As Seen on TV





I am watching, God help me, broadcast tv. Worse, I am watching the commercials. And every last one of ’em sucks me in. I want to believe their claims; I want to order their product and own its magic.

I wanted those slick copper pans, too—where have they gone? For months, I yearned to make our food flip and slide. Before that, it was the chopper-dicer-slicer that marked late-night tv for years and no doubt inspired Fred Sanford’s Whopper Chopper.

Now, because the more things change the more they stay the same, there is a new and miraculous Nutri Chopper. In the commercial, a ripe tomato emerges perfectly sliced; an onion cleanly diced with a single gesture. One can julienne or wedge with a single snap of the wrist.

I cannot tell you how much I want this thing to really work.

On YouTube, I find a review. Turns out a regular-size tomato will not fit through the Nutri Chopper; neither will a regular-size onion. The “perfect portion container and fresh-keeping lid” (as opposed to a lid that lets food rot?) are sized for anorexic elves. In order to swiftly chop most anything, I would have to chop it smaller first.

Even cut down to size, potatoes took superhuman effort to process. Soft, juicy fruit squished out the sides. The various blades must be layered to produce certain cuts yet do not reliably snap together. Food gets stuck deep inside the grid.

Mushrooms, however, sliced nicely.

So for my Mushroom Nutri Chopper, which is “ten times faster than your knife” (when, that is, you are slicing mushrooms), I would fork over $19.95 (plus only $6.95 for a second one, in case two of us need to chop mushrooms at the same time).

I return to the tv, determined to cure myself of the casual lust that overtakes me every time this crap comes on, the mild hypnotic state in which I watch messes wiped from a sparkling white surface, food prep bewitched, household glue used to hold a Volkswagen in midair.

But what about Superzilla? It is not glue; it is penetrating oil, a lovely phrase that makes me think of coconut-scented suntans. Superzilla is a superhero, a Green Wonder racing to “free rusty nuts, stuck locks, hinges, cables, or valves.” A thrilling statement indeed, until I remember that naval jelly probably does the same thing. This, however, is good (or at least clever) copywriting. Superzilla is made from “natural based products (plants),” which we now want everything made from. Granted, it can irritate eyes and skin and must be kept away from flame, but it is not toxic! My baseline has fallen so low, I am delighted to wear safety goggles to perform routine tasks if it means I am no longer murdering smaller life forms.

More than a lubricant, Superzilla promises to remove stains and gunk!—grease, wine, wax, hair spray, permanent marker…. Breathless, I head for a reviewing site where the English language could use a little Superzilla. “In the united state” (as though we have ever existed there) “this product has already enjoyed a lot of appreciation,” I read. “There is no 100% positive product,” however, “so we need to accept the natural law.” Which seems mature—until I read the breezy assertion that “its presence on social media” means “there is no chance of scam money.” Really?

Superzilla’s patent indicates an ingredient that is a trade secret; online, someone speculates that it is that noble substance, fish oil. But I am delivered from $19.95 of temptation when a commercial pops up for something I really need: Relaxium, a sleep aid supplement. It is being hawked by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and if you cannot trust Donald Trump’s press secretary’s dad, who can you trust?

Mr. Huckabee assures me that I can fall asleep 140 percent faster and improve my daytime concentration by 80 percent. The ingredients are a mix of loveliness and oomph: L-Tryptophan and GABA (intended to slow delta brain waves and bring calm), melatonin, passion flower, chamomile; Ashwagandha, and Valerian Root. Once again, I am tempted. What is thirty bucks? According to Infinium Global Research, the sleep aids market will hit $114.15 billion by 2025. Already, I have bought jars of Valerian and St. John’s Wort, gulped down melatonin, ordered a pair of blue-light–blocking glasses I forget to don, and drunk gallons of Sleeptyime tea, none of which worked. Is my inability to learn from the past a form of obstinacy or a desperate need for an instant, external fix that does not require me to learn how to calm my own brain? Insomnia panics me, making me far less likely, at two in the morning, to embark on gentle sleep-hygiene solutions. I just want to pop a pill. Elvis, Michael Jackson, I am with you.

The next ad startles me. Hawking Pooph, promising it will dismantle, on a molecular level, the pet odors of urine, feces, vomit, wet dog, stinky skin folds, skunk, and raided garbage, a guy sprays the stuff on his own face. He intends to prove the stuff is “safe for people, pets, plants, and the planet.” (More of that deft copywriting, alliterating all allusions.)

Pooph costs $24.95 (why is none of this $8 or $37?) with free shipping, and as a bonus you will also receive a bottle of Pooph Laundry Additive absolutely FREE! This formula is a near constant in “As Seen on TV” ads, a penetrating oil that dissolves layers of resistance (oh, but shipping costs) and dangles what we have all wanted since we were two: a prezzie.

Is Pooph really used by the five largest waste treatment companies in the nation? Yes, but not as Pooph. Pooph is a patented spinoff from CupriDyne, recently snapped up by Ikigai Holdings. Clues to the proprietary secret are dropped by online amateur detectives, suggesting a copper-iodine exchange that “oxidizes odorants and other volatile organic compounds.” So there might actually be some science behind the Pooph.

But there are also lots of people saying that the only thing that vanished was their money…and then other people saying those remarks must have been planted by a competitor…. No wonder televised carnival-barking still works. Consumer choice is too complicated, and this method is venerable. Ever since traveling salesmen held their bottles of snake oil up to the sunlight and Victorian chemists touted miraculous powders, we have seen the same sorts of products touted with the same sort of language. They promise to make something easier, take away our pain, lift our life’s stains, and make us young and beautiful, energetic and lusty again.

Sometimes they even do what they promise; at other times, our minds make it seem so. Looking for the mechanisms beneath this phenomenon, I turn to Brax, which manages native advertising for companies.

“It is human nature to think that because you’ve seen it on TV, it must be good,” a Brax blogpost begins.

Seriously? When to me, “As Seen on TV” promises only hype and an impulsive waste of money?

“Advertisers who use this technique are raking in the dough,” according to Brax. Supposedly we find the pleasure of watching these ads irresistible. I am about to snap that this is hardly pleasure. Then I catch myself, remembering that warm, happy, fresh-baked-cookies–and–milk feeling I get when the mess gets cleaned up or the lady’s face smooths and glows.

And so we have the As Seen on TikTok leggings, and we have Amazon helping to sell the “As Seen on TV” stuff and Walmart devoting shelves near the checkout lanes to “As Seen on TV” products. And guess what? Brax will help you track your “As Seen on TV” product ads. “Would you like to incorporate As Seen on TV techniques in your native marketing strategies?” the copy asks at the end. “It’s not just possible; it can be profitable! Go ahead and try it now. If managing too many native ad campaigns is proving too hard, use Brax. We’ll throw in a 15-day free trial for you.”

Of course they will.



Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.