Beware the Infomercial

Photo: Lusi


Ever found yourself tempted by an infomercial for workout equipment? I know I have. I see the cheesy ad and I start to laugh, yet by the end, I find myself mesmerized, secretly yearning for a new miracle fitness solution.

It’s just hard not to envy those people exercising in the commercials. I want their lean muscular legs, their strong capable arms, their cute butts and washboard abs and sparkly white teeth! (It’s not clear to me how one gets white teeth from exercise equipment, but it seems to be part of the package).

And the equipment looks so practical and fun. It folds and stows and adjusts to different heights; you can use it eight different ways; it comes with three handy accessories; it works every major muscle group in your body—and just costs $19.99 a month!

Although it seems curious: why do the commercials never mention how many months you have to keep paying for? Do people really not care?

Honey, did you just buy a vinyl seat, eight elastic bands, and four adjustable aluminum rods for four thousand dollars?

Four thousand dollars? Is that how much it actually costs? Why yes dear, I guess I did! But it will exercise our entire bodies in only 15 minutes. And don’t worry, our payments are only $19.99 a month!

But even knowing how much they cost, and no matter how tempting these things look, I could never bring myself buy an infomercial product. I was raised by skeptical parents who instilled in me a simple rule that I am powerless to disobey: if a product is only sold only on TV, you must not buy it. If it was really any good they would sell it in regular stores.

Is this actually true? Perhaps not. There are probably plenty of exceptions, which I hope you'll tell me about in the comments. But for those of you who did not grow up in a cynical household, here are a five good reasons to think carefully before dialing that phone when you see an exercise infomercial:

1. It’s Not The Product That Makes Those Exercisers Look So Good.

That guy who looks like he could bench press a Ford Explorer or do squats with a refrigerator balanced on his head? He is a fitness model. It's his job to look like that for every project--whether he's promoting a kickboxing DVD, a chin-up bar, or performing in a gay porn video. And trust me, he did not get that way by using stretchy elastic bands or 10 lb kettlebells.

2. High Quality Exercise Systems With Many Moving Parts Are Expensive to Build.

If the infomercial product does exactly what the $20,000 system at the gym does but it only costs $159? That’s because it’s crappy! Paint will flake off, parts will squeak, it won’t feel stable, and the whole thing will probably fall apart minutes after the warranty expires.

3. Exercise Equipment Does Not Come With a Container of Willpower.

Do you fantasize that with a new piece of equipment, exercise will suddenly become fun? It won’t. In fact, twenty minutes after you set it up, the novelty will wear off, and you may find the new piece of equipment much less fun than running, walking, biking, swimming, tennis, rollerskating, or other options you may already have available. So before investing a lot of money, figure out if you’d really use the thing.

4. They are Lying When They Say it’s a Limited Time Offer.

This stuff will only get cheaper if you wait and you’ll get even more “And that’s not alls!” So don’t yield to a sudden impulse and a fake deadline; take some time to think it over.

5. Product Research is a Pain But You Need To Do It.

To find suitable home exercise equipment, you have to look beyond television marketing pitches. Ask a gym rat or consult a personal trainer or read consumer magazines or check fitness web forums. Or go to a real live fitness retailer and try stuff out! There are a lot of great home workout options, but so much of it depends on your interests, budget, space, and commitment. It's worth investing a little time in your search.

Ever bought anything from an infomercial, or been tempted?

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