In today’s technology-based world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe anything you see, whether it be a visually stunning scene from a movie, TV show or advertisement. Trick photography, computer-generated imagery and advanced editing technologies all make it easy for people to fool the public, whether for entertainment purposes or false advertising.

Optical illusions have been a welcomed addition to modern entertainment. Almost every studio picture since Star Wars has capitalized on the benefits of CGI, and all to the benefit of the viewer. False advertising, on the other hand, is not a welcomed trend though it has been around for far longer. Hair growing elixirs, medical tonics and other bottled miracles were popular items for swindlers to peddle. The salesperson would demonstrate the product’s wonderful effects on a volunteer from the audience, which had no idea that the person was actually in cahoots with the salesperson. The fact that these teams of con-artists went from town to town, staying just ahead of the news that they were cheats, is what allowed them to be so successful. Thanks to mass media and regulations that hold swindlers responsible for their actions, magical tonics, for the most part, have gone the way of the covered wagon.

Modern product demonstrations are often difficult to believe since so many of them are misleading or exaggerated. So why then, when it’s so easy to show amazing product results accompanied by tiny, illegible disclaimers, do some businesses spend the time and money to shoot actual product demonstrations? One thing is for sure—it’s not because the actual demonstrations are cheaper or easier to film. In many cases, the actual demonstration is purposefully elaborate and dangerous, which helps prove that the product is up to any task. Paying to shoot ads in remote locations and hiring engineers and stunt persons is usually going to cost more than using computer-generated imagery.

In this article we’ll take a look at how product demonstrations broke into TV and how the advertising industry has evolved them.