Annoying ads that Work

By Chris Blair

Remember the ad campaign for the product HeadOn? It’s probably the most annoying ad of all time.

It’s not even clear what the product is for and if you visit their website, the product description sounds like science fiction. Yet the product has been so successful, they’ve spun off other topical products like ActivOn, which claims to help arthritis pain!

Just so you know, independent chemical analysis of their roll-on products has shown the ingredients are almost entirely wax, and while most sane people realize it’s just modern-day snake oil, obviously many others think it works.

According to Wikipedia, chemical analysis has shown the three active ingredients are iris versicolor 12× (a flower), white bryony 12× (a type of vine), and potassium dichromate 6× (a highly toxic chemical used in some pain and wound treatments among other things). The “×” notation indicates that the three chemicals have been diluted to 1 part per trillion, 1 part per trillion, and 1 part per million respectively. This amount of dilution is so great that the product has been described as a placebo; with well-known scam-buster James Randi calling it a “major medical swindle.” The formula for the Extra Strength version of the product is the same as the Migraine except that it excludes the iris versicolor, so I guess you could say it’s “less flowery!”

Seymour Diamond, director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago has stated, “I see nothing in this product that has any validity whatsoever.” Consumer Reports states that no clinical-trial data involving HeadOn have been presented, and that “any apparent efficacy may be the result of the placebo effect.” If you don’t know what the placebo effect is, it’s the phenomenon related to the perceptions and expectations a patient has. If a substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects. It doesn’t matter what substances are in the product, the expectations of the patient causes the results they expect.

So despite the obvious fact that this product has nothing in it that can remotely heal anything…the advertising for it convinces people to buy the darn stuff! Obviously if a company came to us with a dubious product like this, it would put us in a difficult position. The folks that make Head On don’t make claims about the healing benefits of their product, so it’s tough to call them out for it. In other ads, they use testimonials from users to tout the product, so the company is never directly making statements about the product. But at the same time, it’s difficult to see how any company could produce a product so devoid of any substance (literally) and pawn it off on people seeking pain relief.

Ultimately, if you’re dumb enough to believe you can cure your headache by rolling a product onto your head like deoderant, then you probably deserve to have them take your money.