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Most Embarrassing Products: ExtenZe


Reviving an old argument about the importance of size.

A few years ago, a new product hit the market that changed all debate about what makes for good sex. Just as the "motion of the ocean" side of the argument seemed to be gaining traction, ExtenZe swept in with tsunami force and sunk the "motion" notion to the bottom of the ocean floor. The ExtenZe pill and its related late-night infomercials resurrected the issue of size, making it the very crux of female sexual pleasure, and creating a new "yardstick" to which men had to measure up. Despite its highly questionable and hilariously euphemistic claim to "enhance that certain part of the male body," the ExtenZ promise captured the imagination of millions of men who bought into the pitch, hook, line, and sinker.

To sell its product, Maximizer Health Products of Monrovia, CA, the company that makes ExtenZe, utilized a predictable but effective marketing strategy, as old as the self improvement industry and advertising itself: Set unrealistic physical standards, shame those who haven't attained them, and then provide a miracle solution. ExtenZe banked on the fact that nothing quite keeps a man in a consumer vise-grip like having his manhood put under a microscope.

The company attempts to extinguish the embarrassment factor associated with using a penis enlarging product by normalizing the problem, making size an issue regardless of size. No matter how big you are, it isn't big enough. That means every man needs it. And if every man needs it, then the product should be as common a fixture in the medicine cabinet as shaving cream and as routine as taking your daily male multivitamin.

The point is driven home (so to speak) by the product's infomercials. Over the years, the ExtenZe "Sex Talk" program, which debuted in 2002 with host Ron "the hedgehog" Jeremy, has included testimony from a parade of insatiable hotties, from a porn queen to a Playboy (PLA) model to a former "Miss Hawaiian Tropics." They all push the same party line: "Bigger is better." They also express a willingness to have more sex with well-endowed men to which the host replies, "A truly satisfied woman is going to want to make love much more often. Now there's a selling point if I've ever heard one!" Bingo.

Another well-worn tactic used in the infomercials is the man-on-the-street interview, clearly conducted with a paid actor, often foreign and speaking in broken English. He eagerly confesses to the complete stranger holding a camera that he uses the product ("My results is like sex drive. Power.") and the woman on his arm (from a phone sex commercial) reveals, between coy giggles, how much more satisfying ExtenZe has made their sex life. She jests with a wink, "If he ever stops using it, we're done. The relationship is over!"

The launch of the ExtenZe marketing strategy took an unconventional approach with porn star Jeremy as its celebrity endorser, but later went the more classic route to reach the everyman by employing sports figures. Former Dallas Cowboys football coach, Jimmy Johnson, who may have been chosen on name alone, shamelessly revealed to the world that he needed more under his belt than his two Super Bowl wins. The product's current spokesman is NASCAR driver Kevin Conway who drives the ExtenZe Toyota (TYT) Camry in the NASCAR Sprint (S) Cup Series.

(But although the company has managed to attract mainstream, credible spokespeople, it has not improved its standing with the Better Business Bureau, which gave Extenze an F for its dubious claims and sales practices.)

The ExtenZe packaging has also changed since it was first introduced. Initially it used an image of quintessential romantic beach scene: a shirtless man in white pants standing in the ocean, cradling a woman in a flowing white dress. Now the product has been completely stripped of any quixotic imagery. It's sold in a nondescript, white box featuring the green ExtenZe logo. However, a companion product has emerged from the ExtenZe family: a liquefied version of its penile enhancement formula. This is packaged in a sleek, Red Bull-red, 16-ounce can that reads "My drink is bigger than your drink." Get it?

The drink was unveiled on an infomercial masquerading as the seven-year anniversary of the ExtenZe "Sex Talk" program. The message repeated by the hosts of the program was that ExtenZe is an unspoken global phenomenon, kept under wraps by its discrete consuming public.

"Although millions of men have taken ExtenZe, it's something guys just don't talk about…other men don't have any idea how many of their friends or other guys are using it. But with over a billion capsules of ExtenZe now being taken by men, lots of guys are clearly using ExtenZe every day."

Look to your right. And now look to your left. Those two guys are taking ExtenZe. If they got past their embarrassment, why can't you?

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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