Lentis/Magic and Medicine: Magnetic Bracelets and Other Strange Cures
Sports Performance Enhancement
All products need marketing, especially in their early implementation phases. Even in the case of over the counter prescriptions, “when patients can identify a drug and knows how it is supposed to work, there will be a greater positive result”. The brand represents familiarity, and in some cases social status. Once something catches on it spreads like wildfire. Power Balance is one of the premier brands in sports performance accessories. The creators of Power Balance distributed their bands to their college teammates, spreading the word. They had an endorsement video ready depicting an athlete performing at a higher level in balance, strength, and flexibility with the Power Balance band on. This style of marketing eludes to a form of confirmation bias, or even an “idol effect,” Young athletes see their favorite athletes and celebrities wearing them, they will want to wear them too. Then add that ads are shown that show the bracelet performing extraordinary, why not give it a shot.
For every product that involves little to no scientific evidence will have groups supporting, and groups condemning the product. Especially in the case of sports performance enhancement accessories that are not physically observable. such as: Magnetic technology, Holographic Technology, Ion balancing.
Endorsements and sponsorships play a large part in building the market of a new product. Power Balance founders started by distributing their bracelets to old teammates and eventually spread to celebrity endorsement contracts. Notable names of these contracts included Mark Sanchez, Lamar Odom, and Shaq. Power Balance, now a name brand, dominated the market of sports performance enhancement bracelets, selling 250,000 bracelets in 2009. Its competitor (Phiten) sold only 760,000.  Which not only gives a rough picture of the market share in 2009 (Which roughly translates to 7.5 Million dollars in sales), but also how prominent Power Balance had become. Professional and young athletes alike swear by the Power Balance bracelets' technology. Simply wearing the bracelet is advertising in itself, as well as proof of support from a subset of the athletic community. Even if there will never be scientific evidence, people will believe what they want, if the idea boosts their performance, whats the harm?
The NBA signed a sponsorship with Power Balance. Now this more than raises eyebrows, given Power Balance’s controversial claims and lack of credible scientific backing. Mark Cuban posted a video of himself throwing Power Balance bracelets supplied to him by the NBA in the trash. In response to their claims the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse Exercise and Health Program conducted an experiment that tested the balance, strength, flexibility and vertical jump with a power balance bracelet and a placebo bracelet. The results indicated that there was no change in athletic performance regardless of which bracelet was being worn. The only evidence they found was that participants continually scored higher on the second trial (regardless of bracelet). This eludes to the somewhat of an order effect. Appearing in another study, “An order effect for strength was observed, attributed to a learning effect..” Leaving room for marketing to take advantage of this naturally occurring phenomenon, and producing feasible, but falsifiable, claims. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released a statement saying “These claims made by Power Balance were not supported by any credible scientific evidence and therefore Power Balance has admitted that it has engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.”  Some of those opposed to Power Balance bracelets are not against the technology itself, but they way that technology is marketed, branded, and sold to athletes worldwide with promises of results. Not to mention they are pretty hefty on the wallet.
The Power of Belief
- , Lentis Chapter on Placebos
- [ http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=5660039],sales facts and information about power balance and the Power of Belief.
- ,video of Mark Cuban throwing power balance bracelets into the trash.
- ,study details for Power Balance bracelets in tests of balance, flexibility, strength, and vertical jump.
- ,study observing the presence of the order effect.
- ,release by the ACCC (Australian Competition and consumer Commission).