Those Notorious Late-Night Infomercials

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Composite Newsweek.com; Source Images.com-Corbis

By Joel Schectman

Infomercials have fun, camp value. Some offer what appear to be panaceas for life’s important challenges, like molding Hercules-like biceps. Others offer solutions to problems you may not have even known you had—who would think that cutting tomatoes was so tricky? And it’s good to know that six minutes of gyrations with a metal bar will turn you into a man who wouldn’t look out of place in a Roman coliseum. But do these vaunted products actually work? Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor at Consumer Reports, says that many actually do, as long as you read all the fine print and understand what they really claim to do. Most of the speedy-workout gear comes packaged as a fitness system, requiring a mixture of diet and exercise. Sure, you'll get great abs by working out for five minutes each day—if you also eat better and lose weight, which is no different from results offered by less overhyped products.

And the functions of many of the products, like Tater Mitts, can be accomplished with simpler tools that you already have ... like a peeler. Blyskal says infomercial pitches, with their powerful encouragement to “change your life now,” give viewers a natural high, making them more susceptible to impulse buying. “If you feel like you have to get these products, wait 10 minutes and see if you still feel that way,” says Blyskal. For those who are less patient—and perhaps insomniacs to boot—here are some of the more infamous infomercials broadcast in the wee hours.

If you take this extended ad literally, you could sensibly conclude that peeling potatoes is: a matter of terrific urgency, a skill numerous people have trouble mastering, something that one is required to do with great frequency. But seriously, do you have that much difficulty peeling potatoes? We don’t either. Some folks must, though, and according to the pitch, these mitts are just the thing to help them skin spuds speedily. Be warned, however, that you will have to boil those potatoes: these miracle gloves aren’t meant to handle the raw stuff. 

It is not clear whether this ad is intended to be as obscene as it appears. But the wild shaking of this phallic-shaped piece of exercise equipment might have made even George Carlin blush. Will this funny little dumbbell get you ripped by using it six minutes a day, as promised? One thing is certain: people will laugh as you gyrate with the metal rod. Which suggests you should use it when there’s no one around. There are no batteries here, so all the shaking is going to have to come from your own big guns.

The Snuggie is neither a blanket nor a coat. It is something closer to the monk’s garb that Yoda donned in the Star Wars flicks. Outfitting your family in this cloak is supposed to lower your heating bill and also leave everyone smiling and content. And you won’t have to worry about the hardship of a blanket that “slips and slides” with this sleeved cover, according to the pitch. It should also be able to serve double duty come Halloween. 

“Slap your troubles away” with a little appliance that makes cutting or dicing vegetables easier. It may be worth buying one of these just to keep the hysterical Vince Shlomi, the Slap Chop pitchman, on television. “Stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life,” he declares. Shlomi, also known for pitching the ShamWow towel and having had a tight rivalry with the late Billy Mays (and the Church of Scientology), chops his way through vegetables, meats, and ice-cream toppings. He makes it seem as though the device can not only cut through any organic matter, but also make life more exciting.

Is this an instrument of torture or for personal health? The prospect of exercise may actually seem more appealing when you consider this rather frightening alternative. The Slender Shaper sends electric shocks into your muscles for a full workout “while you relax.” Attach live electrodes to your skin while watching television? Does that sound relaxing? The ad makes it seem like the electric current will penetrate your skin and dissolve subcutaneous fat, which sounds miraculous ... albeit painful.

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