Something about the gimmicky, hyper-formulaic template of a stereotypical infomercial makes it so silly and contrary to expensive ad campaigns that they hardly seem to pose a threat to our hard-earned money. Big businesses, and the advertising companies that work for them, spend millions of dollars to make TV commercials effective. In contrast, infomercials haven’t changed a bit since the eighties: same overzealous melodrama, same “price-slashing” shticks (“you’ll pay not $100, not $80, not even $79…”), same black-and-white vignettes of consumers who are immensely-frustrated by mild inconveniences that are blown way out of proportion.
The irony is, these laughable infomercials are actually entertaining, and thus effective. (It also helps that they are often aired late at night when the viewer’s TV options are severely limited.) The infomercial’s message festers within the most subconscious parts of the brain until it pops up (surprise!) right around the holidays or a relative’s birthday you forgot about until the last second. The joke is on the consumer for having ever doubted the effectiveness of blunt repetition.
Here are ten of the best examples of such super duper products that we never thought we’d buy in a million years, but somehow we did anyway:
10. The Shake Weight
The commercials feature a rather sultry girl cradling the weight in a very compromising fashion while on her knees. The suggestive imagery is too overt to be subliminal, which is why it makes a great gag gift in the tradition of anything from the “naughty section” at Spencer’s Gifts, or else a very efficient means to built forearm and bicep strength. Bonus: the product does not discriminate against sexual diversity, as proven by the alternate commercials which feature a very well-endowed man handling two of these bad boys at a time.
9. The Snuggy
Cult members, anemic old ladies, and extreme blanket enthusiasts everywhere have to be forcibly restrained when this commercial comes on TV. A fleece blanket with sleeves, as if sleevelessness was the biggest ailment affecting our society, prescribes the remedy to all those challenged by traditional blankets, those who only read while snuggled in a blanket and who apparently lack access to a thermostat or heating (or else live in a medieval chateau). Seeing more than one person at a time wearing one of these cloak-like apparati, however, begs the question of whether or not something more sinister is going on. Skeptics may naysay, but they are extremely comfortable, if not a little redundant. Get one for every member of the family (including the dog), and watch as “other things” seem to come up right around the time of your next Christmas party.
8. The Body Shaper
You could call it the corset of the 21st century, but the Body Shaper actually allows you to breathe while you suck all your fat in. For men and women too lazy to actually do the work it takes to earn a flat stomach, this product creates the illusion of physical fitness, while letting you keep your gut. “Maintain deceit while looking neat!” the slogan should say. It works by directing free-roaming fat rolls on the torso into a more symmetrical shape, sort of like how Play-Dough can be squeezed flat and elongated into spaghetti noodles and compactable tape worms from its original squat, bulbous stature. While it smoothes out ugly clumps and cellulite patches, however, it certainly does not resolve the problem. It’s more like using concrete-colored duct tape to fix a leaky dam. The men’s version comes complete with a six-pack formation on the abdomen section, to make women think you are totally ripped, while in fact you are as flabby as Val Kilmer-era Bruce Wayne beneath the rubber muscles of his Bat-suit.
7. The Sham Wow
Who would’ve thought that a man with a lazy eye and a pop star headset mic, not to mention an unhealthy amount of enthusiasm for a reusable alternative to paper towels, could make washing a car sound so fun and being a klutz so efficient? Vince, with his smarmy fast-talking and flashy demonstrations, makes absorbing wine and cola stains from a rug seem like a valid form of entertainment.
6. The Slap Chop
Vince returns for an encore performance, this time making vegetables his b!#ch and proving that Karate and stir fry share a common origin. This Slap Chop is able to dice veggies, eggs, and other edible solids into recipe-compatible pieces in a matter of only three Bruce Lee moves; even Chuck Norris would be no match for that kind of hand-chop action. Plus the Slap Chop comes with its own trusty sidekick (“Graty” the little cheese grater). Next time this infomercial comes on, you may just ask yourself…how many times a day did Vince practice before he nailed that over-the-shoulder sink shot, or does he moonlight as one of the Harlem Globetrotters?
5. The Flex Belt
This strap-on belt resembles a WWF Championship belt and induces muscle contractions by way of isolated vibrations. The tag is that it gives you the end results without actually earning them. Bank robbing operates the same way, so similarly you’d think there would be a risk involved to creating a raging six-pack while never having to give up being a couch potato. Yet the only negative I can foresee is that a user may just end-up looking like a partially-peeled Mr. Potatohead, since the Flex Belt only targets the stomach. A vibrating jumpsuit would inevitably need to be developed in order to complete the full-body makeover.
4. Girls Gone Wild
Airing intermittently on predominantly male-oriented networks after around 11 or so, along with the assorted male enhancement commercials (“It’s about turning something that is average or good into something great!”), the mindlessness of such sultry solicitation is mind-blowing. It seems about every month a new addition is added to the cache of bosom-based entertainment, as if the series is too engaging to let the insatiably dirty minds of softcore fans suffer the absence of new material. “We have ‘Great Mammories from Cinco de Mayo’ but what about ‘The Very Breast of Fourth of July’?” No matter what anybody says, boobs sell; d-list celebrity cameos amidst the sea of boozed-up d-cups are only an added perk.
3. Chia Pet
Here’s a piece of nostalgia, still going strong after all these years. Who wouldn’t want a pet that requires no emotional attention- just tap water and the occasional trimming in order to achieve vibrantly-verdant curls? As far as neighbors are concerned, the most adorable, if not the creepiest, thing you could possibly do is own and mount one of the life-sized ceramic heads on a window sill, watering it on a regular basis in order to maintain fertility and support the growth of vegetation.
2. HD Vision Sunglasses
These glasses make real life appear as good as TV, as if the vividness of the real world is too underwhelming compared to the brilliance of a flatscreen television. Of course television defines the extent of how humans can perceive beauty; these shades bring that likeness to a world full of insipidity and blandly-colored skies and oceans. It’s like you never had to turn off the TV to carry out mundane life activities.
1. Oxy Clean
Nothing is more fascinating than seeing stains vanish before your very eyes (see Sham Wow), and this product further illustrates such a truth. This powdery substance was endorsed by charismatic spokesperson Billy Mays, a bearded mountain of energy, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Al Borland from Home Improvement. Mays passed away last year, but the Oxy Clean commercials live on, and are quite possibly the perfect example of the art of the infomercial. During his lifetime, Billy Mays appeared in infomercials for over 30 different products, including the Ding King, Orange Glo and the Hercules Hook. From infomercial actor to cultural icon: the pallbearers at his funeral wore blue shirts with khaki pants as a tribute to his signature look and his ghost also appeared in a South Park episode.
by Ryan Thomas