For as long as there have been products to sell, manufacturers used puffery in their advertising. Whether it is the claim that a vacuum cleaner will make you happier in the 1940’s or the purported health benefits of cigarettes in the 1920’s, companies often take “artistic liberties.” Most companies are careful enough not to guarantee their results; they include a healthy “results not typical” disclosure. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Rawlings Power Balance bracelets, pictured below.
According to Rawlings’ website, the bracelets have a “power balance hologram embedded with frequencies that react positively with your body’s natural energy fields” to provide strength and flexibility. It may sound crazy, but the concept behind balancing energy fields is nothing new. Back in August, Stacy Orlick commenced a proposed class action against Rawlings in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California for allegedly falsely advertising the bracelets on Walmart.com. Orlick claims she purchased a $35 bracelet based on a Walmart.com ad and never received the advertised benefits. Rawlings moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that it was responsible for the Internet advertisement. However, because the Walmart.com ad “substantially mirror[ed]” the ad Rawlings uses on its own website, U.S. District Court Judge George King denied the motion. The case is captioned Stacy Orlick v. Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., No. 12-cv-06787 (C.D. Cal. 2012).
Now that the suit has survived the dismissal, it will be interesting to see how things transpire. Rawlings’ best defense is obviously the truth. The question: How is it measured in this context? We cannot observe energy fields with the naked eye. We imagine some objective strength and flexibility testing could be conducted. But, if testing reveals that any positive effects of the bracelet are the result of a placebo effect, then can Rawlings be found liable for false advertising? If users derive some placebo-led benefit from the use of the bracelet, then there does not appear to be any harm.
We here at Abnormal Use confess to using power balance bracelets. In so doing, we have had more energy and, overall, just felt better. We have no idea whether these results are the product of the “power balance hologram” or of us just really, really liking bracelets.