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Case #5589: The campaign for the longest driver in golf

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Mark Twain is often given credit for the assertion, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Were he still alive today, Twain would no doubt be intrigued by the current state of advertising and the golf industry in particular.

At its core, marketing is about procuring and sustaining customers. Customers create profit and profit is the lifeblood, which fuels all things pertinent to a private enterprise. And profit is gasoline to the engine, oxygen to the body and drama to Lindsay Lohan – it makes everything go.

So when someone or something interferes with your access to profit, you take it quite seriously. Especially when the challenge comes from a rival competitor and is the result of some rather shady statistics and shaky reasoning; or as I like to call it “lying.”

I know that lying and advertising are on some level synonymous, or more correctly that consumers understand on some level that what an ad presents as implicit truth is not an iron-clad promise to deliver the image presented. Advertising exists in the vast grey area between fiction and reality.

I understand that if I drink a certain beer, I won’t end up in a hot tub of busty blondes in some snow-capped rocky mountain retreat with 50 of my closest friends. I’m equally aware that a rugged 4X4 truck won’t increase my testosterone levels, nor will my wife and I ever end up on a beach, holding hands in two separate bathtubs watching the sunset, regardless of which pills I ingest.

But, when a company, in this case Callaway, claims to have “The Longest Driver in Golf,” then consumer should reasonably expect that the driver is in fact the longest.

[youtube id=”ihfRdZgG9CQ” width=”620″ height=”360″]

TaylorMade has dominated the metal woods portion of the golf industry for the last two decades, in much the same fashion as Titleist has owned golf ball usage and John Daly has had a monopoly on bad outfits. So when Callaway claimed to have “The Longest Driver in Golf,” TaylorMade didn’t take it well. When TaylorMade actually looked at how Callaway reached this conclusion, it called hogwash and filed a complaint with the NAD.

The NAD is a third-party wing of the Better Business Bureau that serves to resolve advertising complaints in a manner more expeditious (and significantly cheaper) than legal methods. According to the NAD, “an advertiser is responsible for all reasonable interpretations of its claims, not simply the messages it intended to convey.”

Enter case #5589: The skinny

Tweet to Unleash campaign

TaylorMade objected to Callaway’s assertion of producing “The Longest Driver in Golf,” the #LongestDriverInGolf Twitter promotion and the usage of “The Longest Driver in Golf” phrase in eight out of nine advertising videos on the Callaway website.

Where the story really gets interesting is how exactly Callaway landed at this rather bold and audacious declaration. See, when testing the Razr Fit Xtreme driver, Callaway tested the 2013 RFX against five other models (all 2012 models) that represented 54 percent of the driver market according to “dollar market share” based on data from September 2012.

Problem: How can you claim to be the best of anything when you only test 54 percent of potential competitors? What if that 54 percent is inflated and the real number is more like 40 percent as the NAD reasonably suggested?

Also, both the Titleist 910 D2 and D3 were included in the 54 percent “figure,” but the D3 was left out of the player testing. Curious, right?

Callaway didn’t provide any rationale for this, which speaks volumes. Also, dollar market share doesn’t account for drivers that may have been purchased on sale (it was September after all) and creates a false assumption than the most expensive drivers are also the longest. Finally, TaylorMade objected to the use of extrapolating conclusive statements using data from a single month (although TaylorMade has done this exact tactic when it served its advertising needs…pot…kettle…you get the idea).

I don’t know that you need to test all 180-some-odd drivers that have appeared in the Golf Digest Hot List since 2004, but if you’re going to be the longest driver in golf in 2013, wouldn’t you want to test your product against other 2013 offerings?

razr-fit-xtreme driver

Callaway also used a variety of test groups to test the five drivers against the Razr Fit Xtreme. The random sampling (one group had 13 testers, another eight and another 12) was indicative of either a group of fourth graders running a school science experiment or a company that never thought it would have to defend the validity of its claims. It gets better (or worse): 11 players tested only one driver, two players tested two drivers, eight players tested three drivers and only three players tested all five.

Problem: TaylorMade stated that it would have been more valid to treat each individual comparison of the RFX to one of the other models as an individual test. However, only 20 of the 58 would have shown the type of results Callaway desired and that’s hardly enough to be the “the longest driver in golf,” and probably not enough to even be the longest driver in your neighborhood.

Finally, Callaway didn’t actually fit the adjustable driver to ANY of the test participants, and it only used the 440 cubic centimeter head (which is only available in lower lofts and geared toward better players), failed to use any women as test participants and did I mention, all testers were CALLAWAY EMPLOYEES!

Problem: When your burden of proof is to test the “broadest range of player abilities possible,” it’s probably best to include both males and females and a wide-range of handicaps in your test pool. Looking at the handicaps of the Callaway employees/test subjects, 88 percent were 0-to-15 handicap and 77 percent were 0-to-10. When the average male handicap hovers in the mid-teens, this just doesn’t pass the smell test.

After considering all of the information presented, the NAD stated that Callaway didn’t provide sufficient evidence to declare the Razr Fit Xtreme “the longest driver in golf.” File that in the “duh” pile.

Callaway was disappointed and disagreed with the NAD decision (enter shocked face smiley emoticon here), but said that the company respected the decision and discontinued “The Longest Driver in Golf” campaign.

Translation: We’re really bummed we got caught, but hey, at least this product cycle is over and we can all move on.

Yet another layer to this smelly onion is case #5584, where Callaway asked the NAD to look into TaylorMade’s claims that “The average golfer picked up about 17 yards with the ROCKETBALLZ 3-Wood.”

It shouldn’t be lost on the reader that Callaway filed this complaint after receiving the complaint from TaylorMade regarding the RFX driver. It could be just interesting timing, and I could also be Hulk Hogan.

TaylorMade 17 campaign

The NAD ultimately found no cause to ask TaylorMade to do anything more — TaylorMade had already deleted the content from an interview-style video with its CEO and added necessary qualifiers such as “better player”… compared to Burner ’11 fairway and 150 mph ball speed … total distance.”

What maybe gets lost in all of these qualifications is just how ridiculous it still is. In order to gain the supposed “17 yards,” you have to compare the 2012 RBZ fairway wood to the 2011 Burner fairway. OK, that’s simple enough. But now, you need to generate 150 mph of ball speed with a 3 wood. The average consumer is just going to gloss over that and make the unlikely assumption that 150 mph ball speed with a 3 wood is imminently doable. Let’s break that qualification down:

Looking at some PGA Tour stats, we see an average driver swing speed of 113 mph and a carry of 269 yards. This gives the player approximately 2.38 yards of carry for every mile per hour of swing speed. If we use a smash factor (ball speed/swing speed) of 1.47, we see that the average tour ball speed, with a driver, is approximately 166 mph.

To achieve a ball speed of 150 mph with a 3 wood (again, assuming a smash factor of 1.47, even though many amateur players will be closer to 1.4 or lower), a golfer would need a swing speed of approximately 102 mph, or just a couple miles per hour slower than an average PGA Tour player.

The average male driver swing speed is 80-to-85 mph, or some 30 mph slower than the average Tour player. If a 3 wood swing speed is a good 7 mph less than that, then the average player is generating approximately 110 mph of ball speed, or 40 mph less than the requisite amount to experience the “promised” 17 additional yards. At 2.38 yds carry/mph of swing speed, the average golfer is about 95 yards short of being able to realize the full Rocketballz potential.

Like Penny Lane quipped in Almost Famous: “It’s funny. The truth just sounds different.”

And generally, the truth just doesn’t sell as well. The individual consumer might be able to handle the truth, but I’m not sure the market could bear this reality. I don’t know about you, but if I only purchased items using objective, fact-based decisions, I’d probably have a lot less stuff. And if everyone did this, companies couldn’t survive. I’m hard pressed to come up with a solid list of people I know who will drop a couple hundred bucks for a couple yards, yet that is often the reality when an individual “upgrades” to the latest and greatest golf gear.

So instead, OEM’s propose the possible, the theoretical, and the consumer believes it to be the actual. The critical consumer knows that most PGA Tour players use drivers that are 45 inches or shorter, yet they continue to chase more distance with 45.5-inch and 46-inch drivers because they cranked one up on a launch monitor at some indoor big box store and couldn’t believe how far they hit it.

While Callaway and TaylorMade might be making the most noise (or crying) right now, these are hardly isolated incidents.

Some notable examples:

  • The recent thread on GolfWRX documenting the industry practice of mis-stamping driver heads. As stated by Callaway, driver heads could be off by as much as 3 degrees. So your 8.5-degree driver could actually be closer to 11 degrees.

Click here to read the discussion about mis-stamped lofts in the forums.

Certainly, there are manufacturing tolerances in all industries, but essentially the OEM’s don’t trust the consumer to make an informed decision. Knowing that machismo and low-lofted drivers can go hand in hand, the OEM’s get the win-win. They sell a driver that fuels the male ego, yet probably fits the player a bit better. The player believes he is playing an 8.5-degree driver and no one is the wiser – that is until a golfer goes to get fit and can’t understand why he’s getting the best numbers from an 11.5-degree driver that is 2-degrees closed. If only he knew.

And lest we forget, it’s still lying. Boldface lying. My doctor doesn’t tell me the blood pressure he wants me to have, and at the end of my round, I sign for the score I shot, not the one I wanted to shoot. If OEM’s are willing to purposely stamp the wrong loft on a club, what else are they willing to do to “protect” us from our savage egos?

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  • TaylorMade’s current “My R1” campaign: Based on the commercials, any reasonable person would conclude that the driver played by the pros is the same club you can by at your local retail outlet. I mean, what else would you fathom when Dustin Johnson hands you “his R1?” What they don’t tell you is that NO ONE on Tour plays the version that is sold to the public.

Click here to read our full story on the differences between the TaylorMade R1 driver available in stores and the one played on the professional tours.

Every OEM engages in advertising and marketing campaigns. Some are simply more aggressive than others. There are no fender-benders on the Autobahn, and when a company like TaylorMade or Callaway gets called out for crossing the line, there’s going to be some flames. But don’t you think the OEM’s know this? Aren’t some of these crashes calculated and already accounted for? Maybe they’re even expected.

Think about the recent case with Callaway. By the time the NAD investigated and rendered a decision, information was already leaking about Callaway’s next driver. So how much did the faulty campaign really cost Callaway? Pennies. It’s not like Callaway had to buy back a bunch of recalled products or really do much of anything, other than perhaps apologize and then focus on selling the living daylights out of whatever the next product is.

There might be a bit of public scrutiny, but likely nothing of lasting significance. The campaign was faulty from the onset and Callaway knew this, but the company leadership isn’t dumb. They knew exactly how shady their math was, but they also knew the odds were in its favor.

Nike just performed a similar act with the Roger Federer shoes at Wimbledon. The All England Club (ruling body for Wimbledon) requested, after a short 69-minute match that Federer no longer wear his white shoes with orange soles. See, Wimbledon has a strict “white apparel only” policy that is as much a part of the tradition as the Royal Family and grass courts. Nike offered these limited-edition shoes to the public for $140 and they sold out well before Federer ever took the court. So who won that match?

Who is to blame for this cluster? OEM’s? Retailers? Consumers? The Mayan Calendar? Just like there have to be buyers and sellers, everyone gets a little egg on their face with this debacle.

OEM’s

Ultimately, they produce the products and they have the final say in what lofts get stamped on clubs, what clubs are sold to the public and which are “tour only.” They create the ads and invest millions in marketing campaigns. Their money, their message, their profit. They can be as honest or dishonest as they feel necessary.

  • Blame rating: Four stars

Retailers

As the outlets for the OEM’s, they absolutely have to move product. In fact, retailers probably have more pressure to move product than anyone. For them, it really is all about volume. How many of you have been the victim of a juiced-up launch monitor at a big box outlet? How often do we see threads detailing the latest barrage of bullarky from the $8-per-hour sales person? In this case, the consumer gets precisely the level of service and expertise they’re paying for.

  • Blame rating: Three stars

Consumers

Actually, consumers have the most power in this conversation, yet the least information. No one has to buy anything, and the maxim about fools and money is far too often accurate.

  • Blame rating: Two stars

The sooner golfers realize that OEM’s don’t care that much about helping golfers play better golf, the better off they will be. At the end of the day, a company’s bottom line is the bottom line. They don’t care who is buying their product, as long as someone is buying their product. They need profit, which means they need consumers who believe that whatever they are selling will fulfill some need they have.

I’m not suggesting that all OEM’s are evil villainous creatures that will stoop to any level just to make a buck, but if you are buying a ball, a club or a shaft only because of what a retailer or OEM is telling you, you’re playing right into their hands.

It’s like my uncle used to tell me. If you’ve been sitting at the poker table for 10 minutes and you can’t find the fool. Guess what? It’s you.

So, how long have you been sitting at the table?

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Bill

    Jul 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    But, but , but….the Razr Fit Xtreme IS the longest driver I’ve ever hit. Stock shaft and all. Tremendously longer than my previous gamer.

    Exaggerating in advertising is a time honored tradition in golf. “You’ll play better” doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as “Longest Driver in Golf” to an ad man. So guess what WE get to read?

    Common sense here. If you are a good golfer and are considering a club then get to a demo day and hit it alongside your current gamer and then hit the top of the line competition. I read all the web sites and golf mags too. But I take everything in print with a grain of salt.
    Clubs that are universally raved about often don’t work for me. Same with balls. We all like tweaking our game a step at a time with better technology. It’s part of the fun. Not every car is the best and most advanced. Not every new bill being voted into passage is what’s best for its constituents. Why would I think golf evaluations would be any different? But I was looking at Scotty Cameron’s top line putters for $3000-$4500 and they MUST be amazing, right?

  2. R

    Jul 12, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Fantastic article.

  3. pine

    Jul 3, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Then where do I look to for honest recommendations for buying my next club/s???

    • RCM1301

      Jul 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      GolfWRX. Read user forums, not what Golf Digest or that guy at Dick’s says.

  4. FatRick

    Jul 1, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I don’t seem how you can blame the consumer less than the OEMs or retailers. Your job as a consumer is to cut through all the BS, which really is not hard to do in golf since you can actually test out the products before you by them. You don’t do that and end up with something that doesn’t fit you, thats on you and only you.

    • digsnola

      Jul 2, 2013 at 11:23 am

      While I agree that consumers should try to educate themselves before buying any product, the golf OEMs have for so long purposely perpetuated these lies and aggressive tactics that most of the golfing public take it as truth. Callaway says they’re the longest most forgiving ever nearly every year. TM states yardage gains each year that would have us driving the ball 450 yards compared to our 2000 driver.

      While golf is only a game, it was a game that many on this forum were drawn to because of its difficulty and integrity. Questionable advertising and mis-stamping of loft flies in the face of these precepts. This is why I’m bothered. It’s slimey gamesmanship in a game of honor.

      To ask the consumer to either look behind the veil and be cool with it, or don’t look in the first place but still fork over 500 bucks or more, is insulting. The golf industry is eating its young.

  5. J C

    Jul 1, 2013 at 1:32 am

    I HAVE THE LONGEST DRIVER IN GOLF, IT’S SHAFT IS 48 INCHES.

  6. Double Mocha Man

    Jun 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I have the longest driver in golf.

    I read all the hype, didn’t believe it. Tried it twice over the course of two different demo days. Bought it.

    Set out to play all my favorite courses from my usual tees. Gained 15 to 20 yards with no swing changes. It’s the only driver I’ve ever bought that was true to its word.

    I’ve had it almost 3 years and constantly compare it to other brands at different demo days. This driver is still in my bag.

  7. naflack

    Jun 30, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    very informative, not very surprising information.
    another validation for my mute button usage during the golf coverage commercials.

  8. Jason

    Jun 30, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Mellow out bro……it’s just golf. I don’t understand why people get worked into a lather about things like this. What I really don’t get is why people care so much about getting tour issue TaylorMade equipment. So your R1 isn’t the same as Dustin Johnson’s…..who cares? 99.9% of the world wouldn’t benefit from his driver. But good news! You can buy tour issue equipment from some dude on the Internet and guess what, he can fit you for a shaft also!!!! All over the phone!!!! For $1500.00 you can have Dustin Johnson’s driver! You obviously only watch golf commercials on tv, but guess what there are many other industries which bend the truth in their commercials.

  9. Chris b

    Jun 30, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Hands down one of the most informative golf articles I’ve ever written. Neatly and accurately sums up a lot of the informative threads floating around, every golfer should read this. This article is WHAT WRX is about. Hats off to Mr Nickel

  10. Edward Brumby

    Jun 30, 2013 at 6:39 am

    While your have written an excellent article that makes many good points, if we are going to be assigning blame isn’t it fair to look also to the major golf magazines. Both test a lot of product, but they disguise the results of their testing with vague phrases rather than raw numbers or a more exact ranking. Plus Golf Digest includes expected demand as a criteria for giving out their “Gold” award. This means a better performing club from a small manufacturer may be ranked below a club from a big manufacturer. Isn’t this just a reward for advertising? So I give the golf magazines three stars in the blame game.

    • chris

      Jul 2, 2013 at 9:52 pm

      Right on the button edward

      • downtoo

        Jul 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm

        Great article, thanks for taking the time to go into such detail. Basic marketing teaches companies to sell the sizzle not the steak. Shame on us as consumers for falling prey to OEMs and their age old ruse.

    • Ken

      Jul 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      I have been an on and off golfer for 50 years. I have been a fanatical skier for 35 of those 50 years. Both are sports that use equipment where the pro version is radically different than the public version. The way to hold OEM’s feet to the fire is to develop hard core measurement methods and publishing the results. Defined parameters would not be as pretty but they sure would be a lot more informative.
      Example: Take golf shafts and measure the deflection and rebound with actual weights. Measure how much the shaft bends and publish the information. Soft shafts will bend more than stiff shafts. Use the swing robot to measure how far the golf club hits the golf ball. Use different golf balls with a single golf club to measure how far golf balls go. Use tests that can be verified over and over again. Will there be unaccountable differences in some cases? Absolutely becuase there are different quality control issues.

      Lets get out of the imagination world and get into the reality world.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: The best drill in golf (throwing the club)

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If you are struggling with weight shift, clearing your hips, or have issues freeing up your golf swing, then what you want to do is start chucking that golf club. No joke! In this podcast, we will explain how to properly throw the golf club from a safe area and the results will be absolutely transformational.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: A New No. 1 – How Justin Thomas overcame a poor putting performance

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In the final tuneup before the PGA Championship in San Francisco, many of the world’s best teed it up at Memphis’ TPC Southwind in the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The final day showcased a stacked leaderboard and plenty of volatility, but in the end, it was Justin Thomas who came from four back to win for the third time this year. This was a quick bounceback after a letdown at The Memorial just a few weeks ago. Winning on the PGA Tour certainly takes stellar play and, typically, a little luck like Thomas’ pulled drive on 15 that skirted off a cart path, over a bridge and into prime position for a late birdie. Had that tee ball found the hazard instead, this article would likely be about Brooks Koepka and his late charge.

Golf is a game of misses and taking advantage of good breaks. That is not to take away from JT’s week of stellar ball striking. He finished the week first in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and second in Strokes Gained Approach. That’s no surprise for the new number one in the world. What is surprising is how poorly Thomas putted throughout the week. It is extremely rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes to the field with the putter, but that is exactly what Thomas did.

In Ways to Win, it is rare that we highlight Short Game as a differentiating factor for winners. That is typically because to excel in the short game, one has to miss quite a few greens. When you miss greens, it’s hard to score. However, Justin Thomas was able to consistently get himself out of difficult situations, minimize damage, and turn bogeys into pars throughout his four rounds.

If you want to be an elite player, you can’t do it with your short game alone. It sure comes in handy on those off days, though. Just how good was Thomas’ short game? He finished fourth for the week in Strokes Gained Around the Green and got up and down inside 75 yards more than 80 percent of the time (including several clutch up and downs late on Sunday). His touch was particularly crucial, given that his putter wasn’t really cooperating.

Again, it is very rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes with the flatstick. Typically the winner is the best putter out of the best ball strikers, but not so this week. Thomas only three-putted twice for the week. However, he lost strokes to the field from three out of nine distance buckets that we analyzed using V1 Game’s putting breakdown.

In four other buckets, he was almost “net zero” in strokes gained with the putter. He only gained strokes with the putter from inside six feet. Making short putts is certainly a big key to golfing success. That is why short misses are highlighted in V1 Game’s post-round analysis: missing short putts is a quick way to compound errors. Thomas is not an elite putter by any means, but he is typically solid in the clutch.

V1 Game makes it easy to keep track of personal bests and track progress in a tournament. Any stat that the PGA Tour gives can be recreated with V1 Game. Here are some quick stats for Thomas’ week using V1 Game’s Personal Bests feature:

Total Score: 267
Best Round: 65
Worst Round: 70
Longest Drive: 347 yds
Longest Holeout: 28 ft
Most consecutive holes without a bogey: 24
Scrambling Streak: 9 in a row
Holes without a 3 putt: 20
Most birdies in a round: 6

Thomas certainly played well when it mattered, resisting the urge to look at a scoreboard throughout the final round and focusing on the job at hand. His patience paid off with his 13th victory in a young career. Short game play is a fantastic equalizer and a great tool for any golfer’s bag. However, Thomas really separates himself with ball striking.

The best way to improve your short game is to miss fewer greens, like JT. For most amateurs, short game practice should focus on eliminating mistakes, such as “two-chips” when you do miss the green. Once you can consistently get on the green and have a putt to get up and down, focus should shift to the long game. Tee to Green play is where the game’s best separate themselves from the weekend warriors.

V1 Game can help you with each of these items.

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking Kirkland wedge, LPGA Tour, and teased irons from TaylorMade & Mizuno

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In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the recently discovered Kirkland Signature wedges on the USGA Conforming list, as well as what recently spotted TaylorMade and Mizuno irons may have in store
Also with the LPGA Tour back in action, Ryan also discussed why it is a good idea to check out how LPGA players gap their bags compared to players on the PGA Tour.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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