You remember Power Balance, right? For several years after the company came along in 2007, up through about early 2010, those magical Power Balance bracelets with their magical powers were everywhere.
The company claimed the hologram on each bracelet was somehow imbued with ... well, with something that gave the wristband the ability to "react with the body's natural energy flow" and "resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body" in order to help wearers achieve "up to a 500% increase in strength, power and flexibility." It was all about "Eastern philosophies" of medicine and healing.
It was all a load of crap. Golfers (and people in general) fall prey to this stuff all the time - magic bracelets and magic pendants whose makers spout a bunch of science-y sounding gobbledygook (ionized! quantum mechanics! energy fields! magnetic!) about products that, in reality, are inert hunks of plastic or common metal and bands of rubber and string.
That's not to say that there aren't some people - you might even be one of them - who have purchased one of these kinds of products and believes it had a positive effect. But any positive effect is temporary, and due entirely to the placebo effect. If you don't believe that - if you believe these bracelets and pendants really do have magical qualities - then I have a magic piece of string I'll sell you for $39.95 (plus shipping and handling).
So: Power Balance got off to a hot start up to 2010 and attracted dozens of professional athlete and other celebrity endorsers, along with lots of profits.
But along the way, some researchers (actual scientists) starting putting Power Balance bracelets to the test. And in legitimate double-blind studies, the wristbands with their little holograms always failed. Wikipedia summarizes a couple such trials:
A study at the University of Wisconsin tested the effects of Power Balance bracelets on a group of NCAA athletes. One set of the athletes received the Power Balance bracelet, while the other received a placebo bracelet. The athletes were subjected to tests of flexibility, balance, and strength, after which, the athletes switched bracelets and performed the tests again. The study found that the Power Balance bracelet had no effect, compared to the placebo, on the performance of the athletes.
A group of students skeptical of the claims conducted a test which showed "no significant difference between the real wristband and the fake". Researchers commissioned by the BBC also found that the bands were placebos, A 2012 Skeptical Inquirer study showed that in a double-blind test of performance on an obstacle course, sixteen volunteers showed a difference in performance no greater than chance.
Some government watchdog agencies also started taking an interest in Power Balance. One, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, ruled that the company's Australian division was making bogus scientific claims in its advertising and was misleading the public. That agency required the Australian Power Balance distributor to publicly repudiate those claims.
And so Power Balance was forced to admit, in a note posted on its Australian website, that its magic bracelets weren't magical at all. That note (no longer online) said, among other things, this:
"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 apologize and offer a full refund."
The Australian government was the most aggressive in going after Power Balance's unsupported woo-woo claims, but it wasn't the only one. Italian and Dutch government agencies also took action against the company.
This didn't stop celebrities - or other businesses - from taking Power Balance's money in exchange for an endorsement, however. The NBA's Sacramento Kings were paid handsomely to put the Power Balance name on the team's arena. (Contrast that with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban blasting Power Balance and similar products after an endorsement deal between the NBA and the company. Perhaps being grounded in reality and knowing nonsense when he sees it is one reason Cuban's Mavericks have been so much more successful than the Kings?)
Meantime, United States government agencies weren't as active in countering fraudulent advertising and scam products as some of their counterparts (American agencies rarely are). But a class action lawsuit against Power Balance was in the courts.
And in late 2011, Power Balance agreed to a settlement of that class action lawsuit filed in the United States that alleged, among other things, fraud and false advertising. The cost of that settlement might have been, in part, responsible for the company filing for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.
But Power Balance wasn't dead. It selected a slightly different name - Power Balance Technologies Inc. - and emerged out of bankrupty in 2012. And signed, among other pro athlete endorsers, Stacy Lewis.
In addition to Lewis, Ricky Barnes and Keegan Bradley are also on the Power Balance Technologies Inc. payroll.
But this time around, Power Balance is being very careful about what claims it makes for its little bracelets. Visit the Power Balance website and you'll be hard pressed to find any claims about what, exactly, the wristbands and their holograms are supposed to do for you.
Why should I spend money on this rubber bracelet and its little hologram sticker? What will I get out of it? They don't say.
For example, on the product page for the new "Evolution" wristband, the Power Balance website says only this: "Breaking away from the mold, the new Evolution Bands are bold, streamlined and perforated. Crafted from 100% surgical grade silicone. Durable and made to last, these new wristbands come complete with two black Power Balance holograms."
Well, OK, but what's the point of buying this product? What do those holograms do, if anything? What am I supposed to get out of this purchase?
Power Balance doesn't say.
And the new company - which has learned its lesson, apparently - goes to great lengths to avoid providing any information about what, if anything, its wristbands are for; or why anyone would want one.
For example, on the "About Us" page, you'll find this:
In 2006, two brothers with a passion for competitive sports pursued their idea to blend the powers of Eastern Philosophy and Western Science with Innovative Technologies to deliver products that improve and enhance people’s lives. That idea became a company called POWER BALANCE™, the creators of the Power Balance™ silicone wristband.
Five years and millions of wristbands later, Power Balance™ has single-handedly defined the “Performance Technology” category and redefined the sports accessories market. From thousands of professional athletes to millions of aspiring amateurs, weekend warriors and active consumers, Power Balance™ has become a brand as powerful as the athletes who wear its products. Born in concept from ancient health and wellness practices and wrapped in a modern holographic form, Power Balance™ stands out among its many imitators as “The Original” sports performance wristband. No other Performance Technology accessory on the market can match the roster of hundreds of top professional athletes (and growing!) and millions of satisfied customers all over the world.
There's "blend the powers of Eastern Philosophy and Western Science with Innovative Technologies," but that's meaningless gobbledygook. It doesn't address why Power Balance bracelets exist, or why I should consider buying one.
But surely on the FAQ page we'll get some answers, right? Wrong! In fact, the FAQ page warns you that the wristbands might not work at all - it just doesn't explain what's supposed to happen if they do work! What does "work" even mean when it comes to Power Balance? They aren't telling.
What is Power Balance™?
Power Balance Technologies Inc. (www.powerbalance.com), the source of the original Power Balance Performance Technology® silicone wristband, is a leader in the market for Performance Technology sports accessories. The company produces a variety of products worn by millions of consumers and thousands of professional and amateur athletes worldwide. Professional supporters include NFL players Drew Brees, Clay Matthews and Darren Sproles, NBA forward Rudy Gay, MLB outfielder Matt Kemp, tennis player Mardy Fish, and golfers Stacy Lewis and Keegan Bradley. The company is headquartered in Orange County, CA and distributes its products in the US and internationally in more than 40 countries.
OK, so Power Balance is some kind of wristband that is worn by some famous athletes. Again, that tells me nothing!
But the FAQ, "What does this wristband do?" must provide answers, right?
What does this wristband Do?
The Power Balance band is a performance technology wristband with a distinctive hologram worn by millions of consumers and athletes worldwide. It is based on eastern philosophies of health and wellness.
No! Again, that tells us absolutely nothing!
By appearances, it seems as though the "new" Power Balance company might be hoping consumers remember those old woo-woo claims about energy flows and energy fields and incredible feats of strength and endurance without remembering, or ever knowing, that a) there was never any evidence to back up those claims; and b) those claims fell apart upon inspection, which the company was forced to acknowledge back in 2010.
Remember what Power Balance in Australia posted on its website in 2010: "We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct ..." Well, if the new Power Balance avoids telling us anything at all about what its wristbands are supposed to do for us, they avoid any legal exposure. Well played!
So what, exactly, is Stacy Lewis (and Keegan Bradley and Ricky Barnes) endorsing? A wristband that is no different than any other wristband you might buy. You might as well tie a shoelace around your wrist - you'll get the same effect (which is to say: no "effect" at all).
If you like the looks of the Power Balance wristband and have some money to spend, go for it! Just remember: There are no free lunches, no free energy, and there are no such things as truly magical bracelets.
(Also see our Flim-Flam Follow-Up post)