The Bose SoundDock
By Brendan I. Koerner
The Pitch A glossy magazine insert (spied in The New Yorker) asks readers to "Insert iPod "—not literally, mind you, but rather by pulling on a small tab marked "open." Doing so reveals (rather unsurprisingly) a splashy picture of the company's iPod dock, annotated with praise from Wall Street Journal gadget kingmaker Walter Mossberg. On the flip, there are more shout-outs from the likes of Forbes.com and USA Today, along with some dry copy on the SoundDock's ease-of-use and aural virtues. (Example: "Hear what happens when your iPod meets the most respected name in sound.") Per the usual for Bose ads, the wrap-up includes the company's registered (and somewhat controversial) slogan: "Better Sound Through Research."
Rip-Off Of An untold number of luxury-car ads, in which readers are invited to experience the joys of V8 power paired with seats crafted from the hides of virginal, caviar-fed calves. Those same automotive come-ons also make extensive use of journalistic quotes, albeit from the likes of Motor Trend rather than USA Today. There are hints of Big Pharma here, too, as readers are encouraged to visit a Bose store or dial a toll-free number ("ask for ext. 6102 ") in order to learn more. In other words, Yes, this product will improve your life immeasurably, but if you want the nitty-gritty, well, we don't want to (or can't) reveal too much.
The Spin The handwriting's on the wall for mini-stereos, given that the first thing most folks do nowadays with their new CDs (if they still buy such baubles) is rip 'em. Bose is hip to the fact that people don't want to plug their iPods into stereos via Radio Shack Y-cables, and so the trend is toward dedicated systems like the SoundDock. That said, everyone still likes chest-thumping sound; and what better way to offer such sound than through, um, "research." Yes, Bose knows that its ad is pretty bland and lacking in sex appeal. But it wants the reader to come away thinking, "Hey, if it's good enough for Walter Mossberg, who cares if there's no jiggle factor?" In fact, the lack of humor or eye candy supports the classic Bose message: We're scientists, dangnabit, not greaseball stereo salesmen.
Counter-Spin The fine print is a beast on this one. Turns out that the Mossberg quote is the most recent, and it dates back to last April; several of the others are vintage '04 paeans. What Bose doesn't want you to know, of course, is that the SoundDock's sound has since been equaled or surpassed by numerous competitors, such as Altec Lansing's iM7 or Klipsch's iFi. Bose may just be now breaking wide with its ad campaign, but the SoundDock is antiquated by industry standards—the company may be busy doing research, but it sure ain't busy manufacturing the SoundDock 2.0.
Takeaway The relative merits of Bose products are a subject of constant debate in geek circles. Some folks swear be 'em, but the majority of self-styled audiophiles thumb their noses at Bose's scientific claims. For the record, I'll drink some Haterade with the nerdly masses on this one—Bose products generally aren't total rubbish, but they're nowhere near worth those ungodly prices. But I'll give Bose grudging props for taking the right tact in advertising the SoundDock toward a high-end magazine audience. The company—or, rather, its marketing department—realizes that potential customers love visualizing lab-coated engineers with tuning forks, trying to tweak every last decibel out of some solid-platinum tweeters. Y'know, doing "research" in the name of better sound. Among the duly impressed: my dad, who told me over Christmas-morning pancakes that he looks forward to equipping his brand-new HDTV with "genuine Bose speakers."
Hype-O-Meter 6.5 (out of 10); the cynic in me hates the sleight-of-hand with the crusty quotes, but you can't knock the effectiveness of Bose's tried-and-true promotional strategy.