Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Integrity of Gear Reviews

Us outdoor enthusiasts, or at least ultra runners, tend to be "numbers" people. Well, to put it bluntly, we're type-A's and we thrive on the countless stream of information at our fingertips. We'll search for anything that can give us an edge or simply pacify our need for ultra-conversation. Podcasts, blogs, magazines, youtube videos, race reports, coffee at the nearest running store and of course, gear reviews. It's hard to imagine that native american's ran in moccasins or barefoot, no bottles to hold their water in and no watch to calculate time and distance. Some indigenous tribes on our planet still don't use shoes or electronics when running hundreds of miles. But we crave it.. we as runners oogle and ogle over the next best thing. Quick to buy whatever everyone else is wearing.

From hand held bottles to backpacks, to trail socks and compression socks, compression shorts to sports bras, GPS watches and Heart Rate Monitors, Vibram Five Fingers to Hoka Clown Shoes.. we as runners (and type-a's) are willing to try anything that we feel gives someone an upper edge over the competition or dare I say, will make running these long distances "easier." So we as bloggers and writers take to the inter-webs to share with you the latest and greatest. From time to time I like to go out on a limb on this blog and this, will be one of those times. I'm going to walk way out there and ask you, the reader, this important question: What exactly are you reading?


I've been a blogger since the fall of 2004. My blog wasn't always housed on Blogger as I had a .mac blog many years before I started here. In all the time that I've been writing and blogging, I've been testing gear. For those who are not sure how it works, I'm going to tell you.

Sometimes, companies contact us and ask us if they can send us a sample (or two) of their product in exchange for a product review. When this happens, we writers are supposed to inform you that we received gear free of charge from the company for the purposes of writing the review. This is actually a law.. that is more often then not ignored and seldom mentioned in gear reviews. Therefore, most times, the reader seldom knows if free gear was given in exchange for the review. So the writer, may or may not like the gear but because they got it for free, they'll write a glowing review as a show of appreciation for the shwag.

Other times, we writers approach the company. We tell them that we've been using their gear for awhile now and we'd like to receive the new "go-go-gadget-doo-hickey" and in exchange, we'll gladly write a glowing review of the used products. The same rules as above apply but again, are rarely exercised. In the process, the writer ends up writing about gear they are all ready coo-coo for cocoa puffs about and are just excited they didn't have to pay for their replacement of well worn or damaged gear.

I've written for online publications where the following has taken place: I have been sent gear and asked to test it. After testing the gear for a week or two, I'd then be asked to formulate a gear review for the publication. But here is the thing, we were not permitted to write a negative review. "We will not write negative reviews," was actually written in an e-mail. So I asked the question, are we writing advertisements? Or Gear Reviews? After that... I was no longer writing gear reviews. I was now being sent a box full of gear to test, of which I would report my honest feedback to the "Head of Gear Reviews" who would now be writing the reviews for us. This writer, would then take the pieces of feedback we testers would send him and spin it into a glowing misrepresentation of information. In other words.. an ad.

How often do you read a negative review? And trust me.. I get it. If your blog or publication writes negative gear reviews, it won't take long for you to find yourself on the outside of gear companies "send gear to" lists. But why aren't we thinking about our readers and the consumers? As writers, we are critics, yet we write like advertisers. Why can't we write the honest truth? Why can't we tell each other about horrible purchases? There are people who are trying to make a living by selling you bull shit. They're salivating over the newest gear and only doing so to stroke their own ego, get the neatest freebies, and make you believe that this or that is a must have.

I believe in integrity. Imagine, if you will, every review ever written was about gear that was designed to "stick around" and in turn were only positive. This is, in essence, misleading marketing. Think of the money wasted on products that are not up to scratch! Now stop imagining because as ultra-runners, this is exactly what is happening. Scour your frequently viewed running websites and you'll find nothing but advertisements they call "Gear Reviews." Then I ask, how can these sites maintain their own integrity when all they ever do is boast and brag about products and leave out the truth of the products short comings? I can't forget to mention that.. there are some sites out there that do very well with this, and do tell us the real honest truth of a product, good or bad. I'd find those sites and stick with em.. that's integrity.

I've been asked to test gear and then told not to write anything negative. I've written honest gear reviews only to have my words altered and censored to appease the manufacturer and maintain a relationship. I've been a part of sites where one writer couldn't write a good review, so the product is passed on to another runner.. who also can't write a good review so it's even passed on to a third runner.. who also can't write a good review but is forced to make it up anyway to appease the donating company. This is a down right lie, it's most commonly known as false advertising. While a negative review won't be written, supposedly, the publication would inform the company in (in private) on what we felt the short comings were. in the mean time, the product is still on the market and you hear it's great. I no longer write for those websites. I much prefer to tell my readers what works and what doesn't work for me.. in my opinion.. because that's what's truly going to help you in the end. Hell, I've written an honest opinion about a company before, was threatened by a sponsor that unless I retracted my statements towards their friends in business I would no longer be sponsored by them.. guess what?? I ended my sponsorship and left my words up and in black and white.

There are Gear Reviews that possess integrity, then there are advertisements. What are you reading? And why do we need half this crap anyway??.. just run!

SJ