Saturday, March 17, 2007

Read a Reliable Product Review Lately

Not long ago I received another poorly done fly-fishing product rating and review publication. Lately these appear to be growing in popularity. Between the internet, chat rooms and a number of in-depth magazines such as this, there seems to be a lot of experts crawling out from the woodwork. Conceptually, product analysis and rankings can provide valuable information. Unfortunately since the majority of the reviewers lack professional expertise and are often motivationally influenced their printed word often falls short of any substantial credibility.

Most of those who analyze fly-fishing products get it for free. Wouldn’t that be nice, free inventory to use at my discretion? The concept of free definitely creates impetus towards a biased response. Should you have personal interested towards specific companies or products that may slant your review even more? When it’s all said and done, there’s even and opportunity to make a little extra money off e-Bay from those excesses acquisitions.

If you’re publishing your findings and seeking advertising dollars, the significance of a manufacturing account may have an influence on your findings, especially in the early stages of a publication. One would be reluctant to piss off a key account by giving their products an unfavorable review. It’s also common knowledge in our industry for manufacturers to pay to have their products favorably reviewed. If it works for politics, it only seems unfortunately natural here.

I found it interesting that rarely do you get any background information on the testers. In fact in the last publication I received, I’d never heard of the guys. Having been in the business for 25 years, I don’t know everyone, but I have a pretty good handle on most of the key players.

In another recent publication the testers were listed as a saltwater guy, steelhead guy and a guy from Salt Lake City. There were some other testers as well, but no mention as to their background or credentials quantifying their participation. What makes these guys qualified testers? They fish! So do a lot of people. In fairness to this particular review I know several of the testers, and they have significant pedigrees. It would have been nice if the general public had been privy to this.

George Anderson did a very good review on 5 wt. Rods. He dedicated a fair amount of space to qualify his expertise and validating his opinions. The outcomes of his rod choices were fairly obvious since he worked with a number of the top rod companies. Of course those rods being influenced by his preferences rated as some of the best rods in his ranking. His biases were identified and his choices only seemed natural.

As I read this new publication and shared it with my fellow employees, including a number of valued customers, we were most perplexed by the rod reviews and rankings. I must say over the years that in most systematical reviews involving rods that I’ve found their analysis to be puzzling. This one to seemed to follow this unfortunate path. Point and case!

The SAGE TCR 905-4 was rated as the best all around trout rod of those tested. The review included Winston, Scott, and several other very reputable rod manufacturers products. After looking at the rankings from best to worst, I then read the accompanying analytical review written by the testers. Remember when you where in grade school and had to match a description to a specific object? If you had done this simple grade school exercise with this publication you would have flunked.

The TCR is a fairly straight forward specialty rod. If you asked 10 shop owners who handle the line, I bet you’d get at least 9 of them to agree on its qualities and attributes. I would guess that none of them would have described the rod as it appeared in this review. Makes you wonder what these guys were smoking.

Before I continue and get my head handed to my by Bruce, Mark or Jerry from SAGE, should they stumble upon my Blog, I better clear the air. First off, the SAGE TCR is one of the finest rods available and SAGE Rod Company is unquestionably one of the leading rod manufactures in the industry. For some the TCR would be a great all-around rod. However, so would the SAGE SLT or TXL along with many of the other rods that were included in the publications testing. It truly depends on ones casting abilities, the way they fish and the techniques they employ. To emphatically rank a rod as being the best for you just because it tested well for those who reviewed the product bears no merit. I am sure that Bruce, Mark, and Jerry equally been perplexed by such reviews on more than one occasion.

In another series, a magazine reviewed and rated the leading waders. One of the testing categories was the ability of the wader to with-stand DEET. What they neglected to inform the consumer of was the amount of DEET, applied to the waders for an extended period of time had a toxic rating of 100%. A puddle would accurately describe the application. An unrealistic proportion at best. This part of the test carried a significant amount of weight as it pertained to the waders ranking and those that tested poorly were reviewed rather poorly. Personally, I’ve never used any product that carries a skull and crossbones warning on the label.

The point is, if you’re in the market to choose a fly-fishing product, the majority of these analytical reviews are biased and very misleading. They may offer some valuable data and insight, but in most instances are filled with a fair amount of individual bias and misinformation to appease those who provide them with their products and dollars. If it can be helped you should never invest in a product, especially rods, without being able to get a hand on one or two.

I’m sure I’ll get some feed back on this piece, but my motivation is simply to enhance an anglers fly-fishing experience. If you ask me what product is the best, my answer most times is the one you like. That’s one of the very cool aspects of our sport, from the style of fly-fishing you prefer to the equipment you choose to pursue your quarry with. Those who write reviews and rank fly-fishing products do not do the equipment they analyze justice and rarely rank equipment based on how it would suit a style of angler. At times, and more times than not, it is obvious. Their inconsistencies leave consumers making in appropriate decisions and confused. Should you consider the motivation and influences behind the process, it’s easy to see how opinions can be compromised. As they say when making an important medical decisions, “get a second opinion”.


Rob said...

I think when one writes a rod review they need to state what their casting style/preferences are. Say for me, I prefer a slower action rod. Of the various rods I have fished I would have to say that the old Sage 4 wt 7'11" LL rates among my favorites. I have casted a TCR and find that they are way too stiff for me to use as an all around trout rod. Certainly they have their use (i.e. windy days throwing lots of line, heavy weight, or big bugs), but I certainly wouldn't consider it the best all around trout rod. If the reviewer states upfront his preference for a rod that doesn’t flex then you would at least know where he is coming from.

Steve Schmidt said...

Rob- I agree with your comments. I get so frustrated with some of these product reviews. Often times their analysis are so off base, and not with my opinions, but more so with general consumers impressions and comments of products they use. That's one of the great aspects of my position, I get a tremendous amount of feedback on a daily basis about a lot of different products from our customers. Their consensus and opinions are the ones I value the most. Hope you enjoyed the article. Back to fishing on my next piece. Good fishing to you.

aliferste said...

Interesting points.
I dont like reviews in magazines anymore due to the fact the tester has surely not had the time to "get down and dirty" with a product to give a good informed opinion. I once bought a pair of wading boots that came highly recomended in a mag which pretty much disintegrated after a dozen sessions - the 2nd pair they sent me as replacements did the same - I bet they would not put that kind of review in print ;-)