Asus launched a marketing campaign to encourage its users to post user reviews, calling it “Rate your Gear”. The company’s page requires submissions to be posted in some of the leading Indian PC component and peripheral sellers. This is limited to Amazon, Flipkart and MD Computers. Encouraging users to put up user reviews is nothing new, rather welcomed. But when it is incentivised, the nature changes. It is promotional material. But it uses its uses to do the job for them.
No matter how you gift wrap it, it is not a review. It is a promotional material without saying it. It does raise concern as such practice slips through most people unless somebody says what’s wrong with it. This practice needs to be scrutinized, discussed and frowned upon for many reasons.
How does it work?
The ‘Rate your gear’ contest applies for a wide range of Asus hardware and peripherals. What’s fascinating is a set of specific rules that imply its intent. There are some rules and regulations about the structure of its review and what it should reflect. Asus specifically states the following:
- Describe the features of your ASUS product
- Identify what’s satisfactory about your ASUS product, and what could be better
- Explain why you chose this ASUS product over other products
- Explore how the ASUS product has performed in relation to your expectations
List of qualifying products
It has a requirement of posting in Amazon India, Flipkart and MD Computers, a major PC components retailer based in Kolkata. Asus also requires you to post in social media under its hashtags “#asus #review #rateyourgear”.
The product range is very extensive, and the prizes are eye-catching. The more product range that qualifies for this contest, the more clout it can gather to post reviews which will be read by interested buyers who don’t know the intent behind those reviews.
Differences between the contest in India and the United States
Interestingly, the US version of this contest does not include this requirement:
Maybe in the United States, there is a law/regulation surrounding social media influencing. It will require them to use #ad or #advertisement. According to the FTC’s guidelines, people have to make disclosures if there is an incentive. In one of its notes, it says:
This isn’t the first time the FTC has challenged deceptive reviews, endorsements, or testimonials. There are at least three ways that posting customer reviews can go off the rails:
1) if the reviews don’t reflect the actual experience of the reviewers;
2) if there is an undisclosed material connection between the reviewer and advertiser – for example, if the reviewer is an employee, friend, or family member; and
3) if the advertiser fabricates reviews from whole cloth.
Visit the FTC’s Endorsements, Influencers, and Reviews page for compliance resources. The FTC’s guidelines explain each of its guidelines with multiple scenarios.
India has a body that regulates advertisements in India- print, TV and online. They have been proactive in many various situations, including social media promotion. Based on what’s seen, it works on a case to case basis.
The question of verifying user reviews from genuine buyers
The contest requires verified purchase, which Amazon and Flipkart show ‘verified users’. While we all can appreciate that being a mandatory rule, MD Computers doesn’t have that function. That’s the second question I asked MD Computers.
How is ‘MD Computers’ handling it?
That makes the two of us:
As of yesterday, MD Computers is advertising the Rate your Gear contest on its front page, indicating a partnership between Asus and a retailer (MD Computers). Unlike Amazon and Flipkart, MD Computers is a major independently operated business exclusively for PC hardware components in Kolkata. But they do not have any policy for review submissions. I asked some questions and we haven’t received any response before the time of publishing.
Breaking Amazon’s user review guidelines
Note that it breaks Amazon’s guidelines also applicable in the United States:
- Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively
- Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
- Reviews are written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package
- Solicitations for helpful votes
Breaking Flipkart’s user review guidelines
Flipkart did a post about “fake reviews” but it also mentioned reviews in exchange for an incentive (or the opportunity to gain an incentive):
Some sellers and publishers have a financial incentive (read profit motive) to boost their own ratings or to knock their competitors’ rating. To address this issue, Flipkart has a dedicated team that examines certain parameters to identify fake reviews and rating. How? By identifying five types of fraudulent engagement:
- Detecting sellers that pose as buyers on the platform and boost ratings and reviews of their own products
- Identifying competing sellers posing as buyers and posting fraudulent reviews on the rival’s product page
- Sellers that pose as buyers and boost their own seller ratings and reviews
- Sellers that pose as buyers and try to pull down their competition by posting negative seller ratings and negative reviews
- Third-party vendors hired by sellers to write reviews that boost their product ratings and reviews
Flipkart also said the below which explains why this contest is not good in the larger interest of consumers:
Buyers are less likely to trust a marketplace when highly-rated products do not meet their expectations — and trust is everything in this business. Our data proves that products with a low rating sell less than those that are rated higher. Unethical sellers and their accomplices hope to gain financially by tampering with seller and product ratings and reviews. Flipkart cracks down on this kind of fraud seriously to maintain a high level of credibility and consumer trust.
Amazon and Flipkart’s response
Both Flipkart and Amazon are not advertising this on their website at the time of writing. An email was sent to ask for any clarifications.
But what about us as enthusiasts, reviewers and others?
Why user reviews are sacred- and should be kept that way
User Reviews are a boon to many users irrespective of their knowledge. Even if some post exotically worded reviews for the memes, they help many ways review websites couldn’t. Despite review websites giving the information you need, certain issues can only come into light when the information is crowdsourced. We’ve seen user reviews highlight batch issues, service issue, defects, certain incompatible issues and even products with switch-and-bait practices. One of the well-known deeds was when the switch-and-bait practice with NAND chips by two SSD companies. This problem was identified based on the finding by its customers. The recent similarity is WD Red which may see a class-action lawsuit. The pros outweigh the cons assuming it is not incentivised and/or financially motivated. Reviews should not be misused as a marketing/ advertisement material. This is exactly why there’s a tone-deaf voice between enthusiast space and marketing materials.
The domino effect of ‘incentivised’ reviews
A review is when you post about a product or service based on your findings and experience. This endorsement is no less than an advertisement.
If a review becomes a marketing tool with no disclosures, one will doubt its intent to be genuine. It wasn’t too long ago I posted a bad actor, even though it was an ‘open industry secret’. Quoting the words from the ASCI, “You have the right to honest, safe, decent and fair advertisements. If you let go off your rights you may find yourself to be a puppet to misleading claims.”.
The minimum requirement for the ‘User Review’
It is natural for people to overexaggerate or even lie in the hopes to win something. Such people usually say ‘what could possibly go wrong?’. This also a mindset in blogging communities run by promotional agencies who ran ‘contests’ for its clients. Without disclosures, you as a consumer will get influenced by an influx of such reviews.
Asus specifically says how its participants should write a qualifying review:
- Minimum of five sentences or one video
- Minimum of four images or maximum three-minute video
- Product-related and include all the relevant hashtags: #asus #review #rateyourgear
With the influx of glowing reviews, you get the impression it is a good product. Asus did say you do not have to give high ratings. But it does not require participants to make disclosures to indicate the purpose of the ‘user review’. No amount of wordplay can cover that.
“The Flooding” effect on eCommerce websites on search results
Floods of incentivised review users from ‘Rate my Gear’ contest will affect “sort by” display in eCommerce sites. Two of those are ‘Popularity’ and ‘Average user reviews’ sorting options. In MD Computers’ website, it lists rating (highest) and rating (lowest). Naturally, the incentive motivated reviews will climb the respective products up the ladders of the respective category and sorting option. We all use these sort by options to see which one is popular. Out of the popular ones, which of them have the best average ratings.
This also affects search engine ratings, which I am curious to know if its an idea from an SEO consultant. Search engines aggregate from the site’s schema and display results accordingly. Just like internal search results, the flow of information by artificially signal-boosting it.
“The Flooding” effect on social media
I never really understood the need to have social media tags for promotions, even for ‘Rate your Gear’ type promotions. It is not a new practice, just that it has no usefulness in the real world. It is also not nice to take common hashtags for promotions that people use generally. Its also something that the Indian domain’s page has it, but the American one doesn’t. You be the judge!
For the sake of argument, let us assume all these products are great. So you have to ask the question to Asus- Why? Why the need to signal boost as a ‘Rate your Gear’ contest? Why not have user to mention this submission is a part of a promotional contest? And why do they think it is alright? I don’t see a problem encouraging people to post user reviews. As a contest? It is a grey area since its purpose is always in question. The wordplay used between rules, lack of disclosures, etc. leaves a certain distaste on enthusiasts.
The issue is that some people in the enthusiast base have kept eroding platforms meant to inform, educate and advise. Some bloggers, sponsored streamers, etc. have done the same. Enthusiasts who know them give them a pass. It is worse when a platform is given on a silver plate. Many claim it is ‘for the good of the community” when it is the opposite. The enthusiast space needs to start safeguarding itself. Or else we’ll end up living the wise words from the ASCI. Today, its company A that’s running a ‘Rate your Gear’ contest to influence search results in its favour. Tomorrow, somebody else will and they’ll get bolder every time it is allowed to pass.