Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

AI: Marketing to Women Now with 83% More Stupid!

I went shopping with my mother yesterday. She loves this store called Aveda. So we went in to the local shop and while my mum was picking out her favorite shampoo I was browsing the displays.

That’s when I saw a sign that made my brain hurt.


From the sign: 83% felt more balanced after a chakra™ aroma.

I had questions.

First, how do you determine if someone’s chakras are more balanced? Do you push them? Do you weigh them against other people?

Second, how do you get the balls to try and claim trademark of the word, “chakra”? And have all the Hindus and Buddhists been informed?

I was intrigued, so I asked the sales girl how they got the number of 83% and how they tested the balancing effects on the chakras.

She said, “Uh, they hooked people up to a machine and tested them. There is more info on the website or you can call Aveda.”

So I came home, and I looked! And sure enough, there is a website! And there is even a phone number you can call 24/7! (800-644-4831*) Sadly, I couldn’t muster up the desire to actually pick up my phone and talk to an Aveda sales person, but I DID search online. I did also think to myself, WOW what if maybe we have it all wrong! If there are chakras, we don’t need to worry about health care anymore. We just need body mists and candles. This could be HUGE! The world will have romantic lighting and smell wonderful. So I settled in to investigate further on the site in hopes of finding something that would revolutionize my understanding of modern medicine and physics and what I found was this:

the art and science of pure flower and plant essences is the core of aveda. our beauty products are alive with the life force of plants, and contain pure essential oils. our solutions are so powerful we call them purescriptions™. while we specialize in hair care, we offer other plant-based products—skin care, makeup, pure-fume™, aromas and lifestyle—that are all professionally developed, clinically tested, and go to exceptional lengths to be respectful of the earth. our professional network, nearly 7,000 salons and spas worldwide, shares our commitment. ever since a hairdresser founded aveda in 1978, our products have been harvested with respect for the earth, in harmony with the web of life.

Marketing that is intended to appeal to the rebel or the free-spirit in us because it doesn’t use capitalization brought to us by a company founded by a hairdresser so it’s also non threatening in a totally relatable way. I totally know hairdressers, ZOMG! Do you know hairdressers too? No way! Then, they make up their own words that sorta sound like science. It’s not as scary or as complicated as real science but sounds important and authoritative stupid. They also have a fun appeal to ancient wisdom aka alt-med and Ayurveda*.

But I couldn’t find any actual studies.

I even did a detailed search on their site.

No items found matching "study"

And another search:

No items found matching "facts"

Sadly, I have yet to find any evidence to support that aromas or aroma mists will make you 83% more balanced (whatever that means) nor have I found a single, quantifiably measurable piece of evidence for an actual chakra™.

Have you seen any ridiculous claims while out shopping? And how balanced would you say you and your chakras are feeling today?

*I did not call the number because I had better things to do today (no, really) but if any of you have time to kill, please let us know if they have any published studies they would like to share in order to explain their balance claims and how they came to their 83% conclusion.

* If you don’t know what Ayurvedic medicine is you can go here.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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30 Comments

  1. Well, the way the claim is worded, they don’t really need a study. They’re being very careful to say that the women FELT more balanced. Not that they WERE more balanced. Big difference.

    Put another way, their numbers could be based on something as simple as inviting women to smell the product, then asking them, “You feel more balanced now, don’t you?” If they answer in the afirmative, BAM, that’s the 83%. A lot of people I know, including myself, would probably nod politely regardless of how they felt, so as not to seem rude by saying “no.”

  2. A large amount of people believe in things that don’t exist because it makes them feel good. Therefore Aveda is thinking, why not take their money?

    The difference between this and say something like holistic practitioners is that Aveda has very plainly chosen to market something they know is bullshit to make money.

    So what’s worse, a holistic practitioner who believes what they sell people actually does something, or a company knowingly selling false remedies to fools (i.e. fools selling to fools vs. capitalists selling to fools).

    I’m not sure, but this definitely makes the case WHY spreading rational thinking and skepticism is a worthy cause.

  3. Oy, I go to an Aveda Spa on occasion because it has a very nice mellow athmosphere, is close to my house and often has half off promotions. (And the aestheticians are awesome, that is what they told me to call them btw.)

    Anyway, they do this thing where they have you smell stuff and whatever you like more says something about your inner youness or some crap. Drives me batty, and they have a bunch of things where they can profile you and do some BS aromatherapy.

    Look, I just want someone to rip hair off of my eyebrows and paint my toenails because I am bad at it. I don’t need to get in touch with my inner essence and find centering in the universe. It’s going to all be ruined as soon as I go outside and have to deal with other humans anyway. But at least my eyebrows will look flawless, no?

  4. Ah, my boyfriend used to work as the desk coordinator person for an Aveda salon, and they had this crap in there. He knows its bunk, but he liked the way they smelled. And he had some stupid routine they trained him to do to people with them, but I don’t think he ever told anyone it was balancing their chakras or anything like that. It was all just putting smelly stuff on people for him.

  5. See, I’m not sure that “balanced” is necessarily a (pseudo-)medical claim, here. If it’s a reference to, say, emotional balance, I wouldn’t be surprised if people who took time out of their day to take a few deep breaths felt more balanced afterwards. I know I do, and I don’t even have any funky smells around here (other than the occasional scent of burnt popcorn from the lunchroom).

  6. 83% of my chakras are well balanced, but the other 17%, not so much. For example, my evilness chakra refuses to allow me to indulge in any heinous depravity until I buy the shameless glutton 2 dozen donuts. As if.

    1. I also have to add: I love their facials and massage treatments. I also like the aromatherapy (they ask you to pick an essential oil and you get to smell that the whole time) since it’s just a nice touch. I just wish they wouldn’t make claims about “working out the toxins”.

    2. I know the feeling. A friend sells for a company called Arbonne that makes really excellent makeup (seriously the best black eye shadow I’ve ever used), delicious-smelling bath stuff and moisturizer etc. I’d love to sell their stuff (it’s a sort of Avon-style sales-pyramid dealy), but I just can’t buy into the bullshit, they sell “detox” stuff. I stand behind their product, it’s good quality and does what it says it does (and it’s vegan), but I can’t willfully lie to people about cleansing and magical fruit proteins or whatever.

  7. This is funny because I was just arguing with a believer in “chakra” as an effective medical treatment for pain, stress, etc, the other day. He really wasn’t prepared all I did was ask for clinical studies supporting his claim and he flipped out. Calling me a “conspiracy nut” and a “troll”, then went on to say “obviously the government is hiding the effectiveness of chakra healing because if they didn’t then people would know that healing yourself can be cheap.” Yea. I know. He then said he could easily prove chakra healing if I would bet my life against it, and that’s the last I heard of him. (yea he didn’t even give the “proof”)
    I like to think he’s somewhere at home in a meditative pose imagining he’s sending some kind of astral projection at me.

  8. I agree that’s careful wording… the inclusion of ‘felt’ really precludes the requirement for scientific rigor.

    “Chakras” always seemed to me to be a metaphor. We talk about seeking balance in all areas of our lives — family, finance, intellect, work, love, sex, health. All the chakra business seems to say to me is that we need to align all the divergent interests in our lives and make sure we’re taking care of them all, in balance. Along the way, this simple metaphor has gathered a whole crapload of baggage. Not sure if aromas can help you achieve a better work / life balance, but if you’re stopping to relax and inhale deeply as someone above said, you’re at least trying.

    1. I like the ideas of balance, and I’ve known for a long time that I’m a symbolic thinker. I find it easier to lump an idea or a concept into a symbol (say in this case “a blocked throat chakra” representing my difficulties with speaking out when I’ve been wronged), but I don’t believe there is an actual thing or place or that it’s real, but it’s a great symbol to help me work out issues. It’s the believing it’s a real thing that gets you in trouble. I think there’s a lot of validity to symbols to help understand complex issues, but the map is not the territory, as Robert Anton Wilson used to say :P

  9. There are always ridiculous claims while shopping. Advertisers use exaggeration and creative statistics to convince the non skeptical to buy aromatherapy, “special” jeans that will make any butt look incredible or cologne that will draw in all the ladies. It’s a marketing ploy and it is prevalent in our society unfortunately.

    And if I had Chakras I wouldn’t even know where they are what to do with them… so absurd!

  10. Ugh. The whole beauty industry is borked. I mean, there’s still a fuckload of people out there buying moisterizer because they think it’ll make them age not so much. Fuckssake people, if that’s your worry, then stay out of the fucking sun, and wear a moisterizer with a high SPF. That’ll save your skin way more than a nice smelling moisterizer. >_<

  11. I met a gay male sub at a sex club who was wearing a full-body Tigger suit, and recalled that the last time I had met him he was wearing orange as well. I asked him about that, and he informed me it was because his chakrah is orange. I’m hoping my poker face wore well.

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