Nov 22 2011
The news that Power Balance has filed for bankruptcy is both encouraging and disheartening at the same time. I’ll explain – but first for background: Power Balance is the company who made millions of dollars selling little plastic wrist bands embedded with a cheap hologram. It love it when people become millionaires selling pet rocks or hoola hoops. Come up with a unique idea that catches on and you deserve to rake it in. Power Balance, however, made their millions selling dubious claims.
They claimed that their little pieces of plastic could improve balance, energy, and athletic performance. Their marketing was very effective, with celebrity sports star endorsements and live demonstrations in malls. Their demonstrations were indistinguishable from old parlor tricks that have been recycled numerous times to sell many dubious products. The SkepticBros even started selling (at their cost of about $1) Placebo Bands, which they believe are just as effective (i.e. nothing but the placebo effect) as Power Balance or any similar product.
The skeptical community has seen this all before. We targeted the claims of Power Balance, exposing the fact that they are highly implausible, the claims themselves are incomprehensible techno-babble, and there is no credible scientific to back them up. The Australian Skeptics lead the charge, resulting in the ACCC ruling against Power Balance, who then had to offer an apology, retraction of their claims, and refund to anyone who wanted it.
In the US there was a class action law suit filed in LA. That case has just been settled, with Power Balance agreeing to pay 57 million dollars to refund customers allegedly duped by the company. This is what prompted Power Balance to announce that they will be declaring bankruptcy. The company also just tweeted, however, that they will not be going out of business. I don’t know if this is false hope, bravado, or if it means that the bankruptcy is just a maneuver to minimize the damage from the lawsuit, with full plans on going forward.
All of this is encouraging – the skeptical community was able to expose the unscientific and implausible claims of a slick marketing campaign, and within a short period of time the company went from naming a sports arena to bankruptcy.
But it is also disheartening because this was just one round (although successful) in an endless game of whack-a-mole. There are already other products on the market that essentially are making the same claims as Power Balance. In centuries past medicine men sold questionable magnetic products with similar claims. More recently we have had the Q-ray bracelet, and now there are many products lining up to take Power Balance’s place. You can buy Energy Armor, with the power of negative ions. The website claims:
Energy Armor is a life technology designed to work with your body’s natural energy field.
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