Monday, January 18, 2016

Proves Nothing

Apparently, the Squatty Potty is the latest device that is popular within the tribe. Essentially, it's a stool you put your feet on while you take a dump. They come in bargain basement plastic models, all the way up to high end handmade bamboo versions. But, let's be real here, it's a stool, you put your feet on while you take care of business. You could use a couple of cardboard boxes, a couple of blocks of wood, heck, you could just squat on the seat. Most importantly, you could engage your brain and think a little bit beyond just sucking up the advertising material like a sponge. 

But, it's not just people in my tribe that are so susceptible to advertising, people in all different tribes are sucked in not just by slick marketing but also by the now ubiquitous "influencer advertising" that seeps relentlessly through all social media. 

Endurance athletes seem particularly susceptible to the latest energy bar/drink/goo/mix. The latest one I have seen, which I find particularly offensive, is Core, from Proven Nutrition, which is marketed as "a 40-calorie all-natural, daily-use, great tasting nutritional drink mix for total-body health and any-time refreshment packaged in 100% biodegradable, minimal material, pouch packages ... (kids like drinking CORE too!)..!"
There is genius in this marketing. First off, the company name, Proven Nutrition, implies a wealth of irrefutable science behind the products. Now anyone that follows nutritional research or has even a rudimentary understanding of the scientific method knows that nothing is proven. Some theories are supported, others are refuted. The only thing science can say with certainty is that what we don't know far exceeds what we do know. Pair "proven" with "nutrition" and you have a winning combination. Products that are not only proven but are essential for the maintenance of life. 
If the name doesn't hook you, the verbiage must. After all, just about every cue to influence consumer behaviour is in the product tag line. The drink has a low 40 calories (water, of course, has zero calories and would be a better, more economical choice), it's "all natural" whatever that means. I scooped up some dog shit when I was walking the dogs today. It was certainly all natural, but I need more evidence than that to consider ingesting it. This "nutritional" drink mix is good for "total body health". I don't know what "total body health" means, but I'm pretty sure getting it is not as easy as drinking a sugar sweetened beverage (SSB). And, of course, the "100% biodegradable, minimal material, pouch packages." Of course, the ultimate in minimal packaging is to simply turn the tap on and take a drink of water, which, is also an all natural, nutritious (water is an essential nutrient, sugar is not), low calorie, any time refreshment for total body health. 

 All natural, restores fluid balance, essential for health and vitality,
low calorie, anytime refreshment with zero packaging
Core is very similar to all the other energy drinks on the market. The entirety of the calories in the drink come from sugar. Isomaltulose(a linked glucose-fructose molecule produced in the laboratory from sucrose - which is actually kind of hard to call "all natural") and - trigger word warning - organic cane sugar. Isomaltulose does have some properties that make it slightly better than simple sucrose but only when you compare isomaltulose to sucrose (glucose and fructose). Hence, the surge in interest in isomaltulose from industry. Industry knows what you may not, that consumers are never going to give up sugar, so they are moving towards something that is slightly better than sugar. The same way that hitting yourself eight times in the head with a hammer is slightly better than hitting yourself ten times in the head. Personally, I think I'll just skip the head hammering altogether. 
Of course, similar to all energy drinks, there is the list of other "natural" ingredients all of which are readily available in any whole food diet. Finally, there is the unpronounceable herb touted to cure everything from erectile dysfunction to diabetes. Every energy supplement producer has one super herb/food/compound in their product none of which have very much in the way of scientific support but which give the product an aura of scientific validity and, more importantly, cue the scarcity heuristic in gullible humans. 
But, none of this is anything which we haven't seen before. Exaggerated, unsubstantiated claims, the use of certain trigger words well known to cue heuristic decision making, and the long list of scientific studies, which, upon closer examination show only very limited utility in similarly limited populations (frequently non-human species). Proven Nutrition, however, has, to employ endurance athlete jargon speech, "taken things to the next level." Their sports drink is not just for those engaged in sport, it is for everyone, any and all the time, and, scariest of all, "kids like drinking CORE too!" Clearly, sports nutrition companies are learning from Big Pharma, spread the net as wide as possible, capture people as young as possible, sit back, and watch your profits rise.

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