Written By: Tony Covey

TaylorMade had a pretty good week. TaylorMade/Ashworth Staffer Justin Rose just won the US Open, but you knew that already.

From the narrow perspective of the golf equipment world, Rose’s big win is as much a win for his equipment sponsor.

Not only did Rose win with nearly a bag full of the latest and greatest TaylorMade gear (R1 driver, RBZ Stage 2 FW, a combo set of RBladez Tour and TP MB irons, a Spider Blade Putter, and the new Lethal ball), by outlasting perennial US Open bridesmaid Phil Mickelson, he gave TaylorMade what could be seen as a head to win over Callaway.

You probably knew all of that too.

What you’re probably hearing for the 1st time is that Rose’s US Open win is actually the 2nd time in less than a week that TaylorMade had cause to celebrate victory at Callaway’s expense.

Inarguably Justin Rose’s first career major is a big deal, but it’s entirely possible that the results of two mostly unknown cases decided by the mostly unknown National Advertising Division (NAD) could have the more lasting impact. The decisions announced last week have the potential to change the fundamental nature of golf equipment advertising.

No Truth In Advertising

We hear it from our readers all the time:  The golf companies are full of crap.

They make one ridiculous claim after another 10 more yards, 17 more yards. If even half of it were true we’d all be driving the ball 400 yards.  Where’s Ralph Nadar when you need him?

Why do they even bother to put a number on it, they might as well just say “we’ve got the longest driver in golf” and be done with it.

That’s basically what Callaway did last November when they kicked off their Tweet to Unleash campaign.  At the time, and for most of the spring, Callaway billed the RAZR Fit Xtreme as the longest driver in golf. They even had a hashtag (#LongestDriverinGolf).

Not surprisingly, TaylorMade had a really big problem with this…even the Twitter part.

Why TaylorMade Cares

Golf companies say things all the time. Almost everyone in the industry can lay claim to something, and that something almost always becomes the brand identity.

Adams has the hybrid, Titleist has the ball, and for TaylorMade, regardless of any talk of being The #1 Performance Brand in Golf, the driver remains the thing.

It’s not unreasonable to say that for TaylorMade having the best (by whatever measure) driver in golf is their heritage. They see it as a birthright. And while we can split hairs about how absolute or even quantifiable the notion of the best driver in golf may be, for most it simply boils down to distance.

The longest driver in golf is the best driver in golf, and for another company to claim they’ve got the former, but extension they’re claiming the latter, and that’s a statement that is absolutely detrimental to the TaylorMade brand identity.

TaylorMade wasn’t about to let that slide.

Legal Realities

Legal disputes happen all the time. At TaylorMade and Callaway’s level, everybody almost always has some legal stuff pending with nearly everyone else.

Disputes are part of the business. Sometimes they play out in a courtroom. Often little things are handled politely over email. The reason, probably the only reason, the consumer doesn’t hear about it more often is that neither the Darrell Survey nor Golf Datatech has a category that quantifies litigiousness.

If somebody ever figures out to translate legal hours into market share, I promise you – we’ll all hear a lot more about who has the #1 Legal Department in Golf.

Checks and Balances

I shouldn’t make light of the role the legal departments play. Arguably, the lawyers are the consumer’s best friends. You think the claims golf companies make are outlandish? Some might be, but I can promise you that each and everyone one of them has been thoroughly vetted. It might take a footnote or two to frame things in the proper context, but the reality is golf companies can’t straight-up lie. Their legal departments won’t allow it.

With the dual caveats that I don’t actually have a legal degree, and neither did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night; I can all but guarantee that everything your favorite (or least favorite) golf company puts in print –whether it’s 17 more yards, the #1 ball in golf, or the longest driver in golf will hold up against any legal challenge.

The Corporate Lawyers know how to cover ass, which is why it’s important to point out that while it’s obvious legal departments were involved, Case #5589 was, technically, never a legal dispute.

Meet The NAD

The National Advertising Division, which I suppose you could describe as the watchdog arm of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, is a “self-regulatory system [that] monitors the marketplace, holds advertisers responsible for their claims and practices and tracks emerging issues and trends”.

Though not legally binding, when a claim is settled by NAD, both parties agree to abide by the final decision.

In that respect it’s not totally unlike “The People’s Court”.

The NAD accepts complaints from both consumers and competitors, and for those competitors, filing a dispute with NAD is often much less expensive than the traditional route. Based on stated pricing, outside legal fees aside, it cost TaylorMade no more than 20K (industry chump change) to take Callaway to task.

That diminished expense coupled with a statement (the longest driver in golf) that could be difficult to disprove in court (again, I’m not a lawyer), probably explains why TaylorMade decided to take their gripes to NAD instead of the courthouse.

NAD Neither Tests Nor Verifies

What you absolutely must understand about NAD is that their role is not to validate the claims being challenged. They don’t do any product testing whatsoever. At the risk of trivializing the important role the NAD serves, they’re basically the fine print police.

The NAD determines whether the stated conditions used as the basis for any advertising claim are sufficient enough to justify those claims, and whether any relevant disclaimers (the fine print) are sufficiently prominent and not obfuscated or omitted in any way that might be misleading to the consumer.

It’s still your responsibility to read the fine print. It’s NAD’s job to make sure said print passes the sniff test.

NAD Case #5589

The basis of inquiry (the claim) begins like this:

A claim made by Callaway Golf Company (“Callaway” or “the advertiser”) for its Razr Fit Xtreme driver was challenged by Taylor Made Golf Company, Inc. (“Taylor Made” or “the challenger.”)

The challenged claim, which appears in print, on the advertiser’s website, and in a Twitter promotion, is: “longest driver in golf”

Challenger’s Position:

Taylor Made objected to Callaway’s clam that its Razr Fit Xtreme driver is the “longest driver in golf.”1 Taylor Made argued that this claim suggests that golfers of any handicap, fitness level, gender, age, and in any course condition will hit a longer distance with Callaway’s driver than with any other driver in the world.

Take me at my word when I tell you that’s barely the beginning of it.

The NAD’s Case #5589 provides a mind-numbing behind-the-scenes look into OEM driver testing procedures, statistical analysis, and the lengths to which a company will go to protect its brand identity.

Case #5589 is the basis for a back-and-forth between TaylorMade and Callaway that’s the written equivalent to a drunken slap-fight between two sorority girls. It reads like a festering stew of comedy, irony, and contradiction.

Case #5598 makes my face hurt.

It’s equal parts laugh out loud funny, and almost total ridiculousness.

It’s the kind of nonsense my 2-year old daughter calls Silly Business.

Mine is Bigger than Yours

At its core Case #5589 is little more than a giant pissing match between the two biggest names in golf, and that alone could be reason enough for just about everyone outside of Callaway and TaylorMade to be largely disinterested in the proceedings.

Me…I’m fascinated by the whole thing.

To come out on the winning end of an NAD-arbitrated dispute the complainant doesn’t have to disprove the claim in question. Instead, there just needs to be a reasonable case made that the basis for the claim is insufficient to make said claim.

Simply put, TaylorMade had no obligation to prove that their driver, or anybody else’s for that matter, is longer than the RAZR Fit Xtreme, they only had to prove that something that went into building the foundation for Callaway’s longest driver in golf claim was, for lack of a more concrete description, a little hokey.

A Total Lack of Standards

Before we get to the details, it should be pointed out that when it comes to performance testing, particularly performance testing for the purposes of making claims like “17 more yards” or “the longest driver in golf”, there aren’t any industry standards.

There are absolutely no rules that govern how many other clubs you should test against, how many golfers you should use, what the ability level, physical attributes of those golfers should be, or even whether or not it’s necessary to test using both men and women.

There is no standard that dictates how many shots should be hit, which shots get tossed out, or even whether everyone hit the same clubs, or just a subset.

Companies differ on the importance (and validity of robot testing), whether or not golfers should be properly fit, and apparently there hasn’t been a lot of thought put into to whether or not it’s a good idea to use company employees as testers.

It’s an unregulated mess, which ultimately made things much easier for TaylorMade.

Callaway Made a Lot of Mistakes

As part of the NAD process Callaway was required to submit details about the tests they used to justify their longest driver in golf claim. As it turns out, there were a lot of holes in Callaway’s methods, and TaylorMade was happy to point out every last one of them.

I’m far from certain of what the number absolute right number of drivers you need to hit before you can claim the longest in golf is, but I am certain it’s more than 6 (Callaway tested their own driver against only 5 from its competitors).

I’m absolutely certain that you shouldn’t claim your 2013 driver is the longest in golf when you test exactly zero other 2013 models.

I’m not certain what the average handicap of your testers needs to be, but I am certain that, when the suggestion is your club is the longest for everybody, 58% of your testers shouldn’t have handicaps of 6 or less.

I’m not positive how many shots each tester needs to hit with each club before the test is valid, but I believe that all of your testers should hit all of the clubs the same number of times. You can’t have different guys hitting different groups of clubs, which is exactly what Callaway did.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, more than anything else, I’m 100% positive that if you’re going to claim you have the longest driver in golf, your group of testers should most definitely not be company employees.

Yup…Callaway used Callaway employees to provide the data that Callaway used as the basis for their contention that a Callaway driver was the longest in golf.

When MyGolfSpy tested drivers this year we rounded up as many as we possibly could have. If you count pro/tour models, we tested more than 20 drivers. Our testing panel featured a balance of low, mid, and high handicap golfers. Every tester hit every club in our test. We hit a minimum of 20 shots with each club (Callaway's testers hit 12 shots per club). We made every reasonable attempt to properly adjust each club for each tester (Callaway's testing was limited to the neutral position), and should the day ever come when we release a driver, you can bet we won't use MyGolfSpy employees to test it.

Like I said…there aren’t any standards for testing, but what Callaway did isn't the model we'd use to develop them.

Plenty of TaylorMade Nonsense Too

In the interest of winning…or piling it on…or whatever, TaylorMade introduced its own special kind of nonsense into the proceedings.

I think most would agree that 6 drivers does not a longest driver in golf test make, but does anyone know with any degree of certainty how many clubs you need to test?

TaylorMade does. The answer is 184

Seriously. Stop laughing.

184 is the number of drivers that appeared have appeared on the Golf Digest Hotlist since 2004, and TaylorMade would have the NAD believe that they actually believe Callaway should have tested every last one of them.

Horse shit.

Never mind the fact that the hotlist routinely excludes basically everything not produced by a major manufacturer (Krank, Geek, KZG, Wishon, Acer, Alpha, Bang…the list is longer than what Callaway actually tested against), I can state with some degree of certainty that there’s nobody outside TaylorMade’s legal department who actually believes that there’s much value in testing a 2013 driver against a collection of drivers that have been off the shelf for nearly a decade.

Like I said, horse shit.

5 certainly isn’t enough. 184 is a joke.

But Wait, There’s More

In case you’re wondering about the 5 drivers Callaway did test against the RAZR Fit Xtreme; they were the top 5 selling driver (dollar sales) of 2012. The back and forth between the two companies contains a whole lot of basically pointless disagreement over numbers.

While Callaway claims their test included 54.5% of the top-selling drivers (again, dollar sales) of 2012, TaylorMade is quick to point out that Callaway’s numbers are based on data from a single month, and well, one month does not a sufficient sampling size make.

Wake up…it’s about to get good.

Now is a great time to point out that TaylorMade has frequently promoted the fact that last year they had a 52% share of the metalwoods market. What they don’t say nearly as often (if ever) is that the 52% number was based on data from a single month. Fortunately we now understand that a one-month sampling is insufficient for making any determinations about market conditions.

TaylorMade further explains that even if Callaway did actually test the top five selling drivers from 2012, it’s possible that the actual longest driver in golf might not be among them. Essentially TaylorMade is arguing that best-selling does not mean longest.

Now is a fantastic time to mention that two of the five drivers Callaway tested RAZR Fit Xtreme against were TaylorMade Drivers (R11s and RBZ). To help fight Callaway’s assertion that the RAZR Fit Xtreme is the longest driver in golf, TaylorMade actually argued that both of its own drivers may not be the longest in golf.

Facepalm.

That’s the problem with pissing contests; even when you win, you don’t come out smelling so good.

TaylorMade Wins…sorta

The decision itself condenses the mostly nonsense into a 10 page back and forth that ultimately ends in TaylorMade’s favor. The NAD agreed with TaylorMade that Callaway didn’t have any legitimate basis for making their longest driver in golf claim.

As a result, Callaway has agreed to stop using the phrase longest driver in golf …which is now an 8 month old promotion that hasn’t been part of any Callaway marketing for the better part of the last 5.

While disappointed in the decision Callaway will tell you they moved on long before the decision was rendered.

TaylorMade will applaud the process and celebrate the victory, but the reality is Callaway got little more than a slap on the wrist for an advertising campaign that we now know doesn’t come close to passing the sniff test.

Screw the High Road

While I agree with TaylorMade on much of the meat, the reality is they crawled deeper in the mud than they needed to. As I said, 184 was nonsense, and so was tossing in an “oh by the way” in asserting that, barely related to the complaint itself, Callaway violated California law and Twitter policy by failing to establish rules for the Tweet to Unleash contest.

Callaway disagrees on both accounts, and points out that they worked hand in hand with Twitter on the promotion.

Given the petty nature of some of the TaylorMade’s arguments, Callaway could have, even in defeat, claimed some high ground.

What about 17 More Yards?

Instead of letting things play out; in what certainly looks like an act of retribution, Callaway filed a claim against TaylorMade over the 17 more yards promotion.

While consumers might be anxious to see the 17 yards claim disputed, that was never really the basis of the argument. Instead Callaway decided to play semantics over a single video for the RocketBladez irons in which TaylorMade CEO mentions the RocketBallz fairway wood in passing while saying it gave the average golfer 17 more yards.

Anybody who read anything related to the release of the RocketBallz fairway wood knows that from day 1 the claim was that better players (150+ MPH ball speed) would pick up 17 yards. Mr. King’s statement in the video was a singular anomaly, and it’s at least believable that it was a mistake.

It’s not a fight worth having.

Nevertheless, Callaway complained…because TaylorMade complained.

Long before the claim (case #5584) went anywhere, TaylorMade fixed the video. The NAD ruled no harm, no foul.

Not only does it read like a loss for Callaway, the misguided interpretation is that the NAD validated TaylorMade’s 17 yard claim.

TaylorMade keeps on winning.

Big Changes Coming?

This is the first time that both TaylorMade and Callaway have used the NAD to settle a dispute. From the consumer perspective, I suppose it’s comforting that there is a process that exists to help keep outlandish golf company claims in check.

It might give you that warm fuzzy feeling, but the actual reality is not much of anything is likely to change. The process, which took 8 months in this case, will almost always outlive the campaigns it’s being used to dispute.

The NAD simply can’t keep up with the golf industry. Callaway’s campaign was basically over before the dispute started.

The fallout from TaylorMade vs. Callaway and Callaway vs. TaylorMade could be enough to give the next guy pause before making a nebulous claim like “the longest driver in golf”, but business as usual…the 17 more yards, the stuff that’s irrefutably covered by the fine print, it’s not going anywhere. If anything, the decision in case #5589 suggests we’re going to see even more of it.