Friday, May 19, 2006

Truth and fiction in advertising. (Alternate title; Calling all fact checkers.)

My buddy Chris Lesser will approve of this following rant...

Before I get going here, let me just say that I really like the people and the company that is FSA (Full Speed Ahead). I think they make great products and all of the people that I have had the pleasure of working with have been great to deal with. So in advance, I want to make it clear that I am not attacking FSA...

I just received the July '06 issue of ROAD magazine this week (what's with getting "July" in May anyway?). In the magazine is a good ad from the folks at FSA showing Fabian Cancellara, winner of this year's Paris-Roubaix. For those who are not familiar with the event, it is decidedly one of the most grueling one-day events on the calendar and consists of brutal sections of road that are paved with centuries old cobblestones- many believed to have been laid by the Romans. These roads, though they do not comprise the bulk of the event, are the toughest single day of competition that a professional cyclist and their bike will see. This is the proverbial "crucible" for equipment. Due to this, many teams run special products designed to handle the severe punishment of the harsh conditions. Conversely, this event can vault a product to a reputation of being utterly dependable or raise serious questions.

Anway, on to the ad...

Great photo of Fabian kissing his winner's cobblestone. An epic image that will remain etched in many people's minds for many years. It was a great race this year with plenty of drama and controversy- everything the race is famous for. Now, the ad showcases a product and though it does not explicitly say that this is the same product used by Fabian, it certainly alludes to it.

Just one page before this ad, in a two page spread, is a shot of Fabian racing along on his way to victory in the event.

If you look closely at the photo, you'll notice that Fabian is not riding the cranks shown in the FSA ad. I'm not sure if he is riding another FSA non-carbon product instead (which would be the smart choice) or if it is a product from another company (like Shimano).

Now, it isn't a crime to advertise an item that isn't used by your sponsored athlete, but it hurts your credibility, which is my whole point here. FSA makes a very credible product, but the ad suggests something different than reality and, in my opinion, hurts the credibility of the brand. Again, I really like FSA, but this just misses the mark to me. In this new era of transparency, this ad muddies the waters and makes FSA look dishonest. I am pretty sure that is far from what they intended. Seeing as to how FSA makes other products that were actually used on Fabian's winning bike, it would have made sense to either highlight those items or just simply create a "win ad" (where you congratulate your sponsored athlete, while showcasing your involvement with their success).

For FSA, I understand the desire to showcase the success of their sponsored athlete. I would just prefer to have seen the ad reflect reality a bit better, rather than create a possibility for pundits (like me) to question their motives instead of feeling really happy for their success via their sponsorship.

Tim Jackson; Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

(4/25- I received a pretty severe reaming over this post. So let me just reitereate a point made in the beginning of this whole thing; I am in no way attacking FSA. I personally use FSA products and have spec'd them on Masi bikes as well. FSA is a great company with great products. I certainly expect that I will continue to do business with them, unless I get fired for my opinions or FSA refuses to do business with me any longer. The point was with the potentially misleading tone of the magazine ad. It is quite true that many riders/ teams use equipment that is not from the sponsor it is purported to be from and that many riders/ teams ride frames not made by the company whose name is shown on the frame. There's that Merckx guy who rode a Masi with a different name on it, for example...

My apologies for any hint of hypocrisy.)

Posted by Tim Jackson at 9:07 PM

18 Comments

  1. Blogger Fritz posted at 5:51 PM  
    I wonder if the ad designers talked about this issue when they created the ad. I betcha they did.
  2. Blogger Karl Wiedemann posted at 11:25 AM  
    They had to know going into it that it was a different crank. I feel that if they did a branding ad and said something like, "Check Out our Full Line of (Spring) Classic Quality Cranks" it would have been fine. But to feature a product that the reader perceives was used during the race (especially carbon for Paris-Roubaix) is a bit deceiving.
  3. Anonymous Dana VanDen Heuvel posted at 5:50 AM  
    This isn't all that alarming to me. Just because a rider is sponsored doesn't mean they'll always be using the product - especially in a rough spring classic race where all the stops are pulled out just to ensure that riders can finish the race.

    This dates way back, but in recent memory you had Motorola riding litspeeds that were painted to look like Eddy's and Lemond doing the same when his name was on the bikes. Riders have also done the same thing w. shoes. A team may be sponsored by Northwave, but you catch a couple or riders with Sidis or carnacs that have the labels and logos cut off or painted out...or are covered by aero booties.
  4. Blogger Chad posted at 10:07 PM  
    Truth in advertising? You're kidding right? Right?
  5. Blogger Chris Lesser posted at 6:39 AM  
    Good eye Jackson. I'll bet Fritz is right and the ad designers addressed the fact they're misrepresenting the product in the ad.

    Re: Dana's point, I think it's one thing to put a sponsor's label on equipment he/she's using regardless of who made the equipment. And even that's a little disingenuous. But I think it takes it to another level of shadiness when you explicitly promote a specific product as FSA is doing, implying it was used in a specific event when it wasn't. The side-by-side shot for crank and cobblestone, gimme a break.

    I wonder what crank he was actually riding, anyway. I can't see from the picture.
  6. Blogger James posted at 9:55 AM  
    Dana has a good point about frames that are painted to look like they came from the official bike sponsor. Armstrong's Litespeed blade TT bike painted to look like a Trek is the most recent notable example (was that in the 1999 tour?). In the 80's, the practice seemed to run rampant. Huffy and Murray certainly didn't build all those bikes that La Vie Claire or 7-11 rode, but the sponsorships got their company names out there. If I remember correctly, some of those bikes were built by Serotta.

    In this case, it is hard to tell, but the crank appears to be Shimano. I looked at the photo from the race on Cervelo's website and did not see a bolt hole on the drivetrain side crankarm. Of course it is hard to tell and I could be wrong, but it looks like a Shimano crankset to me. Check out the picture for yourself at http://www.cervelo.com/bikes.aspx?bike=R32006
  7. Blogger Chris Lesser posted at 5:28 AM  
    If anyone deserves a "severe reaming" over this post it should be the dolt who put that ad together... or the dolt who approved it.
  8. Blogger Guitar Ted posted at 9:00 AM  
    I believe that the ad agency did know exactly what was going on here. Just like a million other ad agencies all over the world do every day. They either bait you with something not real, (fantasy results from using the product, ie: weight loss, beer, etc...) or show you one thing in the ad when they are talking about another. ( Like car ads always do, ie: "model shown is equipped with optional equipment, see your dealer", shown in lettering so small it's insignificant)

    Ads have an agenda to get you to part with your money and many spurious claims are made daily in ads in all media that reflect this. Some are more blatant than others, but the main goal is to fool you into believing the schtick and parting with the bucks. This is as old as dirt. Having a crank in the ad that Basso isn't actually using is a very minor infraction in the land of snake oil and miracle cures.
  9. Blogger Chris Lesser posted at 10:29 AM  
    Au contraire, GT, having a caveat like "model shown is equipped with optional equipment, see your dealer," however small the typeface, is still significant. There are laws regulating bait-and-switch that require such typeface.

    And if someone is advertizing a weight loss pill or prescription medication they have to list possible side effects. (IE: "may induce bloating, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, etc... first consult your doctor")

    But this ad doesn't have any small print, does it?

    If it had a small-print disclaimer we wouldn't be having this conversations, it'd just be a crappy ad, rather than what it is: a deceptive and therefore even crappier ad.

    (Quote) Having a crank in the ad that Basso isn't actually using is a very minor infraction... (quote)

    If they didn't have the damn crank actually TOUCHING the damn cobblestone, then I'd agree with you, but as is the ad crosses the (albeit fine) line.

    All they would have had to do is phrase the ad copy as Karl W. suggested above, but instead they tried to get more mileage out of their sponsorship than they're entitled to and the ad boys got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

    I personally think it's hillarious.
  10. Blogger Chad posted at 3:07 PM  
    I gues the only thing left to do is boycott FSA. With all the brand managers that read and contribute to this blog that should put a pretty big hurt on FSA. Words are nothing without action let's get this thing going. Who's in?
  11. Blogger Guitar Ted posted at 11:06 AM  
    (Quote)Au contraire, GT, having a caveat like "model shown is equipped with optional equipment, see your dealer," however small the typeface, is still significant. There are laws regulating bait-and-switch that require such typeface.(Quote)

    Hmm....yes, but only in as small as print as possible to satisfy the demands of the law. Does anybody really see this? Not likely. So, it's not "significant to the viewer". In practice the ad agencies have legally satisfied the government and gotten what they wanted all in the same ad.

    However that may be, the point is that this ad isn't doing anything that a thousand other ads all over the world don't already do. Namely portray the product in an enticing way, no matter what the "truth" is or what "you" think the truth is.

    Getting our chamois all in a bunch over this is really what is "hilarious" First of all, anyone who knows who Fabian Cancellara is probably already knows as much about the equipment as anybody. Those who do not know who he is, or why any man would kiss a stone is probably not going to be moved by such an image in the first place, rendering this whole discussion moot.

    In other words, we need to use our heads when we look at ads. I already knew it wasn't the "correct" connection to make between Cancellara and the crankset, and even if I didn't, would that really matter? I mean, that is a pretty decent crankset, right? So, if I bought it regardless of the portrayal in the ad, what does it matter?
  12. Blogger Chris Lesser posted at 3:07 PM  
    I don't think anyone's saying boycott FSA... As Jackson's said (twice now), they make great product. Most of their ads are probably good, too, when they're not overreaching or claiming accolades they didn't earn. But who other than this peanut gallery is going to note that?

    ...now if I can only get this damn chamois out of my crack.
  13. Blogger Tim Jackson- Masi Guy posted at 10:16 PM  
    (I get to be the 13th comment... how fitting!)

    Too funny you guys. No really.

    First off, I really do think that FSA makes great stuff. I just tink that they fell short with the ad and they are not alone. It happens a lot. The point was to start the conversation we are having here.

    Second, nobody deserves to get reamed for the ad. It is just one of those things where marketing fell short of reality.

    In the end, only a few sharp-eyed slackers like me will even notice the disconnect from reality. FSA has a great ad to go with their great products. Only those of us "in the know" will ever know that the ad is potentially misleading.

    Dialog and conversation are great; thanks for the great thread here.
  14. Anonymous Paul Smith posted at 7:44 AM  
    I guess a lot more people will know, than otherwise would have noticed, thanks to posting it in this blog ;-)
  15. Anonymous James posted at 1:44 AM  
    It is true they do make great products but i agree with the fact that they could at least have used the picture of Fabian to advertise something he used during the race. Some people may buy this product thinking it was used and they are being a bit mislead.
  16. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 11:11 PM  
    The ad isn't quite as misleading as it may seem. The cranks in the picture are still made by FSA, but are the aluminum Gossamer cranks. Apparently Fabien feels they are stiffer than the carbon K-Forces.
  17. Anonymous scogordo posted at 4:55 AM  
    Seconded on the Gossamers. I remember reading something about Fab preferring them believing stiffer and more durable carbon. Whoever was writing about it seemed to suggest that this was in direct contrast to testing, or at least not something that FSA thrilled with (akin to Armstrong's 80's Shimano pedals). Anyway, if you're looking for BS in advertising (talk about fish in a barrel), just look at tire ads. Think any pros actually use clinchers?
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