Ads that Make You Go "Really?"


A few TV commercials set off my B.S. detector the other day, so I decided to look at the products’ active ingredients and figure out if they can really do what they supposedly can do….

Mouthwash reduces “biofilm”. An ad for a popular brand of mouthwash implies that in addition to tartar buildup, plaque, and gum disease, brushers must also fight biofilm, a sticky layer of germs that adheres to the teeth no matter how frequently and thoroughly you brush. They make it sound pretty damn scary, this newly discovered scourge to dental health. Biofilm covers up the plaque, rendering it inaccessible to regular brushing! First you must get rid of the biofilm, and this mouthwash will supposedly help you do that.
Quick trips to Wikipedia and the American Dental Association confirmed what I already suspected: The term “biofilm” is a reference to plaque, not to an entirely separate layer of scum on the teeth. You don’t have to break through it to get the plaque; it is the plaque. Hell, even the Listerine website itself tells you that “biofilm” is the new word for plaque. But the commercial tries to trick you into buying an old product to fight a new enemy – which turns out to be an old enemy with a new, sciency name.

Dental spray reduces plaque on your dog’s teeth. An order-now ad running frequently on late-night TV tells us that instead of brushing or costly and risky cleanings at the vet’s office, you can easily and safely administer a dental spray to your dog’s mouth once a day. It will reduce plaque buildup just as effectively as the other methods of plaque removal.
As it turns out, though, this “plaque spray” has essentially the same ingredients as human mouthwash (containing 25% alcohol and some herbal extracts), meaning it can’t serve as an adequate replacement for brushing and regular professional cleanings.

A commercial for a yogurt-based dairy drink hints that it can boost your immunity, but it doesn’t actually say that outright. In fact, they use the French spelling of the word immunity. Does this mean they want to sound Continental, or does it perhaps mean they can’t prove their product “boosts” your immunity? And what does “boosting” immunity mean, anyway? It’s a term so vague as to be meaningless. There is some clinical evidence for health benefits from the bacteria in yogurt, but some researchers have noted (here, for example) that there is currently no evidence of benefits to consumers who are already healthy.

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