A friend of mine posted a link to a news item today dealing with the all too welcome fall from grace of the Australian distributorship for the Power Balance wristbands (Thanks Jen Brown @ Sparta PT!). The article entitled Australian Distributor of Power Balance Wristbands Collapses – Owner Admits He Was Naive read like poetry. I can’t say I’m particularly choked up and misty-eyed over the news, as I’d been hoping for quite some time that the company would die a welcome death. Hopefully this is the health/fitness industry’s metaphorical toppling the Saddam Hussein statue.
Drink the Kool-Aid (click here for interpretation)
I’ve been approached on multiple occasions by the product’s users and promoters, both in person and by email, who swore it worked and that “with my credentials” I should sell the bands. Not one to engage in pointless debates with the Flat Earth Society, I graciously excused myself (or hit the delete button) without further comment.
Other articles of interest
iRenew Holographic Bracelet – More Holographic Snake Oil?
Zaggora HotPants: Review of Bioceramic Slimming Shorts
Ab Circle Pro: Fat Marketing Claims Thin on TruthLiproxenol Review: Buyer Beware of Questionable Science and Marketing
Do Power Balance Holographic Wristbands Work?
So what’s the story with power balance bracelets? Do they even work? Well, by the company’s own admission in a news story from January of 2011, no. Responding to an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Power Balance stated, “We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims.” The company also agreed to give refunds to customers who believe they were cheated.
Also found this You Tube video which demonstrates the idiocy of the “tests” which prove it “works.”
Money-Back Guarantee: A Cop-Out to Responsibility
This is such a cowardly way of handling the matter and it is quite commonly employed by companies who sell gimmicks without any scientific support (see my Ab Circle Pro exposé). It’s almost as if to say, “well, we know our product is bogus, so we’ll just give you your money back if you want it.” Sure, fair enough, but I also believe many consumers are either too busy or just can’t be bothered to go through the hassle of packing it up, carting it down to the post office, and shelling out for postage. In my case, responding to 40 emails in a day is too much work, let alone having to squeeze in a drive across town to return a Power Balance band back to the manufacturer.
The above news item also quotes Ralph Reiff, a certified athletic trainer and program director at St. Vincent’s Sports Performance in Indianapolis, “I couldn’t look in the mirror and 100 percent say (it’s) a product I can put my brand reputation behind.” Way to go Ralph! Big fan of your work!
Reiff acknowledges there’s unlikely to be any physiological reason that the bands would work but likens them to any other superstitious pre-game ritual, “It’s just like a pair of lucky socks,” Reiff said. “It’s a lucky charm, and if you believe in it, then it’s excellent.”
Testimonials: The Snake Oil Salesman’s Bread and Butter
It’s one of my pet peeves, but I take particular issue with celebrity and athlete testimonials – not just with the Power Balance bands, but with any product. Unless explicitly stated, there is no way of telling if they were paid for their testimonials – enough to make me question their validity. Perhaps they actually believe it themselves, which unfortunately makes their testimonials all the more convincing.
Skeptical But Open-Minded
Though I am a confessed skeptic of the company and its product, I am completely willing to change my views on the efficacy of the Power Balance wristbands IF independent randomized, controlled, double-blind research should some day emerge. But until then, the main selling point for these bands is, “take our word for it….and those of our many celebrity endorsers.” I cannot say if the celebrities or athletes are paid endorsers in this case, but either way, their testimonials should not be misconstrued as scientific “evidence” or irrefutable proof that the wristbands “work.”
No Scientific Support
I did a search of the medical literature and only came across a single published trial on the effects of holographic wristbands: The effect of close proximity holographic wristbands on human balance and limits of stability: A randomised, placebo-controlled trial by Brice, Jarosz, Ames, Baglin, and Da Costa (2011) Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (DOI: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2011.01.020)
This study out of Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology recruited 42 volunteers to test out the potential effect of the wristbands on balance and stability performance. As you can see for yourself, the authors concluded:
“Notably, the sample data indicated an overall decrease in balance and stability. However, these mean changes are still within the bounds of what would be expected assuming the Device had no overall effect. The findings of this study indicate that holographic technology wristbands have no effect on human balance and stability performance.”
PT Barnum: A Sucker Born Every Minute
Given the lack of evidence and a blunt admission from the company that Power Balance wristbands don’t work, I find it particularly disconcerting that such a mega-empire can be built on nothing more than rabid marketing hype cloaked in numerous well-placed celebrity endorsements and an unwavering matter-of-fact power of suggestion.
Ambiguous and Misleading Marketing Claims
I did a quick Google search of Power Balance Wristbands to find some specific examples of what I consider to be misleading marketing claims. One of the promotional sites had a Q&A section, with one question asking: “So what do Power Balance Bracelets do?” I found the answer a bit disturbing because it spouted off as if the wristbands do everything but wash the dishes and give you a happy ending:
“…according to the many testimonials, they help your balance and core strength. Professionals such as Firemen and Army Special Force operators say that these Silicone Wristbands help you in every way that’s physically possible.”
Again, the mighty testimonial rears its ugly head. Seriously? The Power Balance wristband will help me in “every way that’s physically possible?” That’s casting out a very wide (and ambiguous) net left open to individual interpretation. From a marketing standpoint, this is absolute brilliance. Let the consumer create their own justification to buy a magnetic wristband.
Next question was: “So how do Power Balance Bracelets Bands work?”
Another ambiguous open-for-interpretation response: “The bands help you maintain peak performance by keeping your energies in balance….the hologram on the bracelet interacts with your energy fields to harmonise your field and ensure that you can give your maximum.”
I take issue with the following words and phrases:
1) maintain peak performance - this phrase is vague and undefined and can be interpreted by each individual a million different ways. Considering there is no substantive scientific body of evidence, I believe the Power Balance Wristband manufacturers should be held to qualify and justify this terminology.
2) keeping your energies in balance – I am absolutely convinced humans do have an energy and that it needs to be kept in balance, though in the context of hologram wristband marketing claims, there is no way to objectively quantify and/or ascertain that your energy is in balance. Again, the burden of proof should be on the Power Balance company to provide objective evidence that the wristbands “balance energies.”
3) hologram…interacts with your energy fields to harmonise your field – See numbers 1 and 2 above. More ambiguity. Note to manufacturer and marketers: please be specific and explain precisely how the hologram affects energy fields and how to quantify this. The phrase “harmonise your field” really means absolutely nothing and, in my professional opinion, is a typical red flag for quackery.
4) …ensure that you can give your maximum – There are so many factors which impact sports performance that to try and ascribe success (or lack thereof) to a single factor such as a holographic wristband is absolutely absurd. Professional athletes are at the top of their game because they’ve been playing their respective sports likely since childhood, they practiced religiously, they had excellent coaches, and play at the highest level of their sport on a regular basis (which keeps them tuned and practiced to perform at an elite level).
Profit Over Integrity
I’m all for companies making a buck, but not if it’s a health product sold on flimsy to non-existent “proof.” Is there an infinitesimally small possibility that the Power Balance wristbands “could” work? Yes, absolutely! Just as there is also an infinitesimally small possibility that I could wrap a piece of duct tape around my wrist and shave a fraction of a second off my sprint time. However, whether I believe it works or not does not indicate a bonafide cause and effect relationship of ergogenic efficacy. Coincidence is also a possible explanation. Maybe the wind was at my back. Maybe there was a slight yet imperceptible decline on the field.
While this post was mainly focused on the Power Balance bracelet, another copycat out in the marketplace is iRenew which sells a line of holographic bracelets, necklaces, pendants, and adhesive holograms. Upon review of their website, there appears to be very little differentiation from the same questionable marketing claims being made by Power Balance. In a recent episode of the investigative news program 20/20 (US) entitled Infomercial Nation, they reported that iRenew had to make changes to their advertising because they were deemed to be deceptive.
Having viewed and critically evaluated infomercial gadgets over the years, I believe deception is a required ingredient for creating a hot-selling product. Why? Because most health, fitness, and exercise infomercial products simply do not work, or must be used “in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen” (as opposed to just using their product for 3 minutes a day).
The Final Word
The bottom line is that the Power Balance and I-Renew holographic wristbands are being sold to consumers with an egregiously sparse to nil body of scientific evidence and an overt admission that the products exert no biological influence on the body.