Monday, March 15, 2010

Exercises in Critical Thinking

A short exercise in thought, or inside the mind of fly-fishing marketing.

“The ABCDXYZ flyrod is the lightest in its class.”

A true statement no doubt. However, the critical thinker ponders, “What class?” “Who defined the class?” “What are its boundaries?” Is it weight, price, length, intended use, type of fish pursued, water type, or what? It turns out in this case to be price point. Reverse-engineer the thinking, and we see how marketing is applied, and how it can be a bit deceptive while still being absolutely true. The rod is the lightest in its price class, as no other rod costs exactly $265.95. See?

“This rod will throw a tighter loop at X distance than ‘insert competitor here’”.

The critical thinker wonders in whose hands the rod throws a tighter loop? What about a neophyte looking to improve his or her casting? Is this a rod designed for experts? Will the inability to cast such a fast rod with minimal feedback actually result in sloppier loops at distance in the hands of inexperienced casters?

Avoid the word “best” like the plague. If you see it used, discount the claim in entirety. There is no ‘best’, it is all relative.

“New lower price!” This translates to “It did not sell too well at the old price.”
“20% lighter than the old model” translates to “The old model was too heavy.” Or possibly that the manufacturer had to keep tweaking the product to keep it new and cool, and actually has made it too light now.

“More durable than ever” equals “The older models got returned too often for warranty.”

“World’s finest!” equals “World’s most over-priced.”

“Traditions of English design, but with a modern twist.” The twist is that it is made in China now.

“Hot fly of the month.” This often translates to “The fly we ordered way too much of last year, and have too many of now.”

“Save money!” This usually means you will be attaching a vacuum to your wallet soon.

“Beginners and experts alike will appreciate this widget.” This translates to “The product is priced for experts, but we want to sell it to wealthy beginners too.”

I bet the readers have examples too. Please feel free to share them in the comments section.


  1. Erik, your stint in the tackle industry has made you cynical.

    "cynical" = "painfully realistic"

    "technologically advanced" = "likely to fail when you need it most"

    "proven technology" = "yes it works, but it's gonna cost ya"

    "cutting edge technology" = "we're letting the consumer do our product testing"

    consumer = sucker

    "endorsed by (insert name here)" = "we're giving this guy free tackle in exchange for the use of his name"

    "the (insert name here) system" = "this cat didn't invent anything, but he was the first to get his name on it"

    "revolutionary" = "we're under a lot of pressure to move/promote this product/system"

    "exclusive" = "expensive"

    "modestly priced" = "we're trying to make a quick buck"

    "newly discovered, virgin, untouched etc..." = "we're the first to exploit this resource for money"

    "expert" = "anyone on staff who fished more than ten days last year"

    "team of experts" = "Monday night poker group"

    "obsolete" = "we weren't selling enough of 'em"

    "unmatched customer service" (alternatively) "industry leading warranty = "our product line has gone to shiza lately, and we're scrambling to save our company's reputation"

    Finally, beware of long product descriptions full of superlatives and references to famous people. It'll be replaced by something equally wondrous in 18 months.

  2. Oh my... Very well done. Same in every industry I expect. Innovation and excellent tackle, but one must read between the lines a bit...

    I like your definition of 'team of experts' and 'expert'.

  3. "20% lighter" just means that in order to maintain the price point for consumers, the manufacturer had to jettison some of the more crucial pieces of the product.

  4. Sherri,
    Good one! Either that or they made the foot braces out of cheap plastic, and dumbed down the seat so that it broke on the initial outing. It actually was worse (in my opinion) with paddlesports than fly-fishing. I remember cringing when I looked at the new Carolina seats.

  5. Ah, canoes... The 'ol glass versus kevlar marketing scheme. (I'm still mad for cedar and canvas, but that's my problem)

    "our proprietary kevlar lay-up weighs thirty percent less than a comparable glass boat, giving you the durability of kevlar while making those long portages less stressful" = "yes it weighs twenty pounds less than a comparable glass boat, but is no more impact resistant..."

    I've witnessed two mangled kevlar boats so far. In both instances, they were accompanied by the anguished wail of "but it's KEVLAR!" True, kevlar is more impact resistant than glass of the SAME WEIGHT (all things being equal) but the manufactures tend to neglect the fine details in order to sell the expensive boats. Thirty percent less material means thirty percent less strong...

    Happy paddling!--AJ


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