If you’ve spent five minutes of social media, you’ve probably seen the video ads for Activated You, a nutrition supplement company founded and represented by actor Maggie Q.
The most prolific of these ads is the one above where Maggie has her body fat tested by her integrative doctor, Frank Lipman. Lipman, who some consider to be the ‘father of integrative medicine,’ has infamously declared sugar and gluten to be the ‘devil.’
Lipman once said that he never wants to give medical advice on TV and described TV doctors as ‘cheesy.’ But here we are, with Dr. Lipman all over our feeds, hawking Morning Complex, hobnobbing with celebrities (including Gwyneth, natch), and selling his own line of supplements, cleanses, and detoxes on The Well, a company of which he’s the medical director.
This post isn’t about Activated You products per se. Whether the products ‘work’ or not, isn’t really a question here – maybe they work for some things, just as every product or diet or program works for someone somewhere.
This post is about nutrition marketing and how those products are sold. When I watched the entire 16 minute video Activated You ad, what came to mind for me is that they were using classic marketing tactics that are so commonly used to sell nutrition products and services.
VShred, Provitalize, and BeachBody are some other companies that use the same methods.
It can be very easy to fall for some of these tactics, but when you know what you’re looking for, you can spot them a mile away. If you still want to buy whatever they’re selling, that’s up to you – but at least you can make an educated decision about it.
I watched the entire 16 minute video, and it’s incredible (in a bad way) how Maggie goes step by step, building a foundation before going in for the kill *ahem* the hard sell.
Let’s use Activated You’s video to learn about nutrition marketing red flags.
A hook draws you in. In this case, it’s Maggie Q receiving the news that she has ‘no body fat.’
Her response is to laugh.
Here’s a tip: the appropriate response to being told that you have no body fat, is shock. It’s also impossible to be on the receiving end of that news anyhow, since you’d die with a fat percentage that low.
Make no mistake, her laughing at this situation is completely messed up and disordered as heck. Diet culture has created the belief that the less body fat we have, the better. Maggie is perpetuating that.
The emotional story.
Maggie tells us that she was a ‘mess,’ with digestive issues and other health problems. We don’t know her health history – maybe she was going through some issues, maybe she wasn’t.
She even discloses that she couldn’t poo for up to four days. An actor opening up and talking about their digestive problems, bloating, and constipation? Maggie Q is just like us!
Autumn Calabrese from Beachbody does the exact same thing to sell her Gut Health Protocol.
But appearing to lay bare your soul is a tactic that we see all the time in nutrition marketing.
When people feel something, they buy products.
When a seller pretends to commiserate to be ‘just like you,’ it makes people feel heard. This makes people happy. Happy people buy products.
When a seller appears to disclose sensitive personal information to us, it helps to gain our trust. We’re more likely to buy something from someone we trust.
The other half of the emotional story is the triumph over adversity. We all love a good rags to riches story, and that’s what we get when Maggie tells us that she has solved her health issues and is doing so much better.
Now, she’s bestowing this incredible secret to us – because Maggie cares about us!
Relating a story to convince us of a product’s effectiveness is called the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy: ‘it worked for me, therefore it will work for you.’
The use of this fallacy and the promise of a transformation isn’t anything new. A lot of diet programs and MLM nutrition programs use that exact word – transformation – to again play on our emotions and get us to imagine what our lives would look like without our current problems – health and others.
When people can imagine themselves in a new, better life, they’re more likely to buy a product that they’re told can take them there.
Feeling as though they’re receiving some sort of precious gift through the seller’s great concern for everyone who is going through what they did, helps make a sale. The seller ingratiates themselves to the potential buyer with ‘gifts’ and a secret ‘formula,’ the buyer feels lucky and special. Like they’re part of a special club.
Sense of community and belonging. It moves product.
Portraying the company as scientifically legitimate.
The video shows Maggie poring over what she says are ‘scientific studies,’ and she tells us several times that she did a lot of research to develop Morning Complete. Maggie’s now an actor AND a scientist!
This is the same as all of the MLM companies that pepper their sites with stock images of DNA and scientists in lab coats: it means nothing.
I’m sure some scientists were involved in the making of Morning Complete (probably food scientists). But at this time, there is no research on Activated You’s products.
Not only that, but there is no conclusive evidence in humans that the ingredients in Morning Complete are effective for what Maggie claims.
And let’s get one thing very clear: Maggie and her ‘scientists’ haven’t stumbled upon some magical formula that mainstream medicine has somehow missed. You aren’t buying into some secret earth-shattering new discovery. Every one of these companies wants to make you feel that way.
The most off-putting part of this is the claim on the Activated You site that Maggie knows more about health than a lot of dietitians (and they spelled dietitian with a ‘c,’ that’s also off-putting).
She does not.
Fear mongering about ‘problems’ that probably don’t exist.
As she tells us about her constipation (constipation is very common, FYI, so this will attract the attention – and fear – of a lot of viewers), Maggie warns us that ‘poor digestion’ can cause a whole host of issues. Things like body aches, fatigue, hormonal imbalances (can she tell us which hormones become imbalanced by constipation?), dull skin, premature wrinkles, and breakouts.
This is all meant to scare you into buying what she’s selling. She doesn’t even define ‘poor digestion.’ Even so, how in the world would gut issues cause any of those things? Let’s be honest: there’s no evidence that they do.
Maggie tells us that Dr. Lipman is very concerned with our livers. That our livers are affected by all sorts of toxins from today’s world and this is a problem. We need milk thistle and room temperature lemon water every morning!
Because of course we do. And guess what? I’ll bet the product she’s about to sell us contains milk thistle!
Spoiler: it does.
Selling us on the benefits of consuming certain ingredients.
Maggie loves gymnema sylvestri, and calls it a ‘sugar destroyer,’ which is ridiculous and unproven. But not just any gymnema sylvestri, of course – because so much of it is cheap and diluted, as Maggie tells us. Isn’t it great that her supplement happens to use quality ingredients?
There are probiotics, prebiotics, adaptogens, and bitter melon, which Maggie tells us has been ‘celebrated for centuries’ in other societies to help with weight loss.
Interesting, because in 22 years as an RD, I’ve never heard of bitter melon causing weight loss.
Telling us about the actual product, and talking it up to seem like something new and spectacular.
Anything that new and spectacular will be all over the media, and regulated by the FDA. It will be first-line treatment used by legitimate healthcare professionals.
Please spare me the conspiracy theories that Big Pharma wants to keep us sick – there’s far more money and fame in finding a miracle cure.
But conspiracy theories are the undercurrent of this type of marketing. Us vs them.
They couldn’t find what was wrong with me, but our product helped.
They sell you pills, our product is all-natural.
They want to keep you sick, we truly want to make you the healthiest you’ve ever been.
They want to make money off of you….um…..wait.
Making a bunch of claims about the product that are vague or that don’t make sense.
Beware the laundry list of conditions that are ‘cured’ by a product. Note: nothing cures everything, and no supplement or diet cures incurable conditions such as PCOS, diabetes, and autoimmune disease, to name a few.
Vague claims like, ‘gives you more energy!’ and ‘heals your gut!’ can’t be objectively measured, and are easily susceptible to the placebo effect.
The weight-loss claim is usually accompanied by a diet program that’s sold with the product.
I’m going to say it again – no supplement helps you lose weight effortlessly. It just doesn’t exist.
Some supplements – Morning Complete included – advertise that they improve cellular health. The word ‘cellular’ is a vague term that sounds scientific and serious, and is meant to boost credibility and convince people that the company’s products are evidence-based.
That’s unfortunate, because everything we do, and everything we eat, affects us on a cellular level. That’s the way our bodies work.
If you eat a varied, balanced diet, get enough rest, and engage in regular activity, your cells will function just as nature intended (unless you have a chronic illness, which is not what I’m talking about here).
A special mention to the ‘boosts metabolism’ claim, which I think is made about 99% of these types of supplements.
No supplement boosts metabolism high enough or long enough to result in significant weight loss. Companies use phrases like ‘X ‘supports’ a healthy metabolism or healthy body weight,’ but these mean absolutely nothing.
The word ‘support’ is intentionally vague to ensure that potential customers read into it as ‘metabolism boosting,’ but the company isn’t exactly saying that, so they won’t get sued by the FDA for making false claims.
If you see a company or person making any claims of fat burning or metabolism boosting, you know right away that they’re trying to scam you. Period.
Transitioning into the high-pressured ‘buy now!’ sales technique.
Seriously, is there a nutrition MLM, diet, or supplement company that doesn’t use this tactic? It’s Marketing 101: give someone the perception that they’ll lose out if they don’t buy immediately, and they’re more likely to jump on the ‘deal.’
Another way companies like these sell expensive products is say or imply that an expensive product is ‘worth it’ because it’s ‘for your health!’
Maggie does an extra special job of shaming potential customers by telling them that the cost of Morning Complete fits into ‘every budget,’ even though the cost is $79 a jar.
She then tells us that if we buy now, it’s $49 a jar, and if we buy multiple jars, it’s even cheaper.
Watching this, I was literally embarrassed for her.
The only thing Activated You is good for is teaching us about nutrition marketing red flags. That’s it.