Before and After
The Atomic Dog is a weekly feature that isn't necessarily about weight training or bodybuilding. Sometimes it's about sports in general, sex, women, or male issues of some kind. At times it's inspirational, but it can also be informative, funny, and even a little weird, but hopefully, always interesting and a little controversial. We hope it reflects the nature of Testosterone magazine in that, just as no man is completely one-dimensional and only interested in one subject, neither are we. If it makes you think or laugh or even get angry it's served its purpose.
As most of you know, I used to be Editor-in-Chief of the old Muscle Media 2000 magazine before it went what's known as mainstream. (Main it may be, but that's one stream I'd rather not swim in lest I emerge covered in used rubbers and industrial waste.)
I was responsible for the editorial content of the magazine while Bill Phillips, currently of Body-for-Life fame, fussed over the layouts and the look of the magazine. I imagine that if we were a gay couple, he would have handled the tasteful decorating of our love nest, too.
Anyhow, while working on one particular issue of the magazine in the mid-nineties, Bill marched into my office to ask me what I thought of the cover. We had established a reputation in the industry of having some covers that were real stinkers, but I thought that this particular one would put us in the stinker Hall of Fame. If memory serves, it showed the "before and after" pictures of two people who had miraculously transformed their bodies through the miracle of MET-Rx.
I've always loathed before and after pics, but you've gotta' understand this about Bill, when he asked for your opinion, you had to be damn careful to give him the answer that he wanted. You had to read him, and if he liked a particular idea, you had better agree with him lest he turn the color of an inflamed boil and fire you, your parents, your brother, sister, and all your friends, even if none of them worked for him. Why, he'd just go to their respective work places and fire 'em anyhow!
Working there reminded me of a particular Twilight Zone episode where a small boy could will things into happening. If people displeased "Anthony," he willed them into the cornfield. If you complained about Anthony's TV programming — which usually consisted of dinosaurs fighting 24 hours a day — zap, you were in the cornfield, and I'm not just talking about in the cornfield, but under it; six feet under it, if you catch my drift.
Trouble was, Anthony had sent just about the entire town's population into the cornfield except for most of his immediate family and a couple of lucky souls who were so jittery they looked like they had shell shock. Whenever Anthony did something, anything, they'd better reply, "It's good that you did that, Anthony, it's good that you sent your sister into the cornfield." Otherwise .
Well, that's exactly how if felt to those of us who worked at Muscle Media 2000 and EAS. So when asked what I thought about the cover, I said, "It's a good cover, Billy. It's good that you did that (please don't send me into the cornfield)."
And so that cover hit the newsstands in early 1994 and damn if he wasn't right. It was our best selling issue to that point. People ate up the before and after pics. They wanted to know how they, too, could change their bodies into "afters."
Apparently, the appeal of before and after pics is a lesson that plenty of other supplement companies have learned. Just this past week, the Federal Trade Commission released a lengthy report entitled, "Weight Loss Advertising: An Analysis of Current Trends." I've read the all 52 pages and suffice it to say, the FTC isn't too thrilled with the state of the art. The report, rife with statistics, studied the advertising of some 200 companies and determined that they use any one or combination of nine different techniques (or ploys), as the FTC strongly indicates.
Among these categories are claims of fast results with no diet or exercise; use of natural ingredients; promises of long-term results; guaranteed results with preposterous claims; use of testimonials; and, you guessed it, use of before and after pics. Here's what the FTC study had to say specifically on the subject of before and after pics:
Before and after pics usually fall into one of two categories: (1) the illustrated personal testimonial, and (2) the clinical comparison of isolated body portions. The former type often contains the following elements:
Before picture: Snapshot quality photograph of the subject that incorporates poor posture, neutral face expression, unkempt hair, unfashionable attire, poor lighting, and washed out skin tones.
After picture: Brightly lit (sometimes studio portrait quality) pose of smiling subject in fashionable attire, shoulders held back, tummy tucked in, with a stylish hairstyle and carefully applied makeup.
...often the only discernible difference in the before picture and the after picture is a change in posture and body control. In the before picture, the subject's shoulders are slumped, the abdominal muscles relaxed, and the pelvis thrust forward to emphasize body fat. The after picture shows the subject holding in his/her abdomen and/or holding back his/her shoulders to emphasize lean body mass. A close examination of the before picture in this type of ad raises the question of whether the subject needed to lose weight and suggests that little or no weight was actually lost.
Some before-and-after photographs clearly appear to have been altered, usually by placing an image of the after subject's head on the photographic image of another (very obese) subject's body.
Remarkably astute observations by the ol' FTC, don't you think? Granted, we made some similar observations about before and after pics used by one of our competitors before, specifically, pointing out that one of the people used in their ads as a "before" was actually pregnant. That little fact, however, wasn't disclosed in the ad.
Damn straight she lost 9 pounds; she named it Toby!
That particular company sued us, though. Sure, we would have ultimately won in court because of a little thing called the First Amendment, but this company could have dragged the thing on for years, costing us maybe 50 grand a month in legal fees. So we had to agree we wouldn't pick on them anymore; we'd stop telling people to open up their eyes and see this hokey shit for what it was!
But it makes me wonder if this particular company is going to sue the FTC now, considering that theirs was one of the products and ad campaigns analyzed in the study.
Ha! Good luck!
You might have noticed that Biotest doesn't use before and after pics in its advertising. In retrospect, I gotta' think that maybe we're just big dopes. We have plenty of people who had good, great, and even fantastic results with our now-defunct fat burner, MD6, but we never used before and after pics! While a good number of people said we had the best fat burner on the market, we only controlled a small share of the market.
Maybe this is a moot point since we discontinued MD6. All the crap concerning one of its ingredients, ephedrine, got to be too much. If it wasn't the government being a thorn in our glutes, it was insurance companies wanting million-dollar annual premiums. We just said, "screw it," and decided to come out with something better.
But when we do come out with a new fat burner, maybe we really should use before and after pics. Sure! It's a proven formula! It pulls in dopes as easily as the old ten-dollar bill attached to a fishline trick! We'll make so much money, I'll be able to buy a professional baseball team and make ridiculous financial decisions just like the other owners! Tim will finally be able to realize his dream, which is opening up a dance studio where he can teach old ladies how to rumba and samba.
Look how easy it is! The following "before and after" pics show T-man Davin Ramatour, who first appeared in Chris Shugart's Dawg School column in issue #105. Davin, looking sallow and portly in his before pics, used our new fat burner for just 6 weeks and look at the amazing transformation:
Why, it's amazing! Who thought burning fat could be so easy! Sure, we'll even throw in a made-up testimonial:
"6 weeks ago I weighed 240 pounds. Whenever I went to the local Sea World, people would become alarmed, throw a net over me, and dump me back into the walrus exhibit. It wasn't too bad, though. Got kind of friendly with one of the females and we dated for awhile. After I started using Biotest's new product, though, I lost a lot of blubber and I became grossly unappealing to her because, well, you know, walruses like blubber. Anyhow, thanks to Biotest, I was able to find the courage to ask out the girl who touts buckets of mackerel to our exhibit. We'll soon be moving in together, far, far away from any marine mammals."
Okay, so maybe you noticed the dates on the side of the film. The truth is, the before pics were taken about 5 minutes before the after pics, or as long as it took Davin to change his shorts, put up a different background, and readjust the lighting.
You can see how easy it is to do an ad that appeals to products of a failed educational system. So why don't we do it?
Maybe it's because we continue to make the mistake of trying to appeal to smart people, people who make value judgments by using their brain instead of some old dried up sponge that kinda' looks like a brain.
I know this is going to sound self-serving and a bit self righteous and maybe even holier-than-thou, but we don't want to make a living by courting dumb people. I know it would be oh-so easy to really spew out the bullshit and really rake in the dough, but damn it, we're the ones who want to go to sleep at night without having to wrestle with demons—big bastards who'd no doubt emerge from our subconscience to take huge dumps of steaming guilt on the upholstery of our brains.
There's a right way and a wrong way to do business. I'd like to think we're doing it the right way. I only wish I could will some of the others who are doing it the wrong way into the cornfield. I'm sure Tim, along with T-mag staff like Chris Shugart, Cy Willson, Ian King, Lonnie Lowery, John Berardi, Ron Harris, John Davies, Don Alessi, Brock Strasser, and Bill Roberts and the rest would say in response, "It's good that you did that TC. It's good that you sent those companies into the cornfield."
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