Remember that line about lies, damn lies, and statistics? Well, it's people like the folks over at 5-hour energy marketing department that keep people believing in it. Because what they say in their most recent commercial is actually quite brilliant, and probably fools many more people than any of us are willing to admit.
I have no gripe about 5-hour energy, mind you. I don't use it, but I have tried it in the past (got a free sample somewhere long ago). The taste wasn't good or bad enough to be memorable, and I guess I had some extra energy for a little while? Hard to remember, it certainly wasn't anything magical or more than you'd get from a small cup of coffee or a quick jog around the block.
Back to the commercial. What does this commercial tell us, and what does this commercial *try* to tell us?
The second part is easy. The commercial is trying to get one thing to stick in your head as you're standing at the store in front of a 5-hour energy display. That one thing is 73%, and what they're hoping gets stuck is that 73% of doctors (out of 3,000; so 2,190) recommend 5-hour energy. With the commercial fresh in your memory, that's obviously not true.
The first big misdirection here is a old-fashioned bait and switch. On TV, time is (literally) money. There is a reason that 'low-calorie energy supplement' keeps getting tossed around despite the time it takes to say. It's because the question to which doctors responded at 73% isn't *about* 5-hour energy. The question is about 'a low-calorie energy supplement'. The people setting up this survey know that they're more likely to get agreement to a vague idea rather than to a specific product.
A) 73% of doctors would recommend low-calorie energy supplements
B) 5-hour energy is a low-calorie energy supplement
Hence: 73% of doctors would recommend 5-hour energy
Unfortunately, there's a pretty decent leap there. Let's treat this as a math problem with fairness going to 5-hour energy whenever possible. What we can gain from this that 73% of doctors would recommend *some* low-calorie energy supplement, of which 5-hour energy is. At absolute best, 73% are thinking about 5-hour energy, but some are likely thinking of something else, let's say at least 1%. We can take from this, then, that less than 73% of doctors would recommend 5-hour energy.
That's not it, though, because we're actually also being bait and switched *with the first bait and switch*. There's another bait and switch in there that you've also probably noticed by now: "healthy patients who use energy supplements".
The question is worded in such as way that they are not only asking about healthy patients, but also about those healthy patients who already use energy supplements. Let's set up a contingency table, shall we?
|Takes energy supplements||Does not take energy supplements|
Before we continue, place yourself on this table. Got it? Good. If you've landed on an X, this study and commercial is not about you, and you should not pay attention to any of the information in it. You should treat this the same way as if you heard that tobacco smoking was linked to longevity in individuals over 105 years old who are Australian. You shouldn't start smoking because of that, unless you're over 105 (and Australian).
What portion of the population is healthy? I don't think I'd get too many arguments if I said that at most, 70% of the population is (because it is almost certainly less than that, and we're trying to be overly fair to 5-hour energy). Of healthy people, how many of them already take energy supplements? Again, let's aim overly high and say 70% of healthy people take energy supplements. That means that in the above table 70% of 70% (49%, which we can just round to 50% for the sake of simplicity) of patients are the patients that are actually being talked about.
So, from the talking part of the commercial, less than 73% of doctors would recommend 5-hour energy for less than half of their patients (and probably not you).
There are also some smaller points, like the fact that 5-hour energy being taken 9 million times a week has no bearing on any of the other information, and is actually working somewhat as a diversionary tactic, but let's move on to another interesting part: the small print. There's...a lot of it.
Small print slide 1:
Two self-reporting surveys were conducted to determine the opinions of primary care physicians regarding energy supplements and 5-hour energy: 1) an online survey of 503 participants (who were paid $15) for their participation); and 2) an in-person survey by 5-hour energy representatives of 2,500 participants (50% of those approached). In both, participants agreed to review materials regarding 5-hour energy consisting of label and basic description of its ingredients. Of the 503 online and 2,500 in-person, 73% said they would recommend a low calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who use energy supplements.
First off, thank you, DVR. There's a lot of information here. The first thing that jumps out at me is that they didn't ask 3,000 doctors like they said in the commercial, they *surveyed* 3,000 doctors. That may seem like a small semantic thing, but it's pretty important. They asked 5,500 doctors, and 3,000 decided not to blow them off immediately. Now, that's not too awful, as response rates vary dramatically in these types of surveys, and I guess there's not a whole lot of ways they could put this out there other than tossing it in one of their small print blocks. Still, something to watch for. Along with a number of other blocks of small print.
Small print slide 2:
Of the 73% of primary care physicians who would recommend a low calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who use energy supplements, 56% would specifically recommend 5-hour energy for their healthy patients who use energy supplements.
Ah, so there's the actual number. Oh wait, they're still pulling the wool over on you. It's not that 56% of doctors would specifically recommend 5-hour energy, it's that 56% *of* 73% would. That number is just slightly over 40%; less than half of doctors would specifically recommend 5-hour energy to less than half of the population (healthy people who already take energy supplements). Much less impressive than 73%, isn't it? Makes sense they'd want to spruce things up a bit.
Small print slide 3: Of all primary care physicians surveyed, 47% would specifically recommend 5-hour energy for their healthy patients who use energy supplements.
Hmmmmmm. That's not the number I came up with based on the information they gave in the *immediately prior slide*, and it's unclear how this number should differ. Oh well, let's just say less than half of doctors.
As I went back to make sure I didn't miss anything, it turns out that I did. I'm going to call it small print block 0, as it came before the block I called 1 before. This one goes by *fast*
Small print slide 0:
All doctors surveyed identified themselves as primary care physicians.
Primary care physicians weren't even verified to be primary care physicians. They were simply doctors looking for $15. The wording doesn't even imply that they're medical doctors. Oh well. Close enough.