Triton Artificial Gills: Breathe Underwater!

False advertising is a dangerous thing, folks. Before diving in, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. I want to go back to the Fall of 2009. Ah, sophomore year of high school. At a time when everyone was trying their hardest to fit in, there came a new player in the fickle fashion sense of awkward teens. Enter: Power Balance.

SiliconePowerBalanceBlack

Now, if you don’t remember these, they were bracelets with a little holographic circle that claimed to “resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body” and thus increase athletic performance and ability. All for the low price of $30. Yeah, I know. Crazy. But back then, their advertising campaign worked wonders. They had videos of professional athletes trying out three “tests” with and without the bracelet. And by golly, their strength and balance really improved when they wore the bracelet! Eventually in 2010, people ran studies and discovered that the whole thing was a sham, and the company was forced to confirm this fact and filed for bankruptcy. Surprisingly, the brand was bought and transferred to another company, who STILL MAKE THESE TODAY FOR $30. I guess powerful, albeit ridiculous marketing still sells. Of course it does: fast forward to late 2015.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.39.59 AM

An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign began to raise massive curiosity (and skepticism) when a company called Triton claimed it was developing “artificial gills” that allowed users to breathe underwater. Imagine that! You can finally live out your dreams of swimming in the ocean, unburdened by heavy scuba equipment and oxygen tanks. Of course, though this product was still in conceptual design stage, through social media marketing and extensive user engagement and sharing, it was already garnering hundreds of thousands of dollars on Indiegogo by naive investors who just wanted to believe. By March 28th, the campaign had reached $800,000 (of a $50,000 goal). This all happened despite many, many websites debunking their claims as mathematically and physically impossible.

Gills

Why was this B.S.? The device was claimed to have special micro filters in the two side rods that had pores smaller than water molecules, but large enough to let oxygen molecules through. The oxygen was supposedly stored in two removable oxygen chambers that resided in the rods. However, for unstated reasons, these oxygen chambers were one-time use and new ones were needed to be purchased for each dive. Also, dives were limited to 45 minutes, and 15 ft max depth. The device itself cost $300 and Indiegogo backers who gave this much were promised a functional device when it was ready for launch.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.02.56 PM.pngMathematically, it’s very impossible to get enough H20 through the filter to produce enough oxygen at the rate necessary to breathe. So clearly, the only way this device could be possible would be for the tiny oxygen chambers to come filled with oxygen already. However, people with disposable money caught up in the hype of the campaign don’t care to learn about the reality of the product before throwing their dollars at it. But thanks to the internet, collective action was taken by the savvy to protect the naive. Reddit was key in promoting the anti-Triton movement, and had many posts trying to engage users to downvote their Youtube videos (which currently stand at ~10% like / 90% dislike) and post negative comments on their campaign page and social media pages.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.13.40 PMAbout three weeks ago, the internet succeeded and Triton shut down their Indiegogo campaign and refunded all their donors. Sadly, Triton started a new campaign immediately after with slightly more truthful descriptions that involve mention of the need for new oxygen chambers each time you use it. Paired with a new Youtube video that shows someone using the product continuously underwater for 12 minutes, the campaign skyrocketed once more and currently stands at $415,257. The campaign ends in 6 days.

This shows the danger of crowdfunding campaigns and viral marketing strategies for both, companies and consumers. Will Triton go the way of Power Balance and have to file for bankruptcy once their customers receive their product and realize it’s all a sham? Hey, maybe the device will have a revolutionary new development that will allow it to function as advertised! Who knows! (I know. It’s not gonna happen.) I guess the only thing to do now is wait and see what happens. Hopefully nobody drowns.

Except for Triton.

7 comments

  1. Dont believe everything you see on the internet. This is a lesson that a lot of us have to learn the hard way. I think your blog brings up some ethical questions. Obviously you should never lie to customers, but a good sales man is always able to finesse his way to success. I think the distance that the internet creates makes it easier for people to lie and this is a danger.

  2. I think this is a really great post. It’s not surprising to me that a crowdfunding campaign turned out to be a scam that hinged on false advertising. What is most surprising to me is that the market (the Internet) actually policed itself and was quick to point out that this type of product was physically impossible. Perhaps this serves as an example that crowdfunding can work as a viable alternative to venture capital or angel investors in the future if the Internet can ‘self-police’ itself. Why have one VC firm do all the due diligence on a startup when we can leverage the crowds on the Internet?

  3. I really want to believe in this, just because it would be so cool if you told me that I could swim underwater for hours. But you do raise a good point that you can’t believe everything you hear. I wonder if there are any legal issues with saying something on the internet that you know is false, and letting thousands of people donate to your fake cause based on sham claims. Triton agreed to refund all their donors, but do they have to by law? Or better yet, are there any preventative measures that mean that data is required to prove that your product does what it says it does?

  4. Hopefully no one drowns. lol. This was super interesting especially the fact that they had to refund all donors and then they started another campaign and it is gaining ground. Quality of products are a common issue nowadays. In older days 80% of budgets were spent building and perfecting the product and 20% on advertising and nowadays it is the opposite. Companies focus on their marketing strategy and arent focused on created a well functioning product. Those bands back in highschool were hilarious. Another similar product were the necklaces (a baseball fad) that is supposed to keep you cool. Total bogus.

  5. Very cool instance where crowdfunding could have backfired. With most crowdfunded things, they aren’t totally made so it is important that people have their facts straight about the product. I thought it was cool how reddit was a big player in spreading awareness in this case as I wrote a blog post about reddit previously. Definitely still would be cool to be able to stay under water for 12 minutes.

  6. These gag companies that make trinkets and toys that we always imagined as kids, have always been around. The unfortunate part is that now these companies do not need to convince stores like “Sports Authority” to carry their gear or investors like Warren Buffet to invest. Instead they have unlimited access to the naive people of the world wide web to take their money with very little over sight. This is extremely troubling but I do not see this trend ending anytime soon.

  7. Phenomenal post, covering a topic that we don’t see very often. We’ve covered social media overload and the cycle of the voiceless people turning shameful, but I think we’ve not yet reviewed false advertising, as far as negative social media facets go. It’s funny; I was kind of blown away by the power bracelet/necklace thing myself. Seeing the pro athletes wear them, but still knowing that they had “knock-off” versions at the boardwalk near me, and that both were true knock-offs. As soon as you read up, you get a dose of the truth! Doesn’t take very much to realize. However, $800K is a staggering number… just goes to show that people will put their money where their thoughts are. Problem is that our thoughts are often random, cyclical, and frankly, sometimes completely unfounded. Thanks again, cheers!

%d bloggers like this: