A manufacturer of those magnetic wristbands that you see everybody wearing—the ones that claim to improve your health, strength, and balance—was forced by the Australian government to admit that its marketing claims are a bunch of hooey.
In our advertising we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility.
We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
If you feel you have been misled by our promotions, we wish to unreservedly apologise and offer a full refund.
Gizmodo refers to this as a “scam.” My question is, can you still call it a scam if you have to be really dumb to believe it in the first place? I’ve seen The Sting; that’s a scam. Saying, “Hey, this jewelry makes you strong! Gimme money!” doesn’t seem like much of a scam.
I think that even among the people who buy the wristbands, only a small percentage actually expect a change in their physical condition. They’re cool, you see athletes on TV wearing them, so people want to buy them. More people would want refunds if the bands suddenly stopped being fashionable than if they didn’t suddenly transform the wearers into a taller Jet Li.
It is true that there seems to be a small superstition node in every human brain. Even if we don’t strictly believe in spells and incantations, there’s a small part of us that’s drawn by the allure of magic. “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if these beans did grow into a magic beanstalk?” We don’t expect it, but we do imagine it.
That’s why I’m a little wary of consumer protection actions like the hammer that got dropped on the wristband company, above. I fundamentally believe that people are not idiots, but I think there’s a lot of gray area around what they believe and why they believe it. It’s not as cut-and-dried as: Wristband promises miracle results; results promised can’t possibly happen in this physical universe; therefore, people who bought the wristband were suckered. People like magic even when they don’t think it’s real.