The bodies and the big bucks Ads: In the world of infomercials, beautiful people thank their lucky stars -- and the products they're pitching -- for their sleek bodies.

September 02, 1997|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

The woman looked down at the scale, gasped and shrieked, "Eight pounds!" Quickly, the camera switched to a wide shot of the studio audience, which was making like a crowd that had just witnessed a home run to win the seventh game of the World Series.

Jumping, cheering, high-fives and lots of teeth, everyone, combed and coiffed, dressed smartly, bright-eyed and attentive. In other words, not your typical studio audience at the "Jerry Springer Show."

Now it's back to the woman standing on the scale and she's doing all she can to maintain her composure. "I'm so thankful," she blubbers over and over again.

Welcome to the world of infomercials -- diet, health and light machinery division. If your house isn't wired for cable, count yourself among the blessed, although the endless paid programming shows (as they're officially termed) are proliferating on broadcast stations, too.

This particular number was for the Aspen Wellness Group 7-Day Diet, "a $400 value for just three easy payments of $29.95," if you act before the cock crows three times. Someone named Kim Zimmer is the non-stop hostess, and a roomful of kindergarten kids couldn't match this lady's energy. Just watching for 30 minutes must burn off about 100 calories.

Testimony being what it is, an integral part of propaganda, a big dude replaces the woman on the scale. Yikes, this guy has dropped 13 pounds. "And in just seven days," reminds Ms. Zimmer, a half-dozen times or so. Papillon didn't do so well when they cut his daily ration of bread and water in half at the old Devil's Island resort.

On and on. Amid the worthwhile information, like diets don't really work and metabolism is nine points of the law, some outrageous claims are made: One gent said he had his body fat drop from 26.9 percent to 14.8 percent in just a couple of weeks. Wow! Liposuction or amputation can't match that.

These Aspen folks -- or rather men and women from central casting, if truth be told -- insist that by eating what plan founder Gary Smith calls "real food" for just a week, their skin became clearer, their hair easier to manage and their energy off the charts.

All right already, we're convinced. We've jotted down the toll-free number and dug out the checkbook. But there is no stopping the typical diet or fitness infomercial. Many are called and many are chosen to repeat what has already been said several times.

When it comes to pleas for diet plans, competing companies do not put the knock on the competition. They seem comfortable with the fact it's a $6 billion business and they will carve out their share of it.

The same cannot be said for the firms peddling the equipment to help us beautify, build, firm up, tone, create and sculpt "that body you've always dreamed about."

Remember the "abs" revolution?

Even the most gullible among us couldn't possibly believe that a man, woman or child can develop rippling abdominal muscles by laying on the floor inside one of these contraptions for just five minutes three times a week for a month. Still, who's to deny how gorgeous the people who parade out and demonstrate the machines look?

Those lads with the 32-inch waists and those women of perfect proportions, it is suggested, have been working to attain the look for just a couple of months. Yeah, right.

In the long run, there is an advantage to watching all the commercials for treadmills costing as much as $5,000, Nordic whatevers, stairclimbers, Health Riders, ab doo-dads, diet plans, capsules, audio and videotapes and so on.

Sooner or later, the truth figures to sink in: Namely, health and fitness pretty much boil down to a combination of exercise, sensible eating and doing away with the lousy habits that caused those clogged arteries and unsightly bulges in the first place.

No doubt just about all those wellness infomercials have something to offer, but to totally swallow what is offered is as imprudent as figuring that your purchase of a lottery ticket means you've got a better-than-average chance of winning something.

It wasn't too long ago that the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and, after study, commanded the makers of stationary bikes, treadmills and ab builders to cool it in their infomercials unless the outrageous claims they were making could be proven or backed up.

Needless to say, claims of 20 minutes on a treadmill three times a week producing a Miss Universe within six months have been toned down considerably. The FTC is presently working on providing clearer legal standards for claims made on infomercials.

Nearly $2.5 billion was spent for exercise equipment for home use last year, so manufacturers and marketers are wont to be more realistic in their claims to keep the orders flowing.

Instead of hinting that great benefit can be derived while pushing a pair of low-resistance pedals while sitting down, snacking and watching television, the word now is, "If people exert themselves, the equipment will do a lot of good."

As they warn at the end of the TV show "Steals & Deals," if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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