I admit it—I have a bad habit of picking fights with authority figures to test whether they have integrity or not. But this is the first time someone I’ve criticized in the personal growth world has actually responded with maturity and integrity in a way that felt satisfying to me.
My bad habit probably stems from having numerous authority figures as a kid lacking integrity or even basic intelligence. In middle school I was often bullied and the teachers and administrators were totally unresponsive to my pleas for help. My parents were loving, but didn’t understand the extent to which I was harrassed verbally and physically all day, every day—from the time I got on the bus to the time I got off the bus at the end of the day. During my 6th grade social studies class, a classmate of mine literally spit on me the entire class, every day, and I couldn’t get him to stop or the teacher to stop eating donuts, pause the movies he played for us every day, and listen to me. So one day I fought back.
Everyday at lunch I tried to keep to myself so I wouldn’t be attacked. One day someone punched me and instead of crying and walking away, I punched back as hard as I could. I was a lanky, awkward kid physically, so I doubt my punch had much impact, but symbolically I wasn’t going to take any crap anymore. A teacher saw the incident and we were both sentenced to lunch detention. I protested that I was hit first—and this wasn’t the first time, only the first I had fought—but to no avail.
When I found out what lunch detention actually consisted of however, I hoped I could get it every day! Basically we were forced to bring our lunches (something I did every day anyway) and eat lunch alone in a classroom with a teacher watching us (something I would have prayed for to escape the daily abuse of the school cafeteria and to actually have some oversight from an adult). This was supposed to be punishment!
The next day we—me and my attacker, just the two of us—reported to the classroom where we were supposed to have lunch detention. Unfortunately, the teacher who was assigned to watch over us was no where to be found. The classroom was locked. This was a problem because it was also against the rules to be in the hallways unattended (and hallway monitors enforced this rule strictly and arbitrarily), and we’d get in worse trouble if we ate in the lunch room that day. It was also against the rules to leave school grounds. So my attacker and I wandered the halls trying to avoid being caught in this double-bind. Somehow we were successful, but this was just one such incident of many that caused me to distrust all supposed authority until such authority was rightfully earned.
Hype and Lies in Marketing is the Norm
In the marketing of products on the internet, it is not uncommon to make up fake testimonials or pay people who may or may not have gotten results with your product to vouch for how great your product is. In fact, this sort of thing may be the norm, especially with any product in the get-rich-quick, personal development, or fitness markets. In the excellent documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, bodybuilder Christian Boeving who poses for supplement ads was asked whether he uses steroids or not and admitted that not only he does, but implied that all similar fitness models do. He didn’t feel it was unethical to pose for the supplement ad though because in addition to being on the juice, he also used the supplement in question (despite the fact that he probably didn’t achieve his muscular physique from the legal supplement alone).
Boeving was subsequently fired from MuscleTech for his “honesty.” Boeving puts it aptly: “they should be smarter than that.” In other words, if you believe that marketing messages are forthright and from people with integrity, you are a fool.
I often have challenged guru-types who are selling a product when I felt their marketing was unethical in the hopes that they actually had integrity and would change their position, but so far pretty much no one has responded maturely. I’ve been threatened with SLAPP law suits to keep silent, baited to act as immaturely (but didn’t take the bait) by A-list bloggers, but rarely has anyone immediately acted with maturity to clarify their position and intention (with the notable exception of Leo Baubata).
Until now! Scott Sonnon is someone I have admired for his incredible quality of movement that borders on the supernatural. See exhibit A:
Here’s another example:
I have Sonnon’s joint mobility DVDs entitled Intu-Flow and really appreciate his precise, gentle, clear and progressive fitness instruction. I also have several other of his products and products from his students that make up his “Circular Strength Training” system of health and fitness. What I most like about his approach is that it is “health-first” which stands out against the anti-health approaches of bodybuilding, radical and dangerous diets, and performance enhancement at all costs that makes up the majority of the “health” and “fitness” industry. Scott Sonnon was also bullied as kid because of his neurological differences, which is one reason I have felt drawn to his work.
Lately Sonnon and his crew have adopted marketing techniques that were pioneered by shady characters in the internet marketing Syndicate, especially the use of coordinated marketing launches that build hype for a product over the course of 1-2 weeks. The current product being promoted is called TACFIT Warrior. I find the use of such marketing techniques unfortunate because in this case I think the products are far more intelligent and sophisticated than the marketing! Internet marketing scammers need hype because that’s all they got—often the actual products contain almost no useful information whatsoever that can’t be found in a $15 paperback book. But Sonnon’s material is highly unique (at least to me), his instruction is clear and precise, and his methods are really darn useful! Some of his stuff isn’t rocket science (like training in a 4-day intensity cycle of no, low, medium, and high intensity days), and all of it requires persistent action on the information, but when it’s put all together I find it a really great package.
In his latest launch, his team has created a $5,000 video contest. At first this contest was worded something like “make a YouTube video explaining why TACFIT Warrior is the best fitness program for you” in order to enter the $5000 contest. I found this impossible to do with a clear conscience as I haven’t used the program so I can’t possibly know if it is the best program for me, so I wrote a comment to that effect on the page advertising the contest (I was especially nice in how I phrased my objections). My comment was left in moderation and I checked the next day and it had been deleted, so I commented again, upset that my comment had been deleted just because I objected to the contest.
Today I received two emails, one clarifying the nature of the contest as not being about making a fake testimonial for money, but specifically about why you should win and what you plan on doing with the materials in terms of your fitness goals. Here’s a quote from the email sent to the whole list today:
The Warrior $5,000 Giveaway isn’t about explaining how the product is the best for you when you haven’t tried it. We gave away a free Warrior Challenge video workout so that you could personally experience the unique nature of the exercises. Unfortunately not everyone participated, so it’s difficult for everyone to participate in the Contest.
Secondly, the purpose of the $5,000 fitness contest is to explain, “Why I should win the $5,000!”
So, when you make your video submission, please explain why “TACFIT Warrior would be the BEST Mind-Body Exercise system for me; why I – of anyone – should win the $5,000 prize!”
If you can forgive the confusion, let’s get on with the contest, and have a blast. Be creative. Be yourself. Be sincere. Just let us know why you think you ought to be the won to win this $5,000 right here, and then on December 20th, we may be announcing you as the winner.
Scott also personally emailed me, defending and clarifying the purpose of the contest. I emailed him back clarifying where I was coming from given the initial wording and giving my appreciations that his team had reworded the contest page and sent out a clarifying email.
It wasn’t a perfect response in my opinion, but was quite good—better than I’ve ever seen in response to that kind of criticism, and made it much more clear that this isn’t about paying people to lie but to promote the product and get excited about exercising. I still don’t like hype marketing launches of this kind and in fact have a personal rule now to never purchase a product during it’s initial marketing launch (only once I’ve calmed down and weighed the costs and benefits rationally and/or read some reviews of people who’ve actually used it for more than a couple days), but overall, this was a solid response to criticism.
What was different about this is that he didn’t try and cover up the initial situation but did actual PR damage control with integrity—he apologized for the confusion publicly, clarified the intention of the contest, and changed the wording in response to critical feedback. I personally still won’t be making a video because I don’t know that TACFIT Warrior would be the best exercise system for me. It’s not even for sale yet. At best I could say that the sample moves are pretty cool (some of which I’ve tried before from previous programs) and that I’ve gotten benefit from previous programs I’ve purchased and used. TACFIT Warrior is probably a solid program as many other previous programs from the same company have been in my opinion, but my word is important to me and I won’t recommend something I haven’t tried yet for a substantial amount of time. It may be a good program that is well-priced or may be overpriced, as they haven’t released how much it costs yet. I just think there’s already too much buzz and hype in the world to add to it, so I won’t be making a contest video no matter how much money is being offered. Some people may be comfortable with that, especially if they have used many of Sonnon’s prior programs, but I’m not.
But in the end, I do think Scott Sonnon’s programs have been valuable, intelligent, and well-designed (for the most part—I don’t like the adaptation of the Tabata protocol beyond it’s original parameters as it doesn’t do the same thing IMHO, and I also don’t like the emphasis on “peak performance” and prefer an emphasis on subjective experience). In this case though, Sonnon has displayed a rare integrity in response to criticism of his marketing, which I appreciate and wanted to highlight for readers and other guru-types that it is possible. 🙂 Personally, I think his products’ quality stands on its own and doesn’t need all the hype, but at least Sonnon has the integrity to respond to legitimate criticism of his marketing methods.
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