Escaping the weight loss matrix
In the movie The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo two capsules: “You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. All I’m offering is the truth – nothing more.” Consumers who got direct mail promotions for Double Shot Weight Regulator were also offered two tablets: “The BLUE capsule tracks down and eliminates the fat that you have already accumulated, the RED capsule reduces up to 90% of the calories you eat!” Based on a lawsuit just settled by the FTC, there may have been more truth in Morpheus’ explanation of The Matrix than in ads for Double Shot.
Double Shot's Canadian marketers went to a list broker for the names and addresses of people who had bought weight loss products. They sent out more than a million direct mail ads featuring a distinguished-looking fellow described as "Dr. Joseph Breechman, Director of Weight Loss Research for the Freedom Center Against Obesity."
But don’t rush off to make an appointment. First, according to the ad, his offices “are waiting list only.” What’s more, the address for the Freedom Center Against Obesity that appeared in Double Shot ads and on the label was just the location of the fulfillment house that processed orders for the product.
In the mailer, the stethoscope-sporting Dr. Breechman promised, “This plate of spaghetti has 720 calories! But when you take DOUBLE SHOT you will only absorb . . . 72 calories!” The ad also featured questions for the good doctor:
To get these results you guarantee that there is no diet to follow and no exercises to do. How is this possible?
Dr. Breechman: Because the 2 DOUBLE SHOT capsules that I developed will do all the tedious work for you. All you have to do is take 1 BLUE capsule and 1 RED capsule each morning. This is why my method is so effective and knows no failure, because it doesn’t require any willpower or effort to do.
We often gain our weight back, and sometimes put on much more. Will this happen with your method?
Dr. Breechman: I’ll be very frank with you, it has never happened. All the people who have lost weight with DOUBLE SHOT have never gained back any of their weight because my method also acts as a weight regulator! But if this should happen, simply take your 2 DOUBLE SHOT capsules for 1 or 2 days and you'll find your ideal weight almost instantly.
Well, we had a few questions for "Dr. Breechman” and his compatriots. Like, what’s your proof to support your claims for those $79 pills? And just where are those clinical studies you say you have? Suffice it to say, the FTC found the claims the defendants made about their red and blue pills a little hard to swallow.
The settlement with defendant Manon Fernet and the company she controls requires them to turn over $500,000 and bans them for life from manufacturing or marketing weight loss products or helping others do that. Claims for other dietary supplements, foods, drugs, or devices will need competent and reliable scientific evidence.
The message for other businesses: Challenging bogus health claims remains a top FTC priority, so expect to hear from us if you run ads promising easy weight loss.
As part of the ongoing fight against false diet promotions, the FTC has resources for consumers and members of the media. Consumers can take the Weight Loss Challenge to test their ability to sniff out a scam.
Broadcasters and publishers can consult Gut Check: A Reference Guide for Media on Spotting False Weight Loss Claims. Of course, Gut Check covers only seven specific representations that can’t be true. The list of deceptive weight loss claims that violate the FTC Act appears to be limited only by the boundless creativity of questionable marketers out make a quick buck at consumers’ expense.