What's marketing - and what's a lie?


Some examples from a couple of windsurf companies, who can't distinguish.



Very few products nowadays are sold without advertising roars, loud praises and bawls about the excellence of this particular product. We all know the power of advertising, but most of us also know, that the reason for the words and the noise is money rather than inner conviction - and that's why we often choose to let the bawl go in at one ear and out at the other. Mostly we regard advertising as comparably harmless - although sometimes also pretty irritation in all its arrogance.


What is it the marketing boys do - or don't do - that connect the loud praises with a kind of ridiculous glow. Well, they very consciously make sure that the praises exactly can't be controlled and consequently can't be proven wrong or refuted. By zealously making sure that the products are lauded in very subjective phrases, they avoid to trespass the border to what otherrwise could be called lies. It might be that the advertising descriptions are not exactly "true" - but on the other hand the descriptions can't be refuted either (or proven to be fraud). 


But what if an advertising presents wrong information about a characteristic or a property that has a plain, objective definition? If, for instance, Volkswagen presents a new model to the market, stating that it has 100 HP - then this model must necessarily have 100 HP, right? If it's HP of the SAE type, of the DIN type, or whatever - all kinds of HPs in any case are well defined quantities. Imagine if the customers realized that the engine in this new so called 100 HP model of Volkswagen only produced 75 HP. Would the company get away with this? Hardly! And I wonder if Volkswagen - after the lie is exposed  - would get away with an explanation telling that it has a feel as if the model has 100 HP. Hardly!


To my knowledge there are very few line of businesses where you can get away with that kind fraud without the costumers shouting about it. Unfortunately, one of them is the windsurf business! In the windsurf business it's not difficult to find examples that the companies serve downright lies to the customers. And when the lie is pointed out, the windsurf business is to my knowledge one of the very few businesses where you can find examples of people, who take the liberty to justify the fraud by saying that the costumers nevertheless couldn't understand the true facts of the case.



Example 1.


During their time as designers at Gaastra (and now at Maui Sails) Barry Spanier og Phil McGain have repeated until they were blue in their faces that their race masts were/are Constant Curve. All measurements (one of them made by a reputable windsurf magazine) tell us that their race masts are very untypical by being Hard Top, and many people have been discussing this fraud with the two gentlemen. But nothing helps - the masts are still being labeled Constant Curve (latest in a video at the homepage of Maui Sails). At one time a hard pressed Barry Spanier "admitted" the race masts to be "relatively Constant Curve". But still this is a lie, and many unhappy sailors have tried to rig race sails from other companies with Gastraa or Maui Sails race masts - just to find out that they in vain have made a very expensive buy, lured by lying information.


What makes the Spanier/McGain use of the Constant Curve designation a lie is the existence of some exact and well defined method of calculations that tell us when a mast shall be labeled Hard Top, Constant Curve, Flex Top ... etc. By using the designation Constant Curve Spanier/McGain have implied that they accept and operate within these precise definitions - and consequently it is allowed for us (the costumers, the sailors) to name their use of the Constant Curve designation for misleading, a fraud and a lie.



Example 2.


It is a well known fact that a lot of boards are not specified with the precise volume. If it is caused by a lack of ability to submerge the board in water and measure how many liters it displaces - or if it it's caused by marketing purposes (for instance that Tiga HyperX 2006 is specified with 115 liters instead of the rightly 105 liters) you can only guess. The point is that the volume statements are very inexact (have a look at http://www.sailing.org/default.asp?PID=13830 og http://www.sailing.org/default.asp?PID=2084 ).


One board company, Starboard, has exposed itself as the most shady. Not so much because Starboard is more inexact in the stated volumes than other companies (even though Starboard a couple of years ago was pretty "creative" in stating the most sexy and good-selling volumes (for example Formula X186 (155 l), Isonic 115 (105 l)). What separates this company from most others is that Starboard conscious and against better knowledge from time to time has stated wrong volume for certain boards. The conscious is unveiled when unhappy consumers have questioned the stated volumes - and instead of an excuse from Starboard are told that the stated volumes are right in the way that the boards have a feeling as if they have the postulated! volumes! Hard squeezed Starboard from time ro time  rename the stated volumes to "virtual volumes" - but to my knowledge the company has never acknowledged that their position (consciously to sprinkle their boards with saleable volume numbers) is indefensible. 


Even for the biggest board company on this planet there are some rules, and  Starboard can't change the definition for one litre (1 cubic decimetre). One litre is one litre - and the dimension of one litre can't be changed by means of "feelings".


Apart from this, the Starboard nonsense about virtual volume isn't very relevant. The Starboard point has been that the modern wide boards feel bigger than they are (in liters!) when planing. The problem, however, is that many of us choose the size of our new slalom/freeride board, so that we can stand on the board and get the sail free from the water, when the wind suddenly drops and we can't plane towards the coast. In this situation "virtual volume" helps absolutely nothing. That we often have to pre-order the boards before they actually have left the plant, make it even more crucial, that we can count on the volume specifications.



Example 3.


Neil Pryde has a long and glorious history of misleading the costumers. For years, for instance, Neil Pryde has told the sailors that their race masts were Constant Curve, even if they were (are!) much closer to Flex Top. For a period of time Neil Pryde even systematized the fraud, as they in fact published some figures for the masts response to load - figures that when you checked it up in fact supported Neil Pryde in that their race masts were Constant Curve. However, the figures showed to be made for the purpose. Neil Pryde had so to speak calculated backwards to come up with some convenient figures - and in my humble view this can only be kind of aggravating circumstances. To fabricate some "test figures" only makes the fraud even more willful and thereby inexcusable (the figures - by Jove! - are still present at the Pryde homepage: See for instance http://archive.neilpryde.com/product/matrix_2000/mx_set.html

or http://archive.neilpryde.com/product/matrix01/mast/mastspec_fset.html ).


But Neil Pryde now no longer only cheats with the specifications of the bend curves of their race masts. Connected with the introduction of a new X9 "Ultra" mast, replacing the very ill reputed original X9 mast (reputed for breaking!), some Neil Pryde costumers wondered at some dubious figures for the stiffness of the new mast (another characteristic with a unambiguous definition). This in turn motivated Pieter Bijl from Neil Pryde to write that in fact the stiffness had changed from the the old X9 mast to the new X9 Ultra mast (the Ultra had become softer). But because of the better "speed reflex" (another hype expression, doubtful as to the effect to the actual sailing performance) that made the mast feel as stiff as the old X9, Neil Pryde had consciously chosen to state a wrong figure for the stiffness(!).


Apart of the moral issue, one of the problems with this argumentation is that even if you (perhaps) can replace the stiffness with "reflex speed" (more often called "reflex response") when it comes to the reaction (rebound) of the mast (that is the ability quickly to find its original  position), it is very dubious if you can replace stiffness with reflex speed, when it comes to the action (that is the initial influence of the mast, for instance in a gust). As to the action, the more sluggishness of a stiffer mast shall allow the sail to keep its profile/draft a bit longer (and result in acceleration and/or overpowering the sail), while a softer mast with higher reflex speed shall absorb the action (gust) by more quickly de-powering (flatten) the sail. In other words Neil Pryde probably hasn't invented a word or a characteristic ("speed reflex") that can replace the precise definition of "stiffness" - and it's consequently highly questionable if Neil Pryde has a scientific background for even considering cheating with the figures for the stiffness of the masts.


But back to the crucial point - the moral aspect: As we saw, Neil Pryde lie with the stiffness of their X9 Ultra mast - but to make matters worse Neil Pryde even has the cheek to legitimate the lie with the foolishness of their customers:"Since this would be a complex thing to explain or understand we made the choice to keep nominal specifications of the mast the same so that it is clear for everyone." (Pieter Bijl). Moral: If only people are stupid enough, Neil Pryde think it has its right to replace adequate explanation with lie and fraud.




Let's hope that the examples of the pretty special kind of moral (or lack of it) in certain windsurf circles are not spread to other spheres. And let's stick to protesting and punishing cheat and unreasonable focus on the balance when we find it. For instance by not only choosing, what we think is the best equipment - but also by choosing equipment from companies where we think honesty and moral have a decent level.