Somehow, flogging a favorable review has become an acceptable and even favored pitch from companies seeking to gain our interest in reviewing a product on SNEWS® -- “The New York Times said it was the best,” “Outside magazine rated it tops,” or “Health magazine said it was a great buy.”
Increasingly, we are emailed the actual newspaper or magazine review that gives a product a great write-up, as if that should be motivation for us to give the item a test run and a great review too. That kind of sales pitch ranks right up there with another one of our favorites, heard all too often on the trade show floor these days when pitching a product’s worth -- “That’s been our top-seller all year.” A “top-seller” and a well-designed, innovative product are two very different things. Since when did we all become lemmings?
How about returning to selling a product simply on its merits, benefits, design and, gosh golly, innovations? Aside from the fact we honestly don’t care if a product has been reviewed a hundred times or never, we don’t really care what Outside magazine or Consumer Reports or Self magazine, or Stars and Stripes, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times said. We believe every review should be individual in nature and reflect opinion.
For the record, we actually remove product from its package and use it. We know…shocking! Yes, marketing folks have frequently shared with us stories of getting product returned that had received glowing reviews in publications – stuff like jackets, packs, tents, stoves, or electronics that must be used to form an honest and trustworthy opinion -- but it’s still in the package with the labels attached.
“They could at least fake it,” we have been told. We know of large consumer publications that have “tested” treadmills. Or so they say. But we’ve been told by manufacturers when the piece is returned that engineers check and find a mile or two miles have been run on it. Or some other embarrassingly low number that means it was turned on (at least they did that) but not truly used.
We’ve even had PR folks give us a testing window of about two weeks for a product before asking for its return. We tell them, sure, we’ll send it back, but realize it will be worn, muddy, scratched and really used since that’s what we do best. And realize we cannot test it in two weeks but may actually need a lot more than that to put it through its rightful paces. Most are very appreciative of the need for more time for real testing, but some, surprisingly, appear shocked we would suggest such a thing.
We can’t speak for other publications, other than our sister pub Backpacker, but when it comes to product testing with our crew, we write reviews of products based on real, live use by real, live people in real, live situations considering our readers’ real, live needs. We get products dirty, we beat them up, we throw them around, we stand in puddles and under showerheads, we give it to the dog to chew up, we do things wrong with them on purpose – like a real consumer would… We USE the products we review. And that sometimes takes awhile.
And, no, we really don’t care what the New York Times said, and we seriously doubt if NYT’s writers care what we said either. And that’s the way it should be.
-- Michael Hodgson & Therese Iknoian