Callaway’s Hand Slapped Over Misleading Marketing

Callaway’s Hand Slapped Over Misleading Marketing

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Written By: Tony Covey

It appears that Callaway has once again been called out for what somebody considers deceptive marketing practices. As was reported in Thursday’s GolfBiz.net Daily Pulse, Callaway is replacing all of its Big Bertha and XR iron marketing collateral, which features its Up to 2 Clubs Longer claim, with new material that bills the iron sets as offering Distance Where You Need It.

Distance. Where You Need It.

It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it. It’s not as bold as Up to 2 Clubs Longer, but I like it just the same.

Here We Go Again

This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Callaway’s marketing practices have been called into question.

In 2013, the company found itself on the wrong side of a National Advertising Division decision over it’s description of its RAZR Fit Xtreme Driver as the Longest Driver in Golf. On the heels of that, Callaway had its hand slapped over its claim that XHot Fairway Wood was 32 yards longer.

Last February, I called the company out for what I believed to be a disingenuous claim that Big Bertha was The Number One Selling Driver Brand.

Most recently someone has taken Callaway to task over its Up to 2 Clubs Longer Claim.

Within the golf industry there’s an unspoken rule that everyone gets to be a little full of shit. When a little moves closer to totally others start grumbling, and within the industry there’s a lot of grumbling about Callaway right now.

Some of that grumbling, it would seem, has led to action.

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Who Threw the Flag?

According what was published in the Daily Pulse the blowback came from outside the company, and it stands to reason that Callaway didn’t rethink its approach without some sort of nudge (or flying elbow). Given where the other complaints originated, we can make a well-reasoned guess where it originated this time.

It was TaylorMade who called foul over RAZR Fit Xtreme. It was TaylorMade who called foul over XHot, and while contacts inside both TaylorMade and Callaway are either saying nothing or simply repeating no comment, no comment, no comment, a credible source with knowledge of the situation is telling us that it was TaylorMade who called foul this time too.

All of that suggests this most recent action isn’t so much about protecting the consumer from dishonest advertising as it is protecting declining market shares from a competitor with an effective marketing campaign.

Score one for us, right?

What’s the golf industry without an annual slap-fight between its two biggest players?

What’s the Problem?

Again, with the parties involved keeping the actual details quiet, we’re forced to read between the lines of the letter Callaway sent to its retail partners.

We’ve included the full letter below, and it’s reasonable to conclude that the complaint has something to do with the fact that a Callaway Big Bertha pitching wedge is under no reasonable circumstance ever Up to 2 clubs longer than a Razr X HL pitching wedge.

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Here’s how Callaway explains that piece of it to retailers:

“It was never our intent to imply that the short irons delivered an equivalent distance benefit as the rest of the set and we thought that this would be naturally understood.”

Did you really?

I’m conflicted about this.

As a guy entrenched in the industry I understand that part of the design philosophy for the modern distance iron is to increase gaps on the long end, and then narrow them back to normalcy on the short end. These gapping decisions actually do benefit the type of golfer who generally buys game-improvement clubs, and the simple fact of the matter is that nearly everyone who makes irons employs a similar strategy in their game-improvement designs.

More to the point at hand, Callaway actually spelled out the basis for its claims in the fine print of the Big Bertha Iron distance claim.

Quite frankly, while I thought the comparison itself was bit dubious given the apples to bananas nature of the differences in length and loft between the irons tested, I also thought Callaway did a reasonable-enough job of qualifying it.

However, if I put myself in the shoes of a guy not entrenched in the golf industry, and who probably has little-to-no concept of the ins-and-outs of game-improvement design philosophy from a gapping perspective…that is to say, if I put myself in the shoes of the average golfer, then yes, I can easily see how one might interpret the original ad as a promise for 20 more yards (give or take) from a pitching wedge.

If the 4-iron is 2 clubs longer and the 6-iron is 2 clubs longer, why wouldn’t the 9-iron and pitching wedge also be 2 clubs longer?

From that perspective I might feel mislead.

The average golfer wouldn’t inherently understand that the Big Bertha short irons don’t deliver an equivalent distance benefit. For all the market research Callaway does, one would assume it knows this.

If there’s an argument to be made in Callaway’s defense, it’s that it never actually said that its Big Bertha short irons are up to 2 clubs longer than anything. 4-iron. 6-iron. That was the extent and basis of Callaway’s claim. Check your recent history. Nobody ever goes beyond the 6 iron.

But again, the guy who’s going to buy Big Bertha irons can’t reasonably be expected to know that.

The Smack Down

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Without somebody talking specifics it’s hard to know exactly how all of this went down. Maybe one of those threatening letters that the golf company’s legal teams exchange all the time was enough for Callaway to alter its course. Maybe there was involvement by a 3rd party like the Better Business Bureau. It’s been suggested to me that the threat of a class action lawsuit isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

No Comment is the refrain of the day, but let me spell it out for you…it was TaylorMade. Somehow, it was TaylorMade.

Even if Callaway doesn’t believe it was wrong (and even I’m not totally convinced that Callaway is totally wrong), it must have believed it would have been very expensive to try and prove it was right.

And so here we are.

Maybe Callaway Lost, But Who Really Wins?

Perhaps we should celebrate what is arguably a victory for straight-forward truth in advertising, but when companies make reasonable efforts to qualify and back-up their claims, and still get taken to task by competitors throwing rocks from inside glass houses, what are we left with?

Does the fine print need even finer print?

* 2 Clubs Longer Claim based on robot testing of Callaway Big Bertha 4-iron and 6-iron at multiple impact locations versus Callaway Razr X HL 4-irons and 6-irons using average player swing speeds2.

2. Distance gains not applicable to short irons where distance will be roughly equivalent between clubs3.

3. Because of differences in length, loft and other design considerations, some clubs may not be considered equivalent.

Where does it end?

It ends with nonsense.

When You’re Out of Words, Create Your Own

When there are no quantifiable claims to be made, or when qualified claims need to be quantified and then re-qualified, consumers are left to try and make sense out of a steady stream of near-meaningless, although often catchy, gibberish.

Up to 2 Clubs Longer (and the specific terms that accompany the claim) is out. The even less meaningful Distance Where You Need It joins the ranks of Outrageous Speed, Ridonkulong, Made of Speed, Made of Greatness, and the 6000 or so variants of faster, longer, and totally-fucking-better-than-what-you-bought-6-months-ago that some of the golf companies have assaulted us with for decades.

Nobody wins here, least of all the guy looking for actual quantifiable performance information.

None of this helps the consumer stretch his dollars either, and that’s distance where we actually need it.

The Letter

Here is a copy of the email Callaway sent to its retail partners. We didn’t add the bold print. That comes straight from Callaway.

Note how the company turns what should be a contrite sorry-we-screwed-the-pooch-and-we-need-you-to-help-us-clean-it-up letter of apology, or at least letter of explanation to its partners, into an opportunity to further push the products associated with the claims currently under scrutiny.

Getting dinged for dubious marketing is, in and of itself, a marketing opportunity.

Consumers love them.*

*excludes consumers who may have felt mislead by the original claim.

Click to Expand the Full Letter to Callaway Retail Partners

Valued Retail Partners,

Recently, it came to our attention that our “Up to 2 Clubs Longer” advertising claim for the Big Bertha Irons and XR Irons could potentially be interpreted as all clubs providing an equal distance benefit. As we all know from our experience with the sets, the distance and forgiveness benefits of our Cup 360 technology are real! Consumers love them and they are going to set a new standard of iron performance.

Consistent with our passion for delivering ultimate performance that benefit golfers on the course, the distance benefits are built into these sets starting with small benefits in the short irons and building in an impressive manner with large benefits in the mid and long irons.

It was never our intent to imply that the short irons delivered an equivalent distance benefit as the rest of the set and we thought that this would be naturally understood. To ensure the consumer clearly understands the benefits of these clubs, we believe it makes better business sense to simply modify the claim to accurately describe what consumers have been experiencing in droves with Big Bertha and XR. Specifically, they both deliver incredible distance through the set, or as we call it, “Distance Where You Need It.

Over the next few weeks we will be implementing this change at retail and in the marketplace and will continue, as we have steadily done the past two years, with growing share in the iron category with demonstrably superior performance.

As a result, we will need to make sure that all of our digital assets on your site are updated to reflect the changes. If you could please look at digital, social and supporting copy on the XR Irons and Big Bertha Irons product pages, we would appreciate it. We are asking that all product page copy, videos and digital assets be updated by 3/21. We have included the links to digital assets which your team should utilize moving forward.

Additionally we are sending new in-store graphics and would like to make certain all POP materials and merchandising displays are updated to reflect the new messaging by 3/31. We appreciate your partnership and support with switching out artwork in the appropriate channels. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your Callaway Retail Marketing Contact or Sales Representative.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

Swing Over 100 MPH? Here are your Top 5 Drivers!

Swing Over 100 MPH? Here are your Top 5 Drivers!

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We know that not everybody, not even a majority of golfers, can generate over 100 MPH of clubhead speed, but there are plenty of you who can. It stands to reason that the higher swing speed guy (and often a lower handicap guy) might require something different from a lower, or even average swing speed guy when it comes to his driver.

That could mean lower spin. It could mean a more compact shape. And while lower swing speed guys might favor ultralite models to help raise clubhead speed, we’ve found that bigger hitters often get better numbers with shafts in the 75 gram range. Our higher swing speed players put 23 drivers to the test, and these 5 were the top performers.

 

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Adjustability, ball speed, and distance, the TaylorMade SLDR brings it all to the table. Pound for pound, the SLDR was the longest driver we tested this year. Whether you choose the standard 460 model, the 430, or the new SLDR S, you’re going to hit the ball a long way. Even with your above-average swing speed, don’t be afraid to try the 12° model.

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It’s the Tour Edge Exotics XCG7 Beta, not the SLDR that produced the lowest spinning drives for higher swing speed players. Plenty well-known for their fairway woods, you should be paying attention to this Tour Edge driver as well. The XCG7 is unquestionably the best driver Tour Edge has ever produced. If it’s not on your demo list, it needs to be.

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Performance evolved. That’s how we’d label the PING i25. The i20 had a solid run as the one of the top performing drivers we’ve ever tested. 2 years later we find ourselves smitten with the i25.  The racing stripe alignment system is cool, but what we really like is that the i25 offers more forgiveness than you’d expect from a distance-favoring driver.

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You know the G25 is an outstanding option for slower swing speed players, but it turns out, it’s one hell of a driver for faster players as well. As they were for our lower swing speed guy, accuracy numbers are stellar, and the forgiveness of the G25 cannot be questioned. If playing from the short grass is your goal, the G25 will help put even the longest of hitters there more often.

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Do you love distance (and the color orange)? Sinister (creator of the Agent Orange driver) isn’t exactly a household name, but their driver showed that it can hammer the ball down the fairway with the best of them. For those not interested in lofting up, worth a mention is that the Agent Orange is the only driver on this list available in 5° and 6°.

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Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

Ratings Over Integrity: Augusta Bails Out Tiger

Ratings Over Integrity: Augusta Bails Out Tiger

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The original contents of this story written by Tony Covey have been edited.

When I wrote this article my goal was to present 3 main points:

:: Once it was clear an infraction had been committed, the Masters Tournament Committee looked for a loop hole that would keep Tiger in the Tournament.

:: Rule 33-7 shouldn’t apply because the interpretation falls well outside of what I believe is the spirit of the rule.

:: Given the opportunity to withdraw there’s nothing we know about Tiger that suggests he would take a self-imposed DQ.

At MyGolfSpy our staff members have diverse opinions and each of us who contributes here has the unique freedom to publish those opinions. The one belief we all share is that when you put words on a page it is your responsibility to own them. And so, I am taking this opportunity to own mine.

After reviewing some of the feedback, it’s clear that in my haste to provide commentary, I chose unnecessary language that some found offensive and distracted from the larger points I was attempting to make.

I offer sincere apologies to anyone who was actually offended by my poor choice of words.

I have removed that language but fully stand behind my opinion of how “dropgate” was handled.

-Tony Covey, MyGolfSpy

“Dropgate” Soils the 2013 Masters

Even if you’re one of the last 7 guys in the country without HDTV, you’ve gotta be aware of what has transpired in Augusta over the last couple of days. Apparently unhappy at not laying claim to his usual percentage of Masters-related headlines (damn that kid from Taiwan), Tiger Woods found a new way to bump his cut back to its requisite 99%.

To recap, here’s what we can state as fact from Friday’s events:

:: During Friday’s round, Tiger’s 3rd shot on #15 came to rest in the hazard
:: Tiger took an illegal drop
:: Tiger signed an incorrect score card

That should be the end of it…DQ…pack your bags and enjoy your weekend with Lindsey Vaughn.

Instead the entire situation, and the reputation of The Masters, is as muddied as Tiger’s ball.

Let me be very clear about one thing. I’m not saying that Tiger cheated. I’m saying he broke the rules, and in all reasonable likelihood did so unknowingly. And so despite being the best golfer on the planet, and despite his 35 years of experience playing the game, Tiger Woods – a guy with intimate knowledge of the rule book – broke a 2nd rule; he signed an incorrect score card…also unknowingly.

Ignorance is bliss.

And well…at the 2013 Masters anyway, blissful ignorance guarantees better ratings for CBS and a seizable paycheck for Tiger. Everybody wins…except the game (and the guy whose paycheck gets deposited in Tiger’s account).

Anywhere other than the fantasy land inside ropes of Augusta ignorance of the rules is never an excuse. Try the ignorance defense in traffic court sometime. Let me know how it works.

Even between the storied magnolia trees and azaleas of Augusta, if you’re a 14 year old Asian kid, rules are rules. But when you’re Tiger the rules are whatever the Committee needs them to be. Iron that Nike shirt, Eldrick, you’re playing on Sunday. The tournament needs you.

Spin it however you’d like…and god knows the Masters committee is spinning it. After giving Tiger just enough of a penalty to make the weekend interesting, it’s pretty clear the green coats spent some time making sure the CBS broadcast team would follow the company line to the letter.

After initially suggesting Tiger should have been DQ’d or at least done the honorable thing and withdrawn, a thread-worn Nick Faldo back-peddled fast enough to pass Lance Armstrong while at the same time giving us plenty of cause to question the integrity of the stitching that holds his green jackets together. Behold the magic of Augusta.

Finding a Loophole

Somebody at a Augusta had to know…and if somebody didn’t, they’ve got no business running a local amateur tournament let alone what’s billed as the most prestigious tournament in golf. Somebody…probably multiple somebodies looked the other way and hoped nobody else would notice. But somebody did. Damn those telephone lines.

Tigergate or Dropgate, or whatever the latest trending headline is was born.

While it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that the the Augusta Tournament committee rewrote the rules of golf, at a minimum they found a creative new interpretation which will certainly hereto for be know as “The Tiger Rule“.

If it was anyone else in the field used a post round interview to admit a rules violation, he’d be watching the tournament from home, and this story would be a footnote. But Tiger is money. It’s good for CBS if he’s in the hunt on Sunday (and bad when he’s not), and its good for the Masters too. Some people would tell you the Masters isn’t the Masters without Tiger.

And so when faced with what boils down to a financial issue, a bunch of guys got together and did what guys with money problems do; they found a loophole.

It’s a tradition unlike any other.

That loophole is rule 33-7. Previously 33-7 has been referred to as the HDTV rule. The USGA added the rule…more accurately, the decision to the rule, in 2011 to give players some cover from rules infractions phoned in from the couches of America by meddlesome viewers with super-slow-motion DVRs and HDTVs. The spirit of the rule is to give the committee the the option to waive disqualification for violations that were unknowingly committed and are otherwise only perceptible with modern technology.

The rule was written to cover things like grounding a club in a hazard, or stirring up a loose impediments when playing from a red-staked treeline. Fortunately for Tiger (and CBS) the committee found enough ambiguity in the rule to give them the out they desperately wanted. So much for rules being rules.

As has been pointed out numerous times already, you didn’t exactly need an HDTV to verify Tiger’s infraction. Hell, by the time Tiger was done talking Friday evening you didn’t even need a TV. A radio would have sufficed, and it need not be an HD Radio either. In case you missed it, here’s a condensed version of Tiger’s post round interview.

“I was pissed…and I took an illegal drop to gain an advantage”. – Tiger Woods

Ok…Tiger didn’t actually say he took an illegal drop, he only described his illegal drop, and pretty explicitly too. And fortunately for Tiger, at the 2013 Masters, ignorance of the rules keeps you in the game, but let’s not pretend for so much as a second that Tiger’s illegal drop is covered by the spirit of 33-7. The letter, perhaps, but definitely not the spirit that anyone who believes in the integrity of the game would have envisioned.

Apart from the whole HDTV thing, 33-7 is supposed to cover a player who wasn’t aware he committed a violation, not to bail out a ratings-generator who got frustrated and made a mistake that the average club golfer wouldn’t make in a hundred years.

But rather than DQ their money-man, the forward-thinkers in the green jackets co-opted rule 33-7 to also include situations where a player admits to a rules violation that nobody realized was a rules violation (except the guy on the other end of the phone). The subtle distinction is that 33-7 is supposed to cover the guy who isn’t aware he broke the rule (didn’t see the impediment move), not the guy who doesn’t know the rules, or more to the point, the guy who absolutely does know the rules, but in a moment of frustration, had a mental lapse.

At the Masters, a farting brain will incur its owner a 2 stroke penalty.

Karnack Wears a Green Jacket

Even if you buy into idea that the Masters Committee didn’t have any notion of self-preservation or star power in mind when they decided to give Tiger Woods a pass (mostly), the application of an arbitrary rule designed to induce ambiguity into a rule book that is otherwise supposed to be absolute, creates a huge problem in a stroke play competition.

In any stroke play tournament, there’s ZERO room to presume an outcome, and yet, that’s what the rule effectively does. Simply put the Master’s Committee gave Tiger Woods a gimme. A two-stroke gimme, but a gimme none the less.

A gimme, in a major? Yeah, that just happened.

Let’s go back to what we know.

Tiger Woods banged his ball into a flagstick. and watched in disgust as it rolled into hazard. A self-described “pissed” Tiger Woods took an illegal drop, and did so, by his own admission, to give himself a more advantageous playing position. To his credit, he hit a very nice shot, and only needed a single putt to finish the hole (for a 6).

Here’s what we don’t know. What would have happened if Tiger had taken a legal drop? Does he stick it to two feet? Maybe. But maybe he spins it into the hazard again. Maybe he sails the green and subsequently chips it into the hazard come back. Maybe he shanks it. Maybe he makes a natural 8 all by himself.

We just don’t know, and yet the Masters Committee is content with effectively saying “This is Tiger Woods, and we’re absolutely certain his score would have been no worse than 8″. Probable, sure. Certain…never.

Rule 33-7 not only covers phoned-in infractions, it effectively allows the committee to predict the outcome of events in a parallel universe. How’s that for the rules being absolute?

Would that fly in your Club Championship? Why shouldn’t it, it works at the Masters.

Rules, even stupid ones with dubious application, are still rules.

Self-Imposed Disqualification – Not a Chance

The media inside the ropes at Augusta have reported that the prevailing sentiment from others in the field is that Tiger Woods should have disqualified himself. Many of us would like to believe that faced with a similar situation it’s what Mr. Palmer, Mr. Nicklaus, Misters Jones, Hogan, and Snead would have done. None of us really know, and I suspect even Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer can be certain of what they would have done.

What is certain is that Tiger chose to play, and I’d expect nothing less from the foul-mouthed, club-throwing, me first guy, who just happens to be the most talented golfer on the planet.

The best thing that can happen for this Masters is for Tiger to be competitive but not quite good enough to win the 2013 Tournament. If he doesn’t claim another green jacket today all of this becomes barely a footnote, but should he go on to win, he’s Barry Bonds.

His integrity will be questioned. His victory column will forever hold an asterisk, and this tournament will be cited as one of many reasons why no matter his place in the records books in relation to Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Palmer, he’ll never be held in quite the esteem as the guys who came before him. Time won’t transform him into Mr. Woods. He’s Tiger, and that’s all he’ll ever be.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)