Monday, August 24, 2009

More Than Just Socks

I was looking for a new pair of socks on Wiggle and clicked on the 'Nike elite run cushion socks' and read this description of their properties:
Enhanced Stability-Nike Sensory Enhancement Technology heightens awareness of foot to help pronation and promote neutral landings

"Nooooo" I cried "you are socks, you cannot do these things. You cannot heighten my awarenes of my own foot. This is gobbledegook! How can I buy something that makes such a ludicrous claim?" So I clicked through to the 'Bridgedale X-Hale Speed Demon Socks' only to see:
The hard-working feet of distance runners taught Bridgedale how to create a sock that offers the best of two worlds: the feel of an ultralight, rapid-drying synthetic sock and the cushioned comfort of a Merino wool sock.

Hard-working feet taught?!

I must stop this and get a grip. I must not worry about the way marketing people fulfil the rquirements of their job by talking nonsense. It is what they do and I am only buying socks. It really shouldn't be complicated. But it is.

This is because everything concerned with running is sold on its technical properties and the promise of superior performance yet there is not one of those claims we can test in any meaningful way. Only a textile scientist can judge the comparative virtues of the different materials used by the different manufacturers. The rest have trust that at least some of the claims are true and that products from trusted manufacturers will do their job. Then we somehow make a choice.

I have no idea how I make purchasing decisions. I am pretty random and perhaps more influenced by image and style than I would like to admit. Am I influenced by the performance claims? - Probably quite a lot. But am I put-off by inflated claims and stupidisms? - Almost certainly.

P.S. As a complete aside (but related to the use of language). I recently listened to someone talking about the disappearance of the Russian cargo ship after it had passed through the English Channel saying that it might represent a modification of the pirate business model.

"Pirate business model!!" I spluttered "They are PIRATES" I then remembered a comedy sketch from the 1990s, from the Million Pound Radio Show, about pirate training days. You can listen to it here if you want


Anonymous said...

I thought this was a really funny and insightful post. I work in a marketing department of the sports company ASICS and I'm involved in the process of creating product descriptions.
In fact, creation may be the wrong word- it's more about keeping in what's already there and weeding out useless information that won't help runners choose a item.
Part of what makes making really useful product description challenging is trying to achieve the following two things.

1) Communicate the fact that we've actually got textile researchers at our Institute of Sport Science in Japan that have worked really hard at making great running socks. There are reasons for every detail in our products, so we try do the work of our scientists justice and communicate what they have done to make a better product for runners. We don't "listen" to feet, we have scientific theories on foot motion, heat, friction and most importantly people wear socks and tell us what they are like and then we go back and make improvements. It's a iterative process aimed at continuous improvement, in Japanese it's referred to as Kaizen.

2) We aim to make the descriptions useful and simple for people to decide easily if this is the right product for them. This is quite important for ASICS in the running areas as one product may be great for one person and not for the next, so ultimately all choices are up to you. But we know that a sock is a sock- important for comfortable running, but it's still as you say-just a sock.

So, for next season, I've printed out your post and will keep it in mind hopefully our research team in Japan will have designed some nice new socks and our feet won't have to say anything on the subject :)

Just to show you the fruits of our efforts so far here is the page for the socks I run in:

Adele said...

Hmmmm socks. I have always worn just simple cotton socks, thin ones with no fancy bits, just those very cheap 'trainer socks'. A friend gave me some Hilly running socks for Christmas and my feet said: 'oooooh!' They just felt right. I have tried running socks before but found them too bulky and restrictive but these Hilly ones felt good. I have now worn them to death though and they have holes in and have gone a fetching shade of murk.

I did try some compression socks for the London Marathon and they were great too (can't remember the brand) but they really did 'breathe' - my legs and feet felt cool even on that swelteringly hot day.

Interesting what s.m.i.a.s.b has to say...

irunbecauseilovefood said...

Being one of those "marketing people", I found your post very funny! It comes down to a need for manufacturers to differentiate your product from all of those others on the market that appear to be doing the same job. I work in IT PR, and it's bad enough there, but I hate to think how you go about differentiating socks...

The whole thing reminds me of that Gaping Void cartoon: "If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they'd punch you in the face."