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Have you ever heard such bald-faced lies?

March 27, 2015


This morning I came across an unmarked paper grocery sack filled with what? returnable beverage containers, canned food, crisp $100 bills? Fagedaboutit!

No, the bag contained three stacked craft cardboard boxes. Each was the right size to hold a DVD player but they were actually filled with a selection of little empty plastic applicator bottles (mini versions of what you would get in a hair colouring kit) and miniature hair brushes along with some other small doo-dads. Oh, and there were some cassette tapes.

“Questions and Answers/Before You Begin/ Listen to Me”

That’s how Side B of one of the cassette tapes was labeled but all the cassettes were devoted to “Hair Farming”.

“Hair farming” is a term of ridicule that I associate with any species of early 1990s hair band, whether glam, pop or metal. Really, I know of no other context for it.

The cassette tapes I found however, have nothing to do with hairy music artists but rather, baldly lying con artists.

A multilevel joke

This “Hair Farming” appears to be the same as the “Sable Hair Farming System” and “Foli-Kleen 2000”, a course of lotions and shampoos promoted as a miraculous treatment to “finally end baldness in the human race”.

Beginning in 1993, the Hair Farming system was sold in late night infomercials to men obviously losing sleep over their thinning hair. Pitchman (and later convicted fraudster) Kevin Trudeau promised these men that they could “get back the hair that’s already there!”

It was estimated that by 1998 American men had bought the pitch to the tune of USD$5 million.

In 1998, after American regulators had proved that all the product claims were false, Jacqueline Sabal, the promoter of the “Sable Hair Farming System”, settled with the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Sabal agreed to a lifetime FTC ban, barring her from having anything to do with promoting any baldness remedy (one of the three FTC Commissioners, Orson Swindle, dissented from the final agreement barring Sabal).

My first impulse was to take the ridiculous name of the system as a sort of private joke and a sign of the contempt the originator had for the witless dupes she planned to take advantage of.

But on reflection I think that it may have been a very good example of a “dog-whistle“, a targeted message which means more to one specific group of people than it does to the general population.

In the political arena, “Busing”, “quotas” and food stamps” are historical American examples. “Safe-injection site” is a current dog-whistle term in Canada and “fare evasion” has some popularity in Vancouver.

Last year a writer with the Guardian newspaper explained that TouchID on the new iPad was a dog-whistle feature aimed directly at business users.

There is some overlap between “code words”, “loaded phrases”, “saying one thing but meaning another” and “dog-whistles”.

The only important thing about the term “Hair Farming”, so far as a  baldness “cure” would be concerned is that it inescapably conjures up visions of massively hirsute young male musicians.

This vision doesn’t do much more than make me laugh but what about balding, middle aged men? What might it make many of them do — men desperate to recapture their youthful, hair-powered virility — might it make them open their wallets?

You have to give Jacqueline Sabal credit for knowing both her business and her target audience; after all, the Hair Farming system was so successful at parting suckers from their money that in knowledgeable circles it is now the byword for any really good scam. Click the image to enlarge it.

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