Steven Stone, a veteran AV reviewer, and writer at Audiophile Review provides his experienced opinion on how to handle a product review gone awry in his post called “There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Review” ; and though I agree with most of his points there is one area where I disagree. Steve’s take on is there such a thing as a “good review” or “bad review”, and that in the hands of a good PR/marketing person there is no such thing as a bad review is full appreciated, I can tell you this, there is nothing worse than a bad review. Clients go nuts over bad reviews. It’s the equivalent of someone telling you your child is ugly. They drink the Kool Aid and expect everyone else to.
So when Steve adds this excerpt to his article, I get a little ruffled because it’s where the inherent problems of product reviews lie.
Problem - The reviewer simply hates your product.
Solution - Call them an incompetent wanker in your comments. No, no, no! This will definitely NOT work. It will also make an enemy, who, at best won’t touch any of your gear ever again, and at worst may go out of his way to trash you in future reviews.
My issue with this is the reviewer’s experience is subjective. It’s based on what they like, and how they listen to music or watch movies. But it’s not like there is a certification board that has provided them with a license that says they know best, they just think they do. Product reviews are not the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, they’re not Consumer Reports. Most reviews are the opinion of one individual built on year’s of experience with equipment (although in today’s world it gets even murkier with less than credible “bloggers” reviewing products); and there is prejudice built into every single review.
Prejudice or bias in AV equipment comes in so many forms, ranging from someone liking vinyl to a preference for electrostatic speakers. It’s like liking a wine or not, I once drank a first growth Bordeaux (Margaux possibly) that smelled like cat pee and tasted like something died in the bottle. The two men I was drinking with were full of compliments, but neither my palate nor my nasal senses appreciated it. By all accounts I should have liked it, but I didn’t, and now I generally don’t like French Burgundy.
Personal preferences can be built on an initial bias or a history the reader has no knowledge of, or it can just actually be a crap product deserving a bad review. Whether the manufacturer advertises or not can have big affect, and this can be good or bad. What the backside relationship looks like, either with the manufacturer or the PR person, can alter a review. There are influences that effect every review. Steve’s assertion that because a manufacturer disagrees with the reviewer and voices that, the reviewer then in turn could trash them in the future is the exact thing I’m talking about. And it’s the fear that haunts most manufacturers. Outside influences alter the outcome of reviews – some reviews that is.
There is no easy way to level the playing field. There is no transparency. I’ve joked for years that aging AV reviewer population should have to be submitted to eye tests and hearing tests and be forced to publish them. After 25 years of listening to speakers I think it’s fair to wonder if their hearing is where it used to be. When a video reviewer says the projector’s lines aren’t sharp or ragged, but testing points to otherwise, is it fair for the manufacturer to ask the reviewer when the last time he got his eyes check was? I think lab testing products helps to lend transparency, but better reviewer profiles could aid as well. All reviewers should offer a list of their testing gear, and the credible ones do. But the reviewer should offer a dialogue to a manufacturer to understand if they are the best person for that product review. And the reviewer needs to understand that reviews absolutely do sell products.
A bad review can and has killed little companies in this industry. And if someone is going to have that power, shouldn’t there be a standard that the reviewers have to live up to as well?
Read Steve’s article, “There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Review” , it does have some great tips.