The 5 Hour Energy Scam And The Power Of Self-Deception

“We asked over 3,000 doctors to review 5 Hour Energy, and what they said is amazing.  Over 73% who reviewed 5 Hour Energy said they would recommend a low-calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who use energy supplements.”

The first time I saw this commercial, I had to double check to see if it was a Saturday Night Live skit.  But alas, it wasn’t.

Yes, they asked “over 3,000 doctors.”  According to the fine print, they actually asked 5,000 in person and only half of them agreed to review the drink, and by review the drink, they clarify that they agreed to read the ingredients and their associated descriptions.  An additional 503 doctors responded to an online survey, but they don’t tell us how many they asked to respond online.

73% of the docs who actually reviewed the stuff recommended a low-calorie energy supplement—not 5 Hour Energy, specifically, just a low-calorie energy supplement.  But this “recommendation” was still further qualified; they recommended the low-calorie supplement only to their healthy patients who actually use energy supplements.

What do we really learn, then, from this not-so-highly scientific study?

For those statistical anomalies who can somehow be deemed “healthy,” even though they require a regular chemical boost merely to survive the day, 73% of the doctors who didn’t blow this study off as an absurd waste of time recommend that you use an energy supplement that won’t also make you fat, accelerating your already rapid pace to an early grave.

My first inclination was to be offended that 5 Hour Energy thinks there are enough people dull enough to be manipulated by the lady with the perma-smile sitting next to a bunch of fake documents, but then it hit me—they’re not trying to get non-users to take 5 Hour Energy.  They’re trying to help existing users perpetuate their own ruse of self-deception.

Self-deception is more powerful than coercion, because we’re more inclined to believe the stories we tell ourselves (both true and untrue) than the convictions of others.  So the most effective external manipulation is that which supports what we’d already prefer to believe.  I know my body does not naturally require the daily infusion of 5 Hour Energy if I actually get enough sleep and exercise—but I’d rather not, so I’ll buy your story about the 73% of doctors.

What stories are you buying regarding your health, marriage or other relationships, work or finances that are rooted in self-deception?  And what forces may be seeking to perpetuate that self-deception?

Living Down To The Stereotype

Usedcarsalesman Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not a pessimist; I’m a REALIST”?  That’s something that pessimists say.    I’m an optimist.  Not the kind who appears not to have experienced any pain and almost pretends to ignore that it exists, but the kind who has seen enough pain transformed into something incredibly positive to know that there is validity in this statement: All things—even those that are painful—work together for some greater GOOD.

The challenge for optimists is that the world seems intent on proving us wrong on a daily basis.  Stereotypes and discrimination are a great way to preserve cynicism and pessimism.  After all, when one expects people to live down to their negative stereotype, the cynic wins regardless.  Either they are pleasantly surprised and deem the experience anomalous or their “correct” preconception gives their ego an extra breath of inflation.

What, then, is the posture of the optimist when faced with real life stereotype reinforcement?

A couple weeks ago, my wife directed my attention to a piece of mail—from a large local auto dealership—that reads:






Possibly fearing that I may perceive such language as unsubstantiated, as though this were another long-lost German uncle who’d discovered my family fortune somewhere in Africa, the letter bolstered its audacious claim:

On January 8th, 2011 we checked the Black Book® Appraisal Guide and it stated that your vehicle, in clean condition, could be worth $5,530.  However, we feel that your vehicle could be worth even more.  This is not a gimmick… WE NEED VEHICLES!!

REALLY!?  I mean, it is a good strong vehicle, but with 157,500 miles on it and enough Cheerios under the back seats to feed a small reunion, Andrea and I figured it was worth little more than a few large pizzas. We’d already decided to “run ‘er into the ground.”

Fortunately, we both came to our senses pretty quickly and chuckled at our naivety, recognizing that the “Special Vehicle Code” listed at the top of the mailing was probably code for, “If these morons call, they’re extremely gullible, so sell them down the river!”  But as I hovered over the trashcan, the optimist in me spoke up: “Well, it can’t hurt to call and do a bit of due diligence, right?”

So the next day at work, I called and talked to a gentleman in the sales department.  He took ten minutes to convince me of the mailing’s legitimacy…how the car dealerships came to a screeching halt after “Cash For Clunkers” dried up…and how they’ve been looking more favorably at vehicles they wouldn’t have been interested in a year ago.  The optimist now identified with his plight.  Heck, if they wanted to give me $5,530—or more??—for my ailing work horse, I was happy to oblige!

So two days later, I followed the salesman’s advice and set up a meeting with the General Manager of this large new and used auto dealership to have him confirm the surprisingly high offer in the letter.  He examined the vehicle inside-and-out, drove it down to the servicing bay and returned with a piece of paper in his hand, sitting down next to me.

He said, “Well I’ll tell you, this vehicle is in very nice shape.  It has a lot of miles on it, but otherwise it’s a good vehicle.”  That sounds like good news, I thought.  Then he said he had spoken with the used car manager and they were willing to give me “this number, in cash” pointing to a virtually blank sheet of paper with the number $2,500 written on it.  Huh.

Grateful for the reminder from my wife not to lose my temper if the reality turned out to be more believable than the warm invitation we’d received in the mail, I calmly and quietly told the GM that I was disappointed I thought there may be any truth to the letter in the first place, that I was disappointed my wife and I wasted precious time at the dinner table discussing said letter, that I was disappointed a salesman took ten minutes of my work day to entice me further to visit the dealership and that I was most disappointed I took a couple hours out of a day to sit through this present charade.

The pessimist may conclude that the huge financial conflict of interest of a used car salesperson is simply too great to allow them to rise above their stereotype.  The optimist, however, would write a blog post about it, in hopes that when the General Manager at the dealership reads it, he’ll consider recalling this deceptive marketing campaign.

(Oh, and by the way, if it weren’t for that letter, my wife and I probably wouldn’t have even thought twice when we heard a good friend of ours—who takes remarkably good care of his vehicles—was selling his vehicle that would suit our family very well.  We sold the XTerra privately to a young woman who needed reliable transportation after losing her car in an accident and are now enjoying my buddy’s vehicle as an upgrade for our family.  Thank you deceptive marketing letter!)