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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Truth Part 3

The Truth Part 3

Post image for The Truth Part 3
In Part 1 of this series I discussed how golf companies use traditional advertising, watered down tests, and giveaways to manipulate content and ensure that nearly everything you read about those companies and their products is overwhelmingly positive. In Part 2 I detailed the consequences that result from less than universally positive content. I showed you some of the tricks reviewers use to make sure everyone stays happy, and I explained how something as fundamental as maintaining relationships with your contacts can influence what gets published.

Part 3

In this 3rd and final installment I’ll show you how the big money grab is slowly squeezing out the smaller OEMs and even the inventors and start-ups with an unfortunate combination of great products and shallow pockets. Finally, I’ll let you know what you can do to determine whether what you’re reading is unfiltered content, or just cleverly disguised advertising.

Picking on the Little Guy

Most on our side of the industry learn pretty quickly that golf’s biggest names are willing to spend golf’s biggest bucks to make sure their products get plenty of exposure. In our free market economy it’s hard to argue that a company shouldn’t benefit from all the advertising it can afford. It helps the big guys sell product (lots, and lots of product), and the advertising revenue helps keep the golf sites in business. It also happens to provide some of the site owners with an opportunity to make a very comfortable living. Along the way readers get exposure to all the latest gear, and a lucky few actually benefit from the giveaways. The problem is that when monetization becomes the end-game those who can’t afford to play quickly get squeezed out.
The reality is that for many media outlets, Pay-To-Play has become vital to the way business is conducted. As much as golf is a hobby or a passion for many of you, it’s very much a business. If some content is bought and paid for (either directly or through advertising), why shouldn’t nearly all content be?

We think big bucks make for big bullies. The biggest names in golf shouldn’t be able to reduce the little guy to insignificance simply because they can outspend him. If we took that approach our readers would miss out on some great finds and big surprises. While it was being mocked in other forums, MyGolfSpy tested PowerBilt’s AirForce One Driver and found it to be the longest driver of 2010. Though they barely got a mention anywhere else, two of the best wedges that came through our doors last season were Boccieri Golf’s Heavy Wedge, and Solus’ FC-10. Hireko’s Dynacraft irons proved they could hang with the big boys, and both Wilson and MacGregor showed us they still had the chops to make an outstanding forged iron at a very competitive price. One of my personal favorite irons (and among the favorites of our testers) from last year was Fourteen Golf’s TC-910, and almost nobody else bothered to cover it.

You’d think I’d be smarter by now, but in a recent conversation I had with my contact at a smaller golf company, I was shocked to learn that two of the larger golf sites on the Internet told him that if he wanted an “unbiased” review of his product, he’d need to pay for it (by becoming a site advertiser). Just as with many smaller golf companies, this one didn’t have the budget to pony up for the review. As a result readers of these sites may never get to hear about a product that we think might prove to be a game changer. Not only are big golf companies influencing what you see, their willingness to spend and spend big often dictates what you don’t see.

For the big guys spending big isn’t an issue, because around 20% of their massive budgets are devoted to marketing. For the smaller companies, however, ad budgets are absolutely minimal (if they exist at all), with the biggest chunk devoted to research and engineering (what a concept, right?). For the individual who has dumped his life savings into his product, site sponsorship are almost always out of the question. If sites like MyGolfSpy and others aren’t willing to help out with a little bit of exposure he’s probably never going to succeed. For every Martin Chuck (inventor of the TourStriker and instructor at the TourStriker Golf Academy) there are thousands of guys with good ideas that just didn’t make it.

Bucking the Trend

While I believe it’s important for the average golfer to understand the role that corporate dollars play in influencing the content they see on their favorite golf sites, I’ve got nothing against the other media outlets who take in big OEM dollars. It’s not how we chose to operate, but there is no denying that some of those guys have built outstanding communities where golfers can passionately discuss their love of the game and the equipment that powers it.  They’ve given a ton of free gear to their followers, and they’ve managed to support their families while doing it. They operate and succeed under a time-proven business model, and I truly wish them nothing but continued success. The bigger they get, and the more intertwined they become with the big golf companies, the greater the opportunity for MyGolfSpy to differentiate ourselves and carve our own niche.
That said, one of the first, and most valuable lessons I learned in the business world is that the absolute worst reason for doing anything a certain way is to do it because it is the way it had always been done before. We don’t want to succeed by walking in someone else’s footsteps, we want to carve our own path. We don’t ever want to become yet another in a long line of mini-Golf Digests. We don’t ever want to depend on big OEM dollars to survive, and we never want to be part of a system designed to either bleed the little guy dry, or squeeze him out altogether. That is how it has always been done, but it’s not how we want to do it. We’re comfortable being MyGolfSpy, even if it means we don’t get Christmas cards from the big OEMs, and if some others in the media speak of us with contempt, and mock us for having the audacity to speak openly and honestly about the companies they depend on to survive.

The Truth is Out There

You love golf, I get that.  I’d never suggest that you boycot big OEMs or never visit another golf site. My goal is simply to help you understand that much of what you see and read is driven as much or more by money than it is by any real desire to educate golfers, or to share a love for the game.

If you’re not sure what’s real, what’s unfiltered, and what’s honest, take a look at the banner ads. Is there any real substance, or do they simply rehash the marketing info while finding some insignificant detail to nitpick. Do they have the stones to acknowledge that their sponsor’s club is shorter, and less accurate than a competitor’s, or even last year’s model? The truth is right in front of your eyes, you just have to look for it.

If there’s ever a doubt what’s real and what’s not, don’t be afraid to ask to see the numbers, but be specific. Ask to see the data that supports their claims that a sponsor’s driver is the longest they’ve ever tested. Most importantly ask how much the big OEMs are spending to keep the positive reviews and fluffy content coming. Of course, I’m certain none of them would give you an honest answer because if they did, you wouldn’t just wonder whether what you just read was the result of big money well spent, you’d be certain of it.

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