Could ScubaLab’s split personality create confusion for divers?

A recent change in web strategy by Bonnier Corporation and their Scuba Diving and Sport Diver magazines, has some divers confused about what has become of the trusted brand ScubaLab. For years, divers reading Scuba Diving magazine have depended on reviews from ScubaLab to help them in choosing products. But in the past year we started to notice that the new websites for both magazines were hosting slickly produced videos streaming very positive and upbeat one minute reviews of dive equipment. The videos are branded “60:SECOND ScubaLab” and besides website posting, are also pushed out to subscribers of Bonnier’s dive related e-news letters. Because these reviews just had a bit too much of the look and feel of a TV ad, we were curious.

Interviews with a few dive equipment manufacturers and a call with Jeff Mondle, Associate Publisher at Bonnier confirmed that the 60:SECOND ScubaLab videos were in fact paid for paid for by sponsors. Prices reportedly run around $5000. There was a bit of semantic play in the explanation about whether the vendor paid for the production or just paid advertising fee that included the video. But in the end it was agreed the that the spots were advertising and not editorial in nature.

We thought of and questioned both Mondle and later Scuba Diving magazine editor, David Espinosa about three issues. First, If the the 60:SECOND ScubaLab segments remain as they are, with no clear indication that they are paid for by sponsors, won’t divers be confused and wonder if the reportedly unbiased articles with ScubaLab tests and reviews were likewise tainted with sponsor’s cash? Second, once divers realized what was going on, they may lose trust in the well respected ScubaLab name all together. And finally, an  FTC ruling last year actually requires that web reviewers, from simple bloggers on up, must clearly state if they were paid ANY compensation or given free product related to the article.

We also learned that the subscription newsletters from both Scuba Diving and Sport Diver are likewise sponsor supported content.

GOOD NEWS:

When I spoke with David Espinosa (Scuba Diving magazine editor) about this issue I was impressed with his response. He immediately agreed with the points above, saw potential problems and seemed genuinely concerned. He and told me that he did not want do anything would compromise the ScubaLab brand and promised that he would immediately take steps to make sure they create a clear distinction between the editorial ScubaLab reviews and the paid/sponsored 60:Second ScubaLab videos.

We will check back soon to see how Bonnier Corp has followed up with the promised changes.


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