Power Imbalance: The Emperor’s New Bracelet

“Here are Your Majesty’s trousers,” said one. “This is Your Majesty’s mantle,” said the other. “The whole suit is as light as a spider’s web. Why, you might almost feel as if you had nothing on, but that is just the beauty of it.”

Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes

Just before Christmas, the Grinch hit the Power Balance company with some really bad news in Australia: the maker of the “performance technology” hologram-embedded bracelets was forced to stop sales of its products there, until it stopped making false claims and placed “corrective advertisements” informing the public that the phony jewelry in fact does nothing for a wearer’s strength, balance or flexibility (not to mention their Qi, g-spot, or penis size*).

[If you purchased any Power Balance product based on the company’s misleading ads, contact CEH at Charles@ceh.org for possible legal redress]

Power Balance’s debunked ads claim that holograms in its jewelry (including bracelets, pendants, and other cheap trinkets) are “embedded with frequencies that react positively with your body’s natural energy field to improve balance, strength and flexibility.” In news reports, the company goes even further: a company spokesperson told one reporter, “We guarantee that our product will improve your balance, core strength and flexibility.” The company has also claimed that wearing its products will result in “Faster synaptic response (brain function), enhanced muscle response (in both fast and slow twitch tissues), increased stamina (better oxygen uptake and recovery), more flexibility (faster recovery) and vastly improved gravitational balance.”

Company founders Troy and Josh Rodarmel say they developed the holograms, which when worn near the wearer’s Qi points (stay with me here), use embedded “frequencies” to promote wellness and stimulate improved health. Or some such nonsense (just writing this gives me a headache). Giving one reporter a deeper explanation of the company’s jewelry, Troy said

There’s certain tests that you could even hold a banana or an apple and you’re stronger… You don’t even have to eat it. Your body likes what’s in there, those frequencies that are in there resonate with your body and show a positive effect. Adversely, if you hold sugar, it’s going to make you weaker.

Despite this indelibly logical reasoning, when confronted with legal action in Australia, Power Balance was forced to admit that “there is no credible scientific evidence” to support these claims, and that it had “engaged in misleading conduct” in marketing the jewelry.  Independent tests have also proven that the power balance jewelry does nothing to improve athletic performance.

Asked about the hologrammific-jewelry earlier last year, Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steve Nissen stated, “This is utter nonsense. There’s absolutely no scientific reason why this would work. Unfortunately, we’ve not done a good job as a society in keeping people from selling snake oil.”

Knucklehead athletes like Shaq,  A-Rod, Michael Vick and others who wear the bogus bracelets might be forgiven for their naiveté.  But despite the Australian exposé – and false advertising fines paid by the company in Spain and Italy – CNBC still named Power Balance bracelets its “sports product of the year” late in 2010. Why? According to the network, “Because no matter what the skeptics have said, consumers don’t seem to care… no matter how many skeptics are out there, we here at CNBC evaluate businesses and from a bottom line standpoint, Power Balance deserves the honor.”

The network that brings us Jim Cramer (who’s stock picks are about as reliable as Power Balance’s health claims) isn’t the latest dupe to fall for the Power Balance charade. Adding another dimension of absurdity to this already twisted fairy tale, the Maloof brothers, owners of the Las Vegas Palms and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings just announced that Power Balance has bought the naming rights for the former “Arco” arena, which as of March will be called the Power Balance Arena. Confronted with concerns about the crooked company, Joe Maloof told the Sacramento Bee, “I have all the confidence in the world in the company. I think they offer a great product.”

Power Balance is hardly the first scam jewelry maker and likely won’t be the last. Phiten, maker of another line of goofball jewelry products (from $25 to as much as $230), claims $200 million in annual sales, while Power Balance has just reached (according to the company) $35 million a year. FACUA, a consumer protection nonprofit in Spain, has filed complaints there against Power Balance and eight other “miracle” bracelet makers, urging Spanish authorities to order product recalls and to “penalize [the] companies in proportion to the enormous profit they have obtained.”

Other jewelry health frauds have been exposed before. In 2003, the FTC filed suit against Q-Ray bracelets and in 2004 against Balance Bracelet peddler Media Maverick Inc. for false advertising. Balance claimed its “electro polarized” bracelets could relieve arthritis pain, joint pain, back pain, and injury-related pain, among other phony medical claims, and was ultimately fined and forced to stop making false claims. Q-Ray has removed its more specific health claims but continues to market its products, mostly to older golfers, using vague claims about wearers who feel “improved vitality and well-being.”

Some who sneer at jewelry frauds maintain a jovial unconcern about these health scams, suggesting that no one is really hurt by the harmless gimmicks. But CEH is concerned about Power Balance and other scam jewelry because:

  1. Jewelry scams may give people who truly have health problems (and who should seek actual treatment) a false sense of security, and/or they may mislead people into believing they have health problems where none exist;
  2. Children are especially susceptible to marketing connected with their athletic heroes, and are not able to discern the fraudulent nature of the marketing claims;
  3. Jewelry scammers’ pseudo-scientific marketing contributes to the erosion of scientific literacy and distracts from actual scientific debates; and
  4. No one (not even Shaq) deserves to be taken advantage of by con men.

[If you purchased any Power Balance product based on the company’s misleading ads, contact CEH at Charles@ceh.org for possible legal redress]

*I was originally joking about g-spot and penis size, but then I found this from Power Balance co-founder Josh Rodarmel: “Those who are not athletes stated this bracelet work for them and give encouragement. Not only that, but also various areas of life such as office and bedroom.”

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