2007_02_peter_marinello.jpgPeter Marinello works for NARC (National Advertising Review Council). His job is to watch infomercials and review the accuracy of their claims. So if anyone knows if Beano works or if Xantax is for real, it's him.

How did you get involved with NARC?
I graduated as a Radio/TV major at NYU back in 1985 and worked at NBC Sports as a research analyst before going to St. John's Law School. So the plan was to combine the communications and legal backgrounds together. After a brief stint at general practice law firm in Queens, I came across this fantastic job opportunity at the National Advertising Division (NAD) that was a perfect fit for a guy with my background. NAD (try and follow along) is a division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, one of the 4 associations that make up NARC. I was at NAD for about 10 years, the last 3 as Associate Director. Then I was approached by the Electronic Retailing Association ("ERA") about putting together our own self-regulatory advertising review program for direct response advertising (the most popular form of which is the infomercial).

Is NARC a backronym?
As you can see, as Director of ERSP and an employee of NARC, I live in a world of acronyms. Having nothing to do with narcotics, NARC - the National Advertising Review Council - is a classic backronym and has certainly led to some odd initial responses after receiving the ERSP/NARC opening letter.

Did you do a lot of narcing growing up?
I did not do a lot of narcing growing up, but I did always have a discriminating eye for advertising and the messages that were communicated to consumers.

Have you ever been threatened by the creators of any products?
Although I have been sued, I was never was physically threatened by any advertiser. Unless you count the marketer that has requested I sample their product.

What are some trends that you've noticed about infomercials that you'd like to comment on?
The current trend (supplement "de jour" if you will) is the green tea/hoodia supplements that have flooded the market, promising everything from greater mental clarity and alertness to exaggerated weight loss.

Have you ever been approached to write an infomercial?
I have never been approached to write an infomercial. It's a good question because many times I will be deluded into thinking that I can do a better job writing than some folks but at the end of the day its important to remember that I am lawyer whose job it is to provide some guidance going forward and that I am not a copywriter.

How would one go about making the most effective infomercial?
I always felt that the best infomercials are the ones that accurately demonstrate how the product will perform. I'm not talking about before and after photos, but actual step-by-step depictions of what consumers can expect from the product

What are some psychological tricks that infomercials use?
One of the psychological tricks is in the "before and after" weight loss depictions. There have been accusations of producer using women who were pregnant for the "before" photos, guys sucking in their stomachs, and various lighting techniques to exaggerate weight loss claims.

Have you ever been tricked by an infomercial?
When I was a kid I got tricked into buying a "Bull-Worker" which was a resistance, exercise machine designed to result in bigger muscles. It didn't quite work as I still had sand kicked on me at the beach.

What are some infomercial products that you own?
I've been tempted, but haven't bought anything just yet.

Are people ever uneasy about having you over because you'll see the Timeworks FX they use as a coat rack or the Ab Lounge under their futons?
I am a bad party guest because of my discriminating eye for infomercial products. Who wants a guy over their house telling them they should have thought twice about buying that ab-belt hanging on the door. Plus my lame anecdotes about cholesterol lowering stenols and stanols are pretty much conversation killers.

What are some of your favorite names and slogans?
I always get a kick out of any product with an "away" attached to end of it like Smoke-Away or Cholest-Away. I recall seeing a Snore-Away product somewhere once and I'm sure there is a product called "Pounds-Away" out there somewhere. A buddy of mine handled a case involving Caser: "America's #1 Hangover Prevention" as well as a product
called "Head On: Headache Relief" Involving a glue-stick looking product that you rub on your head.

What's the deal with the, "Order in the next ten minutes and get double your order free"?
The Buy One - Get One Free" claims are always problematic because, according to law, advertisers should only be making those claims for a limited period of time. If the offers are perpetually made, you run the risk of the price of the item being simply half of what it is advertised for. More specifically, if you offer a widget for $20 and then you get one free, but the offer never changes, you are basically getting two widgets at $10 each. Some companies are very dedicated to enticing consumers who purchase within a brief amount of time with discounted merchandise. You see it a lot in the live shopping shows.

What do you think are some of the most entertaining infomercials?
Saturday Night Live always has good spoofs on short-form advertisements, like household cleaners that double as a fruit-juice. I always thought that Will Ferrell would have been a great pitchman. I am always fascinated with the celebrity spokesperson. Some, like Suzanne Somers, have made quite a second career for themselves as infomercial spokesmen. But you see some guys, who were once A-List actors, now resigned to peddling used computers and you have to wonder were their thespian skills have taken them.

How about those infomercials for the dollar store franchises? Where they say, "This ceramic statue costs forty cents, but you can sell it for a dollar. That's a lot of profit!"
I think you watch more infomercials than I do. I am not that familiar with the Dollar-store franchises, but maybe I should go into the ceramic statute business with those kind of profit margins.

What's one of your favorite claims made by a product?
Some of my favorite claims came from advertising for an old product called "Fat Absorb". The advertising claims included gems such as: "I can eat the prime rib, eat the double cheese pizza, eat the potato with extra cheese and butter, and it will pass right through using Fat Absorb."; "Weight will just roll off."; "The more you take, the more health benefits you will get;"; "Eat what you normally eat without changing your diet, without exercising, without any effort at all... and lose weight."; "The amazing thing is that you don't have to exercise!" and "You can give it to children and elderly people, it will increase their health"

Which piece of exercise equipment makes the best coat rack?
The Bowflex machine can do so many different things and provide so many different exercises, so because of all of the various extensions, this is one machine that would definitely be multi-functional.

Can the food dehydrator be used to dry hats and gloves after an intense session of playing in snow?
I would think that you would need a 5-tray electric dehydrator like the one Ronco offers.

Does Beano work?
I don't know if Beano does work, but they claim to be "the only product available to stop gas." So if you're brave enough to participate in an ERSP challenge, Ben, step right up. You may be providing the gastro-intestinal industry an invaluable service.

Does ERSP use volunteers to test various products?
No, unlike Good Housekeeping or Consumer Reports, there is no in-house testing that is conducted by ERSP. It's always important for me, in reviewing a case, to remember that my job is to evaluate an advertising claim in the context of the advertisement and review data that that, pursuant to law, an advertiser must possess when it makes a certain claim.

For example, if a dietary supplement manufacturer says, "Our dietary supplement is the most powerful on the market," that's a quantifiable claim that must be proven by, let's say, a comparison of its product with all of the leaders on the market. We look at market data, consumer perception data, clinical testing data, etc that an advertiser submits as its basis for making the claim. There is no informal testing that we conduct here that would serve as the basis for one of our decisions.

We do receive product samples and will have an informal taste test among some us. But you can't confuse that with reliable and competent evidence.

What's the deal with those Work at Home commercials? They also have signs stuck up on telephone polls that say, "Work at home$$$ visit www.workathome999.com"
As for the work at home schemes, remember, "these are extraordinary results and results vary based upon the time and energy expended when implementing the program" At least that's what they should say. Many infomercials based upon "Books, tapes or CD's" are granted first amendment protection as they are based on the author's personal opinion or reference third party sources.

How about Ethos?
ERSP actually reviewed claims for the Ethos re-formulator and they agreed to make several changes to their advertising. What's important to remember is that we do not make a conclusion whether or not the product works or not and we do not endorse any products. We look at the advertising and see if the claims are supported by a reasonable basis or are being egregiously mis-communicated. Ethos was a tough case because the company doesn't sell to consumers only authorized representatives who many times fashion their own advertisements and make their own claims. The world of the Internet has exponentially increased the dissemination of different incarnations of advertising claims and because of its reach it makes harder and harder to police, especially with third party sites making unauthorized product claims.

How do penis enlargement products work?
The term "Penis enlargement" is no longer fashionable. I prefer to call these products "Male enhancement" products. These products are about stimulating blood flow and creating "stimulating sensations" beneath the surface of the skin. Sure, I could be baited into a file-a-fax of jokes, here, but I'll play it straight. I've heard that wearing horizontal-striped clothes doesn't hurt.

Does Oxy Clean work?
It does. It's a good product.

Which weight loss pills actually work?
Very few weight loss products work without a simultaneous diet and exercise regimen. The Ephedra products have the well-documented safety issues and the weight loss supplement "de-jour" is the green tea products, which do stimulate the metabolism and burn calories. It's interesting to note that burning calories doesn't necessarily mean weight loss. Because of muscle and fat burning variances I've learned that calorie burning is not enough. Many of the weight loss supplements such as Hydroxycut can assist in weight loss so long as the consumer has a disciplined diet and exercise routine.

Does Chaser work?
Regarding the Chaser product, my friends at the NAD recently reviewed their advertising and found that based upon the evidence presented, Living Essentials established a reasonable basis for claiming that its product, Chaser, can help prevent hangovers and hangover symptoms and that Chaser is "America's #1 Hangover Prevention." NAD also determined that the advertiser provided reasonable basis for claiming the product is "safe." NAD, however, recommended that Living Essentials include some additional disclosure language in future advertisements to communicate a more accurate message

Which As Seen on TV products do you think make the best and worst gifts?
Well for those animal lovers, the doggie steps provided welcome exit and entry on to beds and furniture for your pets. I myself would re-gift a memories direct scrapbook as I'm not one for sentimentality.

Would you prefer a Chia Pet or the Clapper?
I'd go for a clapper over Chia pet. Once you get a Chia pet, next thing you know, someone gets you Doggie steps. It's all a bit confusing.

Clapper: Romantic or mood killer?
Depends on the individual. I mean a slick guy like George Clooney could probably go a long way with the Clapper.

Have you thought of keeping a blog or writing a book at some point?
I never have considered writing a book about some of the crazy advertisements I have seen in my 14 years on the job. I could envision creating an infomercial about the book and then find myself with a case against myself. Kind of like Woody Allen cross-examining himself in Bananas.

Should I buy a Showtime Rotisserie?
My advice is to be bold and go for the rotisserie, especially the Ron Popeil one. It'll turn you into an expert chef and do wonders for your social life.