Drone Coalition, with the byline of “The World’s Drone Experts”, was formed to published unbiased information from industry writers. This is a lofty goal worthy of praise – because, in fact, the vast majority of the information the pubic is exposed to on drones is misleading or, at best, ill informed. Any booming new industry is bound to be both misunderstood and also exploited and, sady, the aerial robotics field has become the new home of many of the same types who promoted swampland in Florida, Penny stocks and second mortgages at double the actual value of your home!
So how are consumers, investors, the public and even the media to sort out all the claims?
Certainly with a skeptical eye…a view which understands that millions in marketing dollars are being spent in order to get you to purchase drones. In fact, large sums are being spent to make you send money in advance for drones which may never exist! This is done through the magic of CG (Computer Graphics) which often show the non-existent drone performing Superhuman feats.
The good news is this – readers of Drone Coalition have a distinct advantage in that they’ve already proven themselves to be smarter than the average bear. Furthermore, this article – and especially the summary – will give those who want unbiased information and reviews some tips on avoiding the cheerleading and snake oil which currently pervades this pursuit.
Understanding the Issue
I could tell endless stories about these same tendencies in other fields – for example, I was in the heating equipment business for over 20 years and saw tens of thousands of customers buy things which were not suited to their use. Marketing and sales efforts were more prevalent than neutral and accurate information. A good part of my career was, and still is, spent in dispelling the myths and educating consumers about the realities of such products.
Open a boating magazine and you are VERY unlikely to find negative reviews about boats. The same goes for a lot of other items – and the reason is usually very clear…conflict of interest. Boat magazines make their money from the very same manufacturers whose boats they review. It’s not a stretch to say that a negative review could lead directly to lost revenues and profits. This is the exact reason why Consumer Reports operates as a nonprofit and accepts no advertising. It’s the only way you can even attempt to be neutral…but there is more! Not only does a review have to be neutral, but it also has to be accurate. Consumer Reports has millions of dollars in lab equipment which they use to actually measure quality, longevity and other metrics.
In addition to the obvious conflicts of interest, other human foibles enter into the mix.
1. Media Laziness
2. The $800 Turkey Theory
3. The “seems fine to me” review or approach
4. Media Laziness – Wine, Dine and Giveaways
Most modern media companies are looking for content – as quickly and inexpensively as they can find it. They make income based on readership, not on honesty or being thorough. Drone companies are going all-out on marketing and PR to tech-industry publications. They are providing private events where they feed you and let you have the first flights of their new drones – all very tightly controlled. They make certain to hand you all the talking points and most technology sites simply reprint them with a couple lines added like “this is really cool”. Many times, a free drone is sent to these publications for review – and, worse yet, the reviewer is often someone who knows plenty about smartphones and stereo headphones – but NOTHING about quadcopters .
I have seen thousands of these reprinted PR releases on the web – and at the same time be unable to find a single negative review – even when the particular models are known for problems and defects – or, worse yet, don’t even exist at the time of the review. As an example, a google search on Plexidrone – a crowdfunded model which does not, and likely will never, exist – brings up these headlines:
- PlexiDrone is a highly portable quadcopter for budding aerial photographers – (engadget)
- PlexiDrone is an Ultra-Portable Modular Drone That Makes Aerial Photography a Snap – (petapixel)
- PlexiDrone is modular, customizable, and cool – (SlashGear)
- ULTRA-PORTABLE PLEXIDRONE TAKES AERIAL PRODUCTION TO NEW HEIGHTS – (videomaker)
These headlines all refer to a drone that does not exist – not even in prototype form. In addition, the company has collected millions of dollars from their backers and continues to miss any of their own self-imposed deadlines on delivery. As mentioned previously, it is unlikely that this model will ever exist – which means many backers will never see their money or their drone. The Media is complicit in these matters since they often parrot other media or press releases without any basic research. Our site, Droneflyers.com, has never written or reprinted PR in this fashion – simply because it would be unfair and misleading to our readers.
The $800 “Turkey”
I have seen this over and over again in my former businesses (wood stoves, alternative energy) and it is truly amazing to watch. Some of the worst products in history have risen to the top of the heap because of a chain of events put in motion by deceptive advertising and marketing. Here is the typical scenario:
A company will come along and market a product VERY well. They spend much more on promotion than they do on the product itself, resulting in strong initial sales. The first crop of owners use the product, and may find it deficient (or they may not know better!) and, wanting everyone else to be in the same boat, tell their neighbors and friends that the new (wood or pellet) stove heats to the very end of their large house and burns for 14 hours on two pieces of firewood. They talk both themselves and others into buying the same model – everyone joins the club, and the chain moves on. This is the newer version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, an ancient fable that every consumer and citizen should read again. To make the long story short, people tend to believe “experts” and others with sales and marketing ability, while even a child could see that the Emperor was taken for a ride by his new clothier (he was naked.)
The “Seems Fine to Me” effect
A number of reviews by long time experts and R/C hobbyists mention how easy a product is to configure, to learn or to fly. However, when I go a bit further – such as trying one myself – I see that it is only easy for them because they have YEARS of knowledge and experience, making a difficult task seem quite easy! The reviewers consider it normal for them to hack, solder, balance and otherwise modify their new drone until it works. Newer drone buyers, however, expect their new models to work without all of this persuasion.
There are, of course, many levels of each of the above scenarios – conflict of interest may fall on a scale from honest cheerleaders to plain laziness to outright frauds and fakes. The $800 Turkey may only be 1/2 a turkey or it may be a total dud. The expert who makes everything looks easy is giving his honest opinion. However, the end result is the same. The consumer, especially the millions now considering taking up this hobby, often end up disappointed or steered in the wrong direction.
No one wants to be the spoilsport and publish a bad review. But the consumer – and, in the end, the industry – loses without honest appraisal of the facts.
It’s easier to define a problem than to solve it.
However, as a Drone Coalition reader you have a resource that few others do – the ability to not only read unbiased and informed content, but also to directly communicate with these experts. This can be done through the Facebook comments here or any of the other various social media platforms. Many of us even publish our email addresses – so don’t be shy. Ask Eric, Jeff, Gretchen, Kerry or any of the others your pressing questions – and you will get honest answers based on real world experience.