An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign has raised over $40,000 for a bunch of charlatans to make what they call a ‘cocktail fortifier’: a tonic containing a handful of herbs and vitamins, which they strongly imply (although carefully avoid stating explicitly) will prevent hangovers if added to alcoholic drinks.
The product is called Ficks Cocktail Fortifier, comes in three flavours (ginger, lime and lemon) and costs $15 (about £9) for an 8 oz (240 ml) bottle. That’s almost £38 per litre, significantly more expensive than alcoholic spirits (Bombay Sapphire gin is about £25 per litre), and that’s for a non-alcoholic product, basically a mixture of ginger and vitamin B, which is probably less nutritious than a fruit smoothie and a multivitamin tablet (Tesco Red Berries smoothie, £1.20 per litre).
The slick branding, professional design of the bottles, labels and peripheral marketing bumf, and the number of trade magazines and other media outlets which have run stories on Ficks, presumably after receiving press releases, all show where the majority of the development budget has been focused.
Clearly, there’s been no proper testing of the actual effects of Ficks’s woo-potion, nor do they even care what they are: they state in their disclaimer that it is “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition”, presumably including hangovers.
Instead, there’s just a lot of guff about how Ficks is “all natural” – which of course means nothing – plus some waffly claims about the physiological effects of its ingredients. These are supported by two links to the blog of noted quack “Doctor” Mehmet Oz, and another to the more reputable Mayo Clinic, although they fail to include in their quote the sentence immediately preceding it in Mayo’s information: “Studies haven’t found any natural remedies that consistently improve hangover symptoms.”
Reading between the lines, the drinks’ recipes weren’t even created by the Ficks team themselves, but by Venus Food, a product development consultancy run by the self-styled ‘Grace Venus‘ (born Grace Battendieri).
This is ‘science’ of the cosmetics laboratory variety: technicians doing basic tests to check the product isn’t actually toxic, and marketers filling their campaign with as much sciency-sounding nonsense as they can think of, to deliberately give the impression of an Alexander Fleming-style scientific breakthrough, when in fact, the most carefully engineered part of the whole process is the bit where the legal team ensure that at no point has anyone made any concrete claims about the product’s effectiveness. In other words, a slick hybrid of pseudoscience and the machinery of corporate deceit.
A lot of people seem to have fallen for it very readily, however, and not just the Indiegogo donors who’ve signed up for a bottle of overpriced ginger cordial in exchange for providing the starting capital for a brand development process which seems like it could have easily found backing from traditional venture capital or from within the beverage industry itself. In response to Ficks’s press release campaign, favourable articles have appeared all over the place. This one, ‘Ficks Cocktail Fortifiers Prevent Hangovers’ from drinks industry promotion rag Chilled Magazine, is notable for going right out and stating in the headline the very falsehood which Ficks themselves have been careful to avoid. This is how the tangled web of commercial deception works now: there’s no need for the snake oil salesman to get his hands dirty any more; one friendly nudge to the media and they’ll spread his lies for him.
It’s one of the driving forces of capitalism that people would rather pay for an expensive, easy solution, than choose a cheap (or even free) but difficult one. That in itself wouldn’t be bad, if people were also clever enough to figure out which solutions worked and which didn’t. But figuring that out is also difficult, so again they’d rather pay the expensive cost (in terms of the original solution not working) for the easier option (believing what they’re told), and end up being screwed over by a system which has been designed to exploit them very effectively. That’s why people love the spurious idea of “superfoods”, when all they really need to do is stop eating junk; why there’s a multibillion pound weight loss industry, when by far the most effective lifestyle change for almost every measurable health indicator is to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day.
Apparently, the Ficks entrepreneurs are working on expanding their range with a flavourless version for adding to beer or wine. What a coup that would be: selling a liquid, with no flavour or proven health benefits, to be consumed as a drink, at a price similar to that of penicillin.
Since most of the effects of a hangover are produced by dehydration, there’s another drink additive, also flavourless and with minimal nutritional value, which does actually have a well studied and documented preventative effect, and it doesn’t cost £38/litre. You don’t need to fund an Indiegogo campaign to help develop it either; you can just turn on your nearest tap and out it flows. However, you won’t “feel invested in the Ficks lifestyle“, and that’s probably why I’m not a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur about to become a multimillionaire for selling lemon-flavoured vitamin drinks to idiots.