Manufacturers Selling "Sizzle not Steak"
As someone who has used sports supplements since the early sixties to optimize my fitness training, I can confidently say that today’s performance and growth-enhancing products (the legal ones) are the best ever offered. Once a cottage industry, the sports supplement business has grown to over 2.7 billion dollars in yearly sales. That is “big business” by anyone’s standards. And along with big business comes big marketing. Having these great new supps, therefore, comes with an increased need for caution on the part of the buyer—you and me.
“Big marketing” is, by its very nature, sales-driven. It will use any tool at its disposal, including decades of buying-habits psychology, appeals to everything from vanity to fear and even the promotion of stereotypes that you and I (and the fitness industry) can do without.
To add insult to injury, many supplement ads seem to display zero respect for the intelligence of their bodybuilder targets. Here is an example of why I believe that: In one of my favorite fitness magazines I recently saw six full pages of advertising (peddling only three products). One of the ads touted the praises of the superhuman muscleman who walks into the gym (without so much as a smile) goes right to the 150 pound dumbbells, and, without a warm-up, cranks out set after set without pause while working down the rack. (In real life you would see that guy the next day in the orthopedic surgeon’s office getting his ruptured biceps tendon repaired.)
Next ad promised their product would make you the top-dog alpha male of your gym (and, apparently, anywhere else you decide to set foot). I mean, that’s what you workout, right? Your goal is to lord it over the myriad inferior examples of humanity that clutter up your gym floor and workplace.
But those Neanderthal examples are not what really surprised me. Are you ready for this? In six full pages of copywriting hyperbole, not once was an ingredient listed for any of the products! And these ads were from some of the biggest manufacturers in the business.
As someone with an advertising background I can tell you that those professional copywriters know something that you probably don’t. And that is this: We will buy stuff based on the perceived emotional benefit (to us) of the product before we will buy based on the actual product itself. Thus the old copywriter’s maxim: “Sell the sizzle not the steak.”
Now this sterling example of capitalism may be fine when it comes to floor wax, as we probably have no idea what ingredients make for a shiny floor, anyway. On the other hand, we do not (hopefully) put floor wax into our bodies like we do with supplements.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that these muscle marketers are unscrupulous, or that they are trying to sell products that don’t work. I presently use products from the two companies whose examples I cited above and they are high quality supps that work great (though I have yet to curl 150 pound dumbbells).
So why worry if there is no product information in the ad that prompts your purchase? There are many reasons. For example: If you “stack” products (as many of us do) you need to know if you have swallowed enough caffeine to jump-start a dead racehorse or if you have exceeded the Beta Alanine dosage that will take you beyond a comfortable tingle to a “my-skin-is-on-fire” condition. Also, if current science shows L-Citrulline is a more effective NOS promoter than Arginine, don’t you want to know if it is in your pre-workout drink?
In addition, if we are not shaggy-haired Cro-Magnon cave (I mean gym) dwellers do we really need to support advertizing that promotes that image?
My point is this: Make sure you know for yourself what is in your supps and why it is there. Because many manufacturers would much rather sell you than tell you.
by Tony DiCosta, Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Author
Tony DiCosta, C.P.T.
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