Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Power Balance Holographic Bracelet.. or An Expensive Con For Gullible Idiots

So I was in a sports shop the other day getting some brake pads for my bike when on the counter I noticed Power Bracelets!

Sounding like some add-on in an RPG for leveling up balance, they are priced at a highly reasonable £29.99.  Reasonable for the manufacturers and retailers that is, since so far as I can tell it consisted of a plastic band with a holographic sticker on it.  Unfortunately, that was as much as I could ascertain about this product, since it didn't even see fit to even attempt to explain how it might work on the packaging.  That really takes the biscuit: How hard is it to come up with some good quality mumbo-jumbo these days?  No, all this relied upon was argument from authority, displayed here as a fallacy in all its glory.

I struck up a conversation with the guy behind the till, asking how they worked and marveling at the price.  He didn't have a clue how they worked, merely that Beckham had one (he doesn't, but a host of other athletes do).  When I said it had the stench of pseudo-scientific nonsense about it along the lines of magnets and the like, he lowered his voice and said, "well, between you and me I think they are just a load of bollocks".

"So why do you sell it?", I replied...

"Why do you think?", rubbing thumb and forefinger together...

Oh Dear.  I can barely imagine what sort of mark up retailers are invited to take on this product.  Unless I'm very much mistaken and there actually is a highly complex, state-of-the-art holographically-powered balance machine in each bracelet, they must consist of 5p worth of plastic and a sticker.  Even if they charge retailers just 20% RRP, they are still making a killing!

So, to their website.  It's a glitzy affair, with promises of national websites all over the world (how depressing), though only the U.S. site is open at the moment (how surprising).  Numerous athletes have been paid to lie (or else are just as dumb as any other schmuck and have been convinced by their agent, also paid, that these things actually work) and claim that these really help with just about every aspect of sport and everyday life, as opposed to the years of dedicated practice and commitment to their sport.

At least they bother to hint at how it works, though the lack of imagination is astounding in this day and age:

What is Power Balance?

'Power Balance is Performance Technology designed to work with your body’s natural energy field. Founded by athletes, Power Balance is a favorite among elite athletes for whom balance, strength and flexibility are important.'

How Does the Hologram Work?

'Holography (from the Greek, ὅλος hólos whole + γραφή grafē writing, drawing) is a technique that allows the light scattered from an object to be recorded and later reconstructed so that it appears as if the object is in the same position relative to the recording medium as it was when recorded.'  OK, I admit that was from wikipedia... this is what they actually say...

'Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.'

Ah, Eastern Philosophies, those age old sages of holographic technology.  I'll give them 8/10 for ambiguity, but it's gotta be 1/10 for originality.  Sorry guys.

They've been a bit more clever when it comes to the testimonials.  Here's a selection of some of the best/worst quotes...

Pri Lima, Beach Volleyball:

"This product will raise your game and make a difference in how you feel. I mean there has got to be some reason almost every player on tour is wearing it now…"  Perhaps they have the same agents?

Ekolu Kalama, Stand-up Paddleboard

"I started using Power Balance after I saw my wife have the best sesh of her life with the stickers on her board, she sold me! Since then I use PB every time im in the water. Also, in stand up paddle boarding you use the paddle as a means to maintain stability and Power Balance is just another tool to keep your balance."   See! It's no different from using my paddles to keep balanced!  Doh!

Andrew Ference, Hockey

"The best way I can describe the difference is that I feel more grounded and in control of what my body is doing. I have shared the product with my team and it is now in most guy's skates and shoulder pads..."  I wonder if Power Balance were good enough to offer them for free?  Shill!

Shaquille O'Neal, Basketball

I want to do everything to get the slightest advantage; wristbands, necklaces, t-shirts, band-aids, everything and anything we can get our hands on. I’m here to tell you it works!”  Because nonsense isn't limited to just bracelets and necklaces!  Just get one tattooed on your forehead so we can all have a laugh.

Peter Smolik, Skateboarder

"Power Balance is the realest device in the industry right now."  Especially with people who say 'realest'

Oh man, that's low.  I just noticed the 'cause' page... special bracelets which see money fromt he purchase donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.  Urgh.  You little, squirming, ingratiating, sneeky arseholes.  What better way to say "we're not conmen!" than raising funds for cancer?

Part of me thinks that if people are so easily fooled out of £30 then fuck 'em... the other part of me riles at people getting rich in this way when the rest of us have to struggle.  How is such bollocks legal to do?  Bloody extremist cultural relativism that's how.  Can't slag of someones Eastern Philosophies now can we?!  I love Eastern philosophy and I can assure you that they never spoke of the sport enhancing qualities of holographic bracelets.

The consumer protection website Choice has this to say about Power Balance bracelets:

CHOICE verdict

CHOICE is all for the power of positive thinking, but we can’t find much positive to say about Power Balance. It has no discernable effect on flexibility and balance. Any benefit you feel while wearing it is almost certainly due to a placebo effect. So, zero stars for the Power Balance. If the products were cheap, we could at least call them a harmless bit of nonsense, but at $60 for the wristband and $95 for the pendant they’re far too overpriced to laugh off.

Next step: record some check-out people slagging them off and posting them on youtube.  There is something rather convincing in this consumerist world of someone who should be selling you something doing the complete opposite.  If anyone else fancies joining me, please link to this blog from sports forums and the like!

Also, many sports stars have twitter pages so lets target them publicly there!  Check out my twitter @grimeandreason for some I've already found and give em a guilt trip from hell!

Athletes on twitter supporting the Power Balance scam:

Rubens Barrichello: @rubarrichello - Particularly dissapointed in this one given the reliance on science of Formula 1.  Would have thought he would know better than that.
Casey Patterson: @caseypatt
Matthew Stafford: @matt_stafford9
Lamar Odom: @RealLamarOdom


Anonymous said...

I recently bought a Power Balance wristband from Performance Bands. I have to say that I don't believe in any of the rubbish about hologram technology but wanted to give it a go and I had £24 to spare.

The result? Well, I performed better in my running than before. Now this could be down to it being a placebo and me thinking that I would perform better due to the wristband, but at the end of the day, do I care? No. It's all in my mind, and I needed something to bring it out of me.

Ben King said...

Don't simply surrender to the fallacy that 'we just don't know'... we DO know, and so do the cynical manufacturers of Power Balance bracelets.

Look at the selling tactics they use. They are no different to every other snake oil salesmen on the net.

Other people don't really have that money to spend and yet will be taken in by the gullible sportsmen and women they look up to. By buying into it, you are supporting a sly and manipulative company and making arseholes rich in the process.

They are making it all up. You say it yourself... your performance is down to YOU, not the bracelet. Don't demeen your acheivement and don't encourage other people to either.

You may think it is harmless, but it is the thin end of the wedge. Power Balance are getting major publicity out of this and in the process they are bringing apparent legitimacy to exactly the same quack-speak that other, more dangerous people use when encouraging people with life-threatening illnesses to give up proper medication.

If someone came up to you in the street and offered you a bit of plastic, saying it had magical powers and could make you run faster, and is only £24 you would say fuck off. THIS IS NO DIFFERENT.

I notice you took the trouble of linking to where it could be bought. This goes beyond mere curiosity and makes me think you have other motives.

Sarah said...

The lack of information about how it *works* on the package is probably for the same reason as homeopathic *remedies* do not have details of what they are supposed to do on the packaging. Claims on packaging are strictly controlled by law.
Claims on websites, and stuff you are told by the people in the shop, or your mate who bought one and his/her cold cleared up after only ten days, are not so strictly controlled.
In fact even when a health food shop (frinstance) stocks something with a proven effect, the employees may well not know that - as shown in the study where mystery shoppers described the symptoms of mild depression. They got advised to try all sorts of the woo du jour, but not St John's Wort, which does apparently do better than placebo.
So the reason why there's nothing to say how it works is cos it doesn't, and if the company claimed it did, they'd have to show evidence or be fined.

Sarah said...

Incidentally, did you see Harriet Hall"s blog about this very thing on Science Based Medicine?

Tara D said...

'Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies.'

Reads: We know you would like to think of yourself as a more culturally aware and spiritual person, so instead of taking the time to teach yourself the ways in which to harness these ideologies, we present it to you here in a neat little package, enabling you to continue in blissful ignorance of the world at large.

Anonymous comments are just telling - why preach if you're afraid to put your name to it? It says more than the comment itself.