Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When celebrities endorse crap

Some time ago I went away for a weekend of tennis. It was one of those adult camps with hours and hours of instruction and a lot of fun, drunken socializing after hours. You know the drill. That was the weekend I had the encounter with the tennis gigolo and wrote about it. Another thing that happened that weekend is that I bought a racket because Steffi Graf endorsed it. The racket turned out to be complete crap.

Like most of my adventures, this one also started innocently. We had some down time between sessions and I elected to take a private lesson with one of the pros. She was playing with a Head Three Star and kept urging me to try it as well. I followed her advice and ended up buying the worst piece of crap racket I have ever wasted my money on.

Let me digress by saying that I think that being a psychologist in private practice can make one quite gullible. Not that you can sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, I’m not that foolish. But having spent years taking people’s hard-earned money and trying sincerely to help them in return, I have lost some of the immediate ability to detect lies. Or maybe it’s not that I’ve lost it so much as I don’t go looking for it.

I have friends who work at VA centers and they tell me that they spend half their days playing detective. Does this patient really have PTSD or is he just malingering? Did this patient really get injured by an IED or is she trying to feign a mild traumatic brain injury for assumed financial benefit? I have, for most of my career, had the luxury of not having to worry about such things. Surely an individual handing over her hard-earned cash would have better things to do than turn around and tell me a pack of lies.

As a result, I find that I tend for the most part to see the good in people. Or maybe I’m just a trusting fool. So when a professional coach tells me that the racket she is playing with is the best thing brought out by Head in years, my inclination is to believe her. And when I then find out that no less than my adored Steffi Graf had lent her name to this product, well the word ‘sucker” probably appeared as stigmata on my forehead.

My next error was the decision to demo both the Head Three Star as well as the Five Star within the same session. Big mistake. If you’re going to test a racket, you need to dedicate more than a portion of an hour to trying it out. It takes at least an entire weekend of playing tennis to be able to try out every single one of your shots, do some serving, and actually play some games. In fact, ideally, you should focus your attention on only one racket for a significant period of time, before moving on to trying another. It was stupid of me to demo two new rackets within the space of an hour. And it was silly of me to allow a brand new coach who knew nothing about my game to influence my decision-making.

I realize in hindsight that part of the problem is that I am accustomed to people coming to me for my expertise. I foolishly assume that the world is full of professionals like me – people who are genuinely well-intentioned and tailor make their interventions to suit the specific client. The truth is that the world is also filled with liars and cheats, and people who work at Adult Tennis Camps and whose job it is to promote product lines – never mind if such products happen to be utter crap.

But I don’t want to blame the poor coach too much. She was probably as much a victim of manipulation as I was. Mainly I blame Steffi Graf. How could she endorse such a piece of crap? How could she lend her name to such an unworthy product?

Like I said, I was genuinely confused about which of these two rackets to buy and went back and forth between the Five Star and the Three Star. I flipped back and forth for the entire lesson. And then I asked the coach to tell me what she thought. And this is how I came to own a Head Three Star.

It is a piece of crap. It’s like playing tennis with a trampoline. The ball goes flying off the racket at the slightest touch. I’ve never hit balls more wildly. The racket is so bad that I wouldn’t even donate it to Goodwill for some impoverished kid to play with. It needs to be tossed into the nearest landfill.

Mind you, I have always purchased Head rackets, starting with an old odd-shaped graphite number. Do you remember when the faces of Head rackets were shaped like pears? That’s how long I have supported this brand. I am a die-hard Head supporter. Sure I’ve bought the odd Wilson (Hammer). And I tried a Yonex for a minute because of Hingis. I hated it and went happily back to Head.

So I guess I’ve long been susceptible to trying out the rackets favored by the players whose games I want to emulate. I figure that if they can do the things they do with the same product, well then maybe I have a shot at emulating their game. But the stark truth is that no pro player actually plays with the identical racket that you and I find at the store. It may have the same brand name but it is not the same racket. Most successful pros get rackets that are specially customized for their game. Andre Agassi admits in his memoir that he once played with a racket that was deliberately painted to look like the brand he was supposed to be promoting. It’s all a giant con and we the unsuspecting consumers are the victims. And Steffi girl, you owe me big.
Jun 30, 2010 - Hamburg, Germany - Tennis legend STEFFI GRAF attends the REXONA Charity-Tennis Tournament held at Unilever Haus in Hamburg. Donations begin to ''Children For Tomorrow'' to property a charitable organisation founded by Steffi Graf which is involved in children in crisis areas and, above all, war zones.

1 comment:

happygeek said...

Celebrities' endorsements are most likely to be as genuine as a fit, muscular man shown munching down some candy that he probably never eats...heh heh...

I believe product manufacturers who sponsor athletes design their racket or other equipment specifically after studying the person and carrying out tests in a wind tunnel or gym or something. You could never buy the exact thing in a store because it wouldn't be available. It does make it a kind of con advertising.