Sunday, August 17, 2008

As Seen On TV

I had to have it. For the low, low price of 19.95, one tiny scoop of this miracle cleaning powder would make my house a new place. From laundry to the siding on my home, everything would be scoured to brilliance and newness with OxiClean. I ran to my husband. You won’t believe it. There’s this stuff, it’s AWESOME! You can wash red socks with white socks and they’re fine, I swear. And this guy created this stuff and now he sells it on an infomercial. I considered myself fairly skeptical due to all the infomercials I’ve watched over the years starting with Ginsu knives and Christmas albums as a child, through the Home Shopping Network craze in the 1980’s and finally winding up with half hour to hour-long infomercials in the 90’s.

It was that precise skepticism that led me to become so enamored of this cleaning product. I valued my own reasoning to the point that I didn’t feel I could be taken in. I was wrong. Although many things in the world of advertising may seem random or coincidental, the reverse is true. Great care is taken with the timing and placement of television commercials and their longer counterpart, the infomercial.

Repetition is the key. Advertisers are patient with their potential customers and wear down viewers with the same commercial or infomercial, again and again. Whereas, initially, I would switch channels immediately – “Oh, that’s just another commercial,” with repetition it became familiar and somewhat benign – Hey, the Oxy clean guy is on again!” Even if advertisers engender a feeling of annoyance, they know that they will eventually wear the consumer down to at least resignation – “Can you believe it? Why do they keep playing this stupid infomercial?” This is the final step before, “Wow, maybe they have point, it sounds interesting,” which leads to not only capitulation but also acceptance and even anticipation at buying a product you have never even tried. “Wow, I need to buy some OxiClean. I’m doing myself and my family a disservice by not buying it.”
Advertisers, as it turns out, are not looking for the people who buy any and everything – although they will gladly accept their money along with everyone else’s – the people they are really looking to hook are those who feel they cannot be convinced. People like me.

When I told my husband about the product and he didn’t share my excitement, I was fervent in upholding the values of a product I had never tried. Still, I wondered for a brief moment if he could be right and I could be wrong. Could I really have been taken in by a commercial? After all, I knew better, right?

My husband explained the concept of the “emoter” in advertising; someone who creates a sense of sincerity and urgency about a product. My husband looked at me calmly and said, “He’s paid to be really excited like that.” I felt a momentary lapse in faith in OxiClean but I’d seen the commercial. With my own two eyes I had witnessed the miracle - a clear bowl full of filthy brown water turned white when just the tiny of scoop of OxiClean was added. And it wasn’t bleach because they pulled out a red sock and a white sock and the colors didn’t bleed. I was enthralled, amazed.
“No, he doesn’t get paid to sell it,” I replied loftily. “He INVENTED it! Like the "2000 Flushes" guy. And it really works! So there.”

It is possible to watch television and depending on your schedule and interests, to never see certain commercials. It has been several years since I have seen a commercial for Fruity Pebbles, a sugary cereal marketed to young children featuring Fred and Barney from the Flintstones cartoon.

This is because I no longer watch Saturday Morning television with my daughter as I did when she was younger. As a teenager, her Saturday mornings are spent sleeping in, rather than as she did from the age of five until she was around 12 or 13, rising early on Saturday to watch her favorite animated shows while eating the same cereals she saw advertised on television. Nothing gave her more pleasure in those days than to actually be eating the same cereal at the same moment the advertisement was shown; the same with toys. Any commercial featuring Barbie dolls or another toy she owned would send her running to her room to grab the toy and wave it at the television.

Owning items that we see in commercials on television gives us a sense of connection to the larger world. Commercials tend to focus on the new; even every day staples such as laundry detergent or a loaf of bread are constantly touted as new and improved. There may even be different levels to buying the same item. Why buy plain old Dawn Dish Liquid when you can have the new Ultra Formula? Why buy plain bread when you can buy the Fortified Home-style Recipe?

Advertisers work hard to find out not only what consumers want to buy but what they want to ‘feel” when they buy a product. And consumers want to feel good about the things they purchase. They want to feel they are getting a good bargain. Many consumers today do not bake bread and may not have lived in an era or household where bread baking was commonplace. Yet and still the image of home baked bread as a symbol of the time, effort and care one puts into feeding one’s family, still remains. Whether through literature or ever persistent ads with wistful portrayals of “the way things used to be” advertisers are very careful to offer up the idea that, yes, their products are effortless to use, but that’s not why they are selling it. No, they’re not out to make a quick buck; they only want to save you time and pass along a helpful idea. Not to mention, the results will be as stellar as if you had done the work yourself. The advertiser also quickly assuages any guilt you may feel about cutting corners; any extra labor or time you have saved will surely be spent on your family, your friends or can be devoted to more important pursuits. Any advertiser will quickly assure you that they have put the same care into their product the consumer would have done if only they had the time.

The first falsehood of many products is that they are advertised as only being available by calling an 800#. Recently, however in many a mall across America there is an actual physical store blatantly named As Seen On TV where anyone can purchase many of the hundreds of items offered “exclusively” for television. Also, the popular drugstore Walgreen’s has an As Seen On TV section of its store and many items that are touted on television as “available only via mail order” appear in Walgreen’s within weeks of the commercials being aired, often at the same price or less as there are no shipping and handling and charges involved, merely sales tax. Despite how many times I saw the infomercial, I never actually purchased OxiClean via mail order. It wasn’t until I saw it for sale in Walgreen’s that I actually made my purchase. There was something about mail order from television, no matter how enthralled I was with the commercial, that didn’t seem safe. However buying from an actual store meant if I didn’t like it, I could reasonably take it back.

I didn’t have a giant glass bowl to swish a red sock and white sock around with. I could have emptied my old aquarium of its dried rocks (the fish had long since died) and gone through the motions, but I wanted to put OxiClean to the test right away. After all, they had shown no hesitation in the commercials in giving OxiClean the dirtiest jobs to clean. I immediately took down an old blouse that I had been saving, heaven only knows why. It had a set-in stain – the kind that once you miss it in the wash and run it through the dryer, the stain is simply not coming out of the cloth.

But this was exactly the type of stain OxiClean claimed to be able to remove. I ran upstairs, got my blouse, excitedly took it to my laundry room where I had stashed the OxiClean importantly on my “Corner Shelf” after turning on my “Tap Light” – two other As Seen On TV items I had purchased in Walgreen’s along with the OxiClean.

The “Corner Shelf”, advertised to be a space saving device so “easily installed in any corner without using a single tool or bracket” and that should have been able to stand the weight of a large vase full of flowers and water. (I’d seen it on the infomercial and the flowers never fell) However it did not stand up to the weight of my 8 oz container of OxiClean. My “Tap Light” burned out after a week and no amount of batteries could get it to work again. Plus, it gave a toy-like squeaked when you tapped it whereas it had worked silently but well in the commercial. I was disappointed that the Star Trek like magic of the "Tap Light" was ruined by the everyday sound of a giant plastic push button hitting its plastic base.

I think we got rather caught up in how the OxiClean worked rather than whether the product worked. It bubbled and fizzed vigorously, seemingly doing all the work for you, which I guess is why I bought it in the first place. Why should I scrub the blouse, or even look for stains to pre-treat before washing, if OxiClean will catch and eliminate them all without any extra work from me?
Yet, I didn’t realize that, following the instructions on the canister, I was actually doing what I would do with any laundry detergent: Making a watered solution of the detergent, using that to pre-treat the stain and then actually washing it. Only I had gone the additional step and expense of buying an entirely different product to do the work that I already could do with my usual laundry detergent.Furthermore, although it did get out the bulk of the stain, it still left a faint outer ring of the stain, which, while improved, still made the blouse look stained and un-wearable. I was disappointed but I was still a bit impressed. It had done a better job than my usual detergent – considering I hadn’t pretreated first only after it got out of the dryer.

Budgets get tight. And when they do, for whatever the reason, you learn to do without certain things. One of the first things to go was OxiClean. As I became a better housekeeper and learned to never let stains set or forget to pretreat or inspect clothes before I washed them, OxiClean was no longer needed. I also didn’t need the idea of OxiClean; the feeling of laundry safety, a world that OxiClean had promised but had never really delivered no matter how many times I purchased it. And in the end, I even switched to a cheaper brand of detergent than I had been using and found that, with a small bit of extra care, it did just as well as my old detergent and without OxiClean.

Remember the man who I thought invented OxiClean? You cannot imagine my shock and my hurt when I saw him promoting other As Seen on TV items. Gullible to the end, I thought, he did such a good job inventing OxiClean and was so sincere about his product, that he was hired to promote other products. Well, I was only half right and my husband completely so. He had never invented OxiClean; he was just really good at selling it and getting other people to want to buy it. He had the face, the voice, the charm, and the sincerity of a neighbor or friend who just wanted to share a good thing with you. Even though it had been several years since I’d bought OxiClean it hurt very much to see the man I’d trusted to help me make decisions about my laundry and household cleanliness touting other must-have As Seen On TV items.

I still haven’t quite forgiven him for that but I know now that it is a mark of how I wasn’t just sold on the product but also the person selling the product. He has gone on to sell various items and I can never view any infomercial he does without, not just a return of my old skepticism, but a feeling of slight distaste and revulsion. It’s like seeing an old friend on the street you’ve stopped speaking to and can’t quite remember why, only that the grudge is still there.

Once we opened the door to As Seen On TV products with OxiClean, six more products found their way into our home. “Nads”, “Corner Shelf”, “Tap Lights", "Home Rotisserie", the "Marvelous Quesadilla Maker" and a "George Foreman Grill". Of these items, bought over a period of years, only one is still in regular use today, the George Foreman Grill. Last month when the Home Rotisserie, long since resigned to a top shelf, fell on my head, I dusted it off with care and put it in a safer place, lower to the ground.

I still may use it someday, as soon as I find a store that sells cooking twine to truss the chickens.

English Comp Grade 50/50

1 comment:

  1. OxiClean actually does work pretty well (unlike most of the as-seen-on-TV stuff). It's hardly the new miracle invention that Billy Mays makes it out to be, though: it's nothing but hydrogen peroxide and washing soda.


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