Marketing copy writers: quit while you’re ahead!

Lately I’ve been especially irritated by one particular aspect of much of the advertising copy in the music-gear world: the tendency to take a good product, with perfectly legitimate good features, and make it disgusting by advertising false or misleading features instead.  This is probably prevalent in other fields too, like cameras and cars, but I don’t pay attention to them as much.

One example is instrument cables.  You’ve seen my post about “snake oil” claims, and you may have seen me ranting on this subject over on TheGearPage; but what really bothers me, more than the falseness of their claims, is that the cables usually have legitimate good merits—so why not focus on those in the ad copy?  Why not say “our cable has extra rugged construction, great flexibility, heavy-duty plugs with extra strain relief, and beefy solder joints” instead of all that nonsense about fat wires for bass and thin wires for treble, or “time aligned” signal transfer, or transmission-line theory applied to non transmission line cables.  Why lie when you have perfectly good truth to tell?

Evidence Audio is a perfect example of this. Their “Lyric HG” is actually one of the best-quality cables on the market, with excellent real, measurable performance. Yet the Evidence website and marketing materials are drenched in utterly irredeemable bullshit. Not just hyperbole, but outright lies, weasely misinterpretations of “science”, and tonal claims that are nothing but fantasy.

Another case is the Tech21 “1969” amp head, about which my TalkBass acquaintances will have seen me arguing already.  The amp is probably really good—it has many fine qualities, well worth advertising.  But they decided to crap all over it by making ridiculous claims about “analog wattage” versus “digital wattage”, and asserting that because their amp is analog, therefore it works like an all-tube amp, and making a big deal about how “digital” amps have limiters because they sound bad when clipped… ignoring the fact that most analog solid-state amps also have limiters, for the exact same reason.  And ignoring the fact that most so-called “digital” amps are analog but with a switch-mode power supply…  They could have just said “our amp sounds awesome when driven into clipping, just like an all-tube amp, unlike most other solid-state heads”.  This is a great selling point, a real desirable feature, and it could plausibly be true.  Why all the misleading sleazery instead?

I’m sure I’ll think of more examples later, and expand on this post.  Bottom line though, copy writers: stick with the legitimate good qualities of your product—your customers will respect you for it.

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  1. M. Brown said,

    August 2, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

    Agreed and good point. We are constantly dismayed by the claims that we hear too. In our company, we do very extensive research of our products compared to our competitors because our design philosophy dictates that we improve upon the weaknesses in our market. For instance, lately, we have noticed a couple of competitors who not only compare their coil cables to ours, but claim that they made them first just because they named them “Retro” or whatever.

    We have begun constructing charts so that customers can form their own opinions.
    Here is one for our DIY connector: The SLUG vs George L’s Plugs:

    We don’t claim something is better, we just state our facts as we note them and let discerning musicians make their own decision.

  2. Cyrus said,

    August 23, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    That’s good to hear! Thanks for checking in here with that info.

    Out of curiosity, where/how did you come up with the comparison of frequency range and distortion between the two bulk cables?

    Pursuant to your stated goal of presenting facts, maybe you’d want to specify the capacitance of the bulk cables, and their measurable THD at normal frequency ranges (e.g. 40 Hz, 16 KHz), rather than just asserting the competitor’s cable doesn’t do what yours does.

    Looking forward to your response!

  3. M. Brown said,

    December 12, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    Cyrus, your keeping us on point! You are right, why is the comparison of frequency range present in the graph? I asked our marketing department the same question. Their response was that the frequency is common to our packaging requirements and that the line actually was meant to state measurements and specs. The “no” should have really been “none” as in not available. Well that is a lame excuse, but really a human error that we have now remedied by removing it.

    I then went to our engineer with your question too. From a standpoint of our engineer, he gave this answer:

    “Capacitance measurements are not an index of sound quality, so I would not make a big deal out of these, and I would also state this fact. It is a common misconception. Also, THD measurements simply do not make sense for cable, unless you are comparing different cables. Otherwise, you are just measuring the distortion of the input signal (signal generator). I need to check here to see if they ever do any kind of distortion measurements for audio cables, because this is actually an unusual request, and I never thought about it before. You would need a FFT Analyzer to do this, and I don’t even know if I have access to one.”

    There you go. The words from Bullet Cable about cable.

    He added, “You can say that the cable ‘sounds better’ because it does. But that is about the extent of keeping it real as a comparison.”

    The words of our 25 year+ experienced engineer–and we know that only musicians can make this statement a fact, right?

    What are your thoughts?

  4. Cyrus said,

    December 20, 2011 @ 2:53 am

    Thanks for following up, I genuinely appreciate that.

    The engineer is quite right that distortion measurement of instrument cable is uncommon and very, very difficult. I contacted several cable manufacturers about this, and they all scratched their heads and said “good luck with that”. Then I ran a series of tests on about two dozen cables using a digital scope and an HP distortion analyzer, and they all tested exactly identically–which means either they are all actually identical, or the technology to identify any difference in distortion between them is more advanced and expensive than I could manage. See:
    Normally I would not expect cable manufacturers to provide distortion specs–I only challenged you on it because the chart you provided did include that spec.

    Regarding capacitance, I am frankly stunned that the engineer would dismiss that as “not a big deal”. With a passive guitar or bass, capacitance is the single most important defining parameter of how a cable “sounds” ; and more to the point, it is the one parameter that could conceivably delimit the frequency range of the cable, as had previously been included in that chart. However, since that frequency spec was copy-pasted in by the marketing department as you say, then it stands to reason the engineer would not see the point of the question.

    Again, thank you for inquiring further!

  5. M. Brown said,

    January 26, 2012 @ 11:24 am

    Regarding capacitance, I have to disagree on two points: Marketing and defining parameter of how a cable “sounds”. First point, we have made marketing mistakes, as we have already admitted to, in a cut and paste graph about a benefit, but our engineer, probably one of the top in the world, knows his stuff better than most and what he says, we usually respectfully have to agree. To him, it is not an index.

    If you’re an audiophile, chances are that you’re already using a cable or another audio/video component that he has designed. Other companies he’s designed for are Monster, Audioquest, XLO, PS Audio, Tributaries, Ethereal, Belkin, Pangea (Audio Advisor), Fender, Vox, Core X2, Phoenix Gold and Mitek. He is the holder of approximately 40 patents for cable geometry and connector design.

    He may be shedding light in the cave, and others are perceiving the shadows as gods!

    I guess it is good for debate.

  6. Cyrus said,

    February 17, 2012 @ 4:08 am

    Honestly we can move on, since the copy-paste thing was just a simple marketing-dept. error that has been fixed, and was not a big deal in the first place. But your response above begs to be addressed:

    “Appeal to authority” is a logical fallacy; it does not actually contribute to a debate. Try asking him “is cable capacitance a factor in the loading of passive pickups” and ask him whether the corner frequency of an LRC filter would be affected by changes in the capacitance of the system. I think the questions phrased in that way should get a different response. He and I both know that cables do not inherently have a sound, but they don’t operate in a vacuum, either—and the entire system does have a sound, which (with a passive instrument) can change based on cable capacitance.

  7. J L S said,

    February 19, 2012 @ 3:16 am

    I really enjoy a good debate on a topic of interest to me between 2 individuals whose technical knowledge far exceeds my own. Makes for very interesting reading.

    But from a blue collar musician’s standpoint, one who knows next to nothing technically about the science of the instrument cable, really it boils down to a combination of perceived quality and price.

    Quality in a cable to me simply means I can throw it around the practice spot and not worry too much about it. means that it doesn’t have a noticeable hum when I’m playing. Means I’ve owned it for over a year and it still works. Decent aesthetics don’t hurt either.

    Price means I can afford a few of them and wouldn’t attempt to break the jaw of a buddy who accidentally slices it open when he sits his deformed flight case on top of it.

    Should someone market a cable that way, I imagine they would be quite successful.

    Maybe to a self-proclaimed audiophile who assumes his title simply because he can afford the most expensive amp in the musicians friend catalog will be persuaded by graphs and claims which may/may not be true, fancy packaging and a high price tag. But to MOST musicians who’s big purchase is a used amp off eBay, and presumes no title of audiophile or the like, these crazy high price cables are just an afterthought. if someone wanted to give us one I’m sure we’d take it, but when we can’t afford new tubes for our amp or gas for the van, then these kind of cables are not even a option.

  8. M. Brown said,

    March 24, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

    Hi JLS,

    You have added yourself to a conversation that is technical and, I must admit, outside of the realm of my experience as a marketing person (I am not an engineer, but do have a close relationship with the tech team). In relation to this post, which is about advertising on merits of a cable, rather than filling up chatter about technical mumbo jumbo that is both confusing and [sometimes] misleading, I think you are right. As cable companies, we are selling to the blue collar musician more often than not.

    Bullet Cable advertises Dependability, Reliability, and the Cool Factor. We have stood behind these concepts in our marketing and in our product development. We have made honest attempts to not use big technical wording and snake oil claims for the very reason that you state.

    But for us,we consider our cable and the engineering, the development, and the design more than just making “a cable”. We have tried to technically take our cable to levels that I can only describe as like a chef in the kitchen with ingredients. Nothing that comes out of our manufacturing is ever approached with, “Let’s put some wire, shielding and pvc together and call it a cable.” Everything we have developed has been based on “What will it be used for? Will it be dependable? Will it be reliable? And, will it be f** badass looking to the musician?” None of our cables are copying someone else’s, but developing on other cables. We develop all of our own components. We don’t use off the shelf components.

    Everyone on our team really loves what we do. Honestly. We aren’t into anything but being a part of the music making experience, and I am proud to see our cables on stage with Paul Gilbert or Lou Reed, or on you tube with 12 year old Johnny who is thrashing the hell out of some metal song he is proudly playing for the purpose of sharing.

    I am sure that other companies love what they do too. I don’t know. I don’t work for other companies. I have only sat in listening tests with competitor products and I know that Bullet Cable sounds like Bullet Cable, and in preference, I usually like it better. Our customers love our cables too. We have “blue collar musicians” doing the bro love all the time, so I think they notice a difference that tells them that they are using Bullet Cable, and not some other cable when they play.

    This is my take on copy writing, and only my opinion as a marketing person (Cyrus, let me know your thoughts on this. I am interested in what you have to say):

    Our industry is to blame. For sure. There is a lot of hype that is nonsensical and is deceptive.

    You know why? Writing about cable is boring! Cable traditionally isn’t sexy like a guitar or bass. It isn’t as interesting as amps, or even pedals. It is traditionally wire configurations and materials.

    And most people who write about cable do not really understand about the physics behind cable anyways. (And please, don’t let the engineers write copy, it will never sell anything!)

    Another thought I have on this is that the most elaborate claims are usually found in the companies offering various levels of cable quality such as “entry”, “better”, and “best”. Think about it, you made the very “best” cable you could possible make and achieved everything you could, and then you cut the quality, workmanship and materials into 1/2 and call it “better” and then half again, and call it “entry”. You have to make big words up just to cover the fact you are selling an inferior product, and how do you ever fully explain that huge $102 price tag on a name brand item when you can buy the same name brand item for 1/10 of the price (and you have been lead to EXPECT the same level of experience)?


    Cyrus, the capacitance question that you have asked me is pointed at the wrong person and outside the scope of this post. I love debate, but about the things I know.

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