Well, truth be told this goes on with many consumer products but is often more rampant with newer and “hot” products where the public still doesn’t know what to expect!
As an example, if a new cell phone manufacturer told you their phone will still be state-of-the-art 5 years into the future and takes better pictures than even the finest DSLR, you’d probably be suspect – because likely you have some idea of what smartphones do and how quickly the technology moves.
But if a drone maker told you their drone was the last one you’d ever have to buy or that it was going to be better in 100 ways than ANY existing product, you may not know they are misleading you.
This, in fact, is our reason for existence here at Droneflyers.com – consumer education and consumer advocates. We were among the first to publish stories like these:
Why don’t you see any negative reviews on drones?
Crowdfunded and Pre-order Quadcopters and Drones update
We also are not shy about telling our customers which models to avoid, which are the best and which may be somewhere in-between and yet fit for particular uses. Hey, someone has to do it!
Frankly, it’s a tough job going up against millions of dollars of advertising and marketing money – as well as thousands of individuals and corporations with “agendas” that want to steer you toward their particular product and/or service. We can’t do this alone – we rely on YOU, the educated and logical consumer, to do your part to make certain you don’t get taken advantage of. Here are some hints and tips which will help you suss out the various schemes used by sellers of the new drone “snake oil”.
First – a few words about Quadcopter and Drones reviews online – don’t believe most of them! There are a number of tricks that sellers use to get the reviews working in their favor…..look carefully for these….
1. The “non-review” review. This is perhaps the biggest scam going. Media outlets, even big ones, are always looking for free content (writing, stories) for their web sites. Manufacturers will gladly provide these stories – even in a form that looks like a review! But read carefully and you will see that many of them are released before the particular drones hit the market – and often the reviewer doesn’t either fly the drone nor write the review – it’s just “stock” text given to them by the maker. Since examples are better than long explanations, here are some:
Plexi-Drone Review at DroneShift – PLexi-Drone does not exist and in our opinion never will. So how can a site have written a nice review on long ago? We report – you decide.
3DR Solo Pre-launch “Review” on C-Net – This is one of thousands of similar stories that are all over the web. The one similarity is that none of them are actual reviews and they were all produced long before the first Solo came off the assembly line. In this case it turned out that the Solo drone, when it actually hit the streets, was not only deficient in terms of these claims – but in our opinion not even up to a minimum standard for consumer electronics.
2. The “Bought and Paid for Review” – many drone makers and sellers will send out free models to hobbyists and bloggers for their review. We have a number of companies which constantly contact us insisting that we tell them which models (from their extensive inventory) that we desire. It goes without saying that if we accept these “gifts”, we need to:
a. write a review – and fairly quickly (or they will be asking about i)
b. rate the drone highly – if we want more product out the seller this would be a good idea!
Those things aside – who can deny that people have better feelings towards others who GIVE THEM STUFF. This is the very reason that serious consumer advocates (Consumer Reports, etc.) buy their models over the counter. This way they are not beholden to the maker and not provided with a “specially tuned and checked” model.
3. The “Billions are at Stake Reviews” – Companies with large marketing budgets and serious intentions in the worldwide drone market have connections to thousands of important people. Consider the thousands of people who are either employed by a drone company or tied in with Venture Capital money, have stock options, are suppliers, partners, retailer (resellers) etc.
You can bet that many of these people spend a lot of time online promoting (social media, etc.) the companies that they have relationships with. In our online work we have sussed out many of them…
The key here is that in most cases these parties DO NOT IDENTIFY THEMSELVES OR THEIR AFFILIATION.
————–this is a line—–for a reason—-read on………
4. The “I Am Rewarded” Reviews – We (Droneflyers.com) make a small commission when our readers follow links from our site and buy something – these are called affiliate programs. We also make some money from advertisements on our site. The same is true for thousands of other web sites and even individuals. As one example of this – industry leader DJI will often credit very active forum members (helpful to others) with small amounts of DJI credit. They also have various “sell to your friends or readers” types of programs which obviously can drive both sales and general good feelings toward the product and/or company.
Note – we make our affiliate commissions whether you buy a unit we review favorably – or unfavorably. In addition, just about every major company and retailer have these “affiliate” programs – so if we didn’t use Amazon affiliates we could use B&H Photo (or both). Since they both sell dozens of models of drones, the consumer has the final choice – and, of course, we fully disclose our participation in such programs.
Now – about that line above – I suspect we each have slightly different outlooks on ethics and morality, but there is a line somewhere. In fact, the line is fairly clear according to both the FTC (Federal Trade Commision) as well as many states Attorney Generals.
To keep it short I will mention some basic guidelines and link to some pages which explain in more depth.
“the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service”
Fake Amazon and Similar Reviews
Various states as well as Amazon.com have recently sued individuals and corporations for fraud. Marketers know that good Amazon reviews mean a LOT, so the temptation to abuse the systems is always present. In the future AI (artificial intelligence) will probably fix a lot of these problems but until then the key is “don’t trust yourself”. Researchers have found that humans are usually too easily swayed – but if you apply some smarts you can probably get some idea of what is going on.
Let’s start with some quickie hints as well as a couple good article links:
1. NEVER trust reviews on any web site other than Amazon (and not even Amazon unless you apply the logic detailed below) – this means don’t pay attention to BestBuy and similar sites and ESPECIALLY don’t put any stock in reviews on manufacturers sites! Tests have been done proving that negative reviews are often discarded and many of the positive ones are either made up or selectively imported from other sources (like BestBuy!).
2. Be wary of small numbers – Any well known product on Amazon should have 100’s of reviews. If it has less it’s hard to put stock in them since the overall rating can be thrown off by fakes, duplicates and other means. As a couple examples, a manufacturer could ask that the reviewers they send the free units out to place a review on Amazon. Another maker might maintain an email list of only their “very happy” customers and send out an email selectively asking them to post reviews on Amazon.
3. Check the dates – One drone model had about 50 reviews over 6 months – but 6 or more of them were in a two day period and all of those were 5 star. If you have even the slightest aptitude for statistics you will note that something smells fishy. In a normal distribution of reviews such as that, there would be days in-between each one and they would likely run the gamut from 1 star to 5 star. “Clusters” are always suspect.
4. Too high or too low – This relates to #2 above in that larger numbers of reviews should almost always fall somewhere in the middle.
Example: An iphone 6 (64GB) would be know worldwide as a quality product from a leading brand. Yet the average Amazon review is 4.3 – which is about as good as it gets! Imagine my surprise when I found one drone makers site where their own (in-house) posted reviews averaged 4.8 to 4.9 – and this is with a product that has some known shortcomings. It’s statistically impossible….
5. Five Stars for that? – I read one short 5 star review where the person mentioned they were on their 4th product having returned the first three due to defects! Others have mentioned they’ve had the product for a week and still don’t have any actual work (photos, videos) done with it.
These hints and others are also detailed in the two article above. Reviews which are short or “too good to be true” are always suspect. “This thing is awesome and worth every penny – buy it” is often a fake as if “I put this in the hands of my brother/sister/son/father and he flew it perfectly first time”. Many reviews seem as if they have ad copy that comes straight from the marketing departments of the manufacturers. Even satisfied customers often post only 4 stars along with realistic comments.
5. Habla English? – Many of the paid fake reviews come from places other than the US or UK. I’ve noticed a number of drone reviews which have text such as this:
“this drone is made for non experienced pilots. Flying the helicopter on battlefield is more difficult.”
Another said “this thing is great – use for fun or business” – and, lo and behold, a couple more reviews in on the same machine had very similar wording! It’s as if the “fake review farms” were all seeded with the same talking point. I do realize that not everyone is a native English speaker but these strangely worded reviews are ALL 5 star and very short, which makes them suspicious.
One company, Onagofly, appears to be hiring people all around the world to SPAM drone forums with posts that are ads/reviews for their toy drone. We have had to spend a lot of time and money cleaning up our own forums from such posts and users. Marketing of this type is a sure sign that the company is probably selling Snake Oil. After all, superior products sell themselves…and top notch companies don’t need to hire spammers to get their messages out.
6. Shooting the Messenger – this one is a dead giveaway! If the positive reviewers expend a lot of comments refuting the negative reviews, then you can be sure something fishy is going on. Sure, you might see a few here and there – but if rabid fans of a product just won’t let other reviews speak for themselves, you can be fairly certain that everything is not on the up and up.
Anyone without a tie-in to the product or industry wouldn’t care if someone else had a negative experience – it certainly doesn’t affect their own experience, right! Some people like chocolate ice cream, other vanilla…
Probably worst of all is the direct posting of reviews by the manufacturers and employees/contractors – always, of course, 5 star. This is so pervasive that I recently found one manufacturer posting Amazon reviews under their real names – those of top marketing people in the particular company! You have to consider that such actions are most likely the normal state of affairs – because top level employees would not stake their jobs on posting such reviews unless it was OK (or perceived to be) by their superiors.
No consumer can expect to spend the time and energy that we do checking on these reviews and relationships – which is why we wrote this article and caution you to be skeptical. Read between the lines. Consider all reviews to be suspect until they prove – by the writing and content – to be real.
It’s a jungle out there and we hope the above will help you blaze a path without being snake bit!