On TVs across America, the pitch is being made: Infomercial products claim to make you thinner, richer, and stronger.
But what about infomercials making claims that are deceptive?
The makers of one ad last year, for a product called "Ultimate HGH," agreed to the largest health fraud settlement in Federal Trade Commission history: $20 million dollars.
“Ten percent of your marketers are serial offenders,” says Greg Renker, who has produced some of the most successful infomercials of all time.
“'Television terrorists,' I call them!”
Renker is worried about what he calls “renegades” in his industry. “It's embarrassing to be in an industry that works so hard to put out good products, to deal with competitors who don’t follow any guidelines and take the money and run.”
So if you had a questionable product—say, a pill filled with nothing more than an empty promise, how hard would it be to find someone to make an infomercial and sell your product to millions? Dateline decided to find out.
We first invented a product: a skin moisturizer in a pill. We called it “Moisturol.” We knew it wouldn’t work as advertised because we filled the pills with Nestle’s Quik!
Then with hidden cameras rolling, we met infomercial producers, including a man who we asked if we’d need a doctor to endorse Moisturol.
Producer (on hidden camera): You’re gonna want somebody in a white coat saying it works and it’s safe.
Dateline: So you’re confident we can find somebody?
Producer: Oh, its never a question of whether we can find somebody. It’s a question of how good are they and how much do they want?
The producer found a doctor, who agreed to a $5,000 fee to endorse our pill without seeing clinical studies or even testing it before she spoke.
An attorney for the doctor now claims she was tricked by NBC’s deception, including an altered listing of ingredients on the Moisturol bottle. Nevertheless, the doctor did admit to us she made a mistake.
John Larson, correspondent: How could a woman this smart, without any clinical trials, be willing to go on television and help sell a product to maybe millions of people?
Doctor: I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The infomercial producers also found dozens of women who claimed they’d tried the product.
But it turns out many of these women were actresses, more than willing to exaggerate or even be fed lines by the producers.
Finally, what infomercial is complete without a host? An actress was hired to read a script—a script which said, she had used Moisturol. The only problem? That’s not what she told us the very same day on the set.
We showed portions of our investigation to Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who expressed his concern. "We need to have the FTC send a very clear signal to the industry that these type of infomercials will not be tolerated," he says.
It’s a problem not as easily solved as a click of the remote.
The full report airs Dateline Friday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m. on NBC.
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