus problems. The company has been forced to give up the $22.5 million it made from sales of the product and issue $87 million in refunds.

  • Biotape, an adhesive strip sold by the same marketing firm that gave us Coral Calcium Supreme. Biotape was supposed to provide permanent relief from severe back pain, arthritis, sciatica, and migraines.

  • Blue Stuff and Super Blue Stuff, which supposedly provided relief from "excruciating sciatic nerve pain," pain due to "crushed vertebrae, and 'awful' pain due to a brain tumor."

And that's just a small sample. I can only imagine the poor unwitting souls who parted with their hard-earned money in the hopes for a cure or relief from their pain.

However, there will always be scam artists and con men out there to pray on innocent people's wants and desires. Luckily, the good still far outweigh the bad. But I fear that as more of these scams are made public, it will discourage an already suspicious and un-trusting public.

Time will certainly tell.

So what can we as reputable marketers do in the meantime. Well, maintaining a strong standard of ethics is paramount, for starters. Refusing to do business with any of these charlatans is another.

Some people aren't waiting to take broader action.

For instance, my friend and fellow marketer Shel Horowitz recently released a new book of his, entitled "Principled Profit." It's about marketing that puts people first.

In the wake of the Enron and other scandals in the business community, Shel wanted to do something to make a difference. So he created what he calls the "Ethical Business Pledge."And his goal is to get 25,000 business people to sign it.

I signed it. Perhaps you have, too. But if you haven't, I urge you to check out his website to find out more about it:


And if you have your own list of subscribers and marketing partners, I hope you'll pass this along to them as well. It's a noble cause to literally change the world for the better.

You can read more about the Dateline NBC story here:



  • Wasn't it NBC that did the fake car crash tests a few years back?
    I trust network television almost as much as I trust the peddler on the corner.

    By Blogger leadavis59, at 9:13 AM  

  • John

    Bringing that stuff to light makes me sick to my stomach!

    I cannot believe that people set aside their business ethics to prey on unsuspecting victims like that.

    And yes...that tarnishes the reputation of honest marketers like myself who have also signed the "Business Ethics Pledge".

    Joseph Ratliff
    Professional Copywriter, Direct Marketing Consultant, and Author of The Profitable Business Edge

    By Blogger Joseph Ratliff, at 12:10 PM  

  • Thanks for your feedback, folks.

    I also inadvertently posted Shel Horowitz's book website URL. Here is the URL to sign the Business Ethics Pledge:


    Warm Regards,

    John Ritskowitz

    By Blogger John Ritskowitz, at 2:36 PM  

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