Exciting Benchmark Reviews update #3

Ooh, things just got even more interesting. Viewers following the mysterious tale of Benchmark Reviews and where their fully independent reviews come from will recall that WoSblog’s shadowy agents tracked down the text of their glowing review of a $1200 office chair to the website of an online retailer called Smart Furniture. When asked, Smart Furniture asserted that the text was their own original work.

Since then, further developments have transpired. Read on!

The first is that Benchmark Reviews has gone through the text and hastily edited it in several areas to insert qualifiers and disclaimers. For example, on page 4 there’s a passage which on our saved copy of the page from a couple of days ago said this:

“Designed by Bill Stumpf (who pioneered the Aeron Chair) and Jeff Weber, the Herman Miller Embody chair goes a step beyond being merely “heath-neutral”. Over time, it can actually improve the health of the person sitting in it.  Scientific studies have shown that Embody users can experience better circulation, reduced resting heart rates, and less tissue damage around the sitting muscles. Embody promotes natural alignment in the spine, relieving stress across the entire back no matter how you twist and turn. “

Now, however, with no acknowledgement of having been altered, it reads like this (emphasis on changed sections added by WoSblog):

“The Herman Miller Embody Chair was designed by Bill Stumpf (Aeron Chair) and Jeff Weber, who developed the Embody chair to go a step beyond being merely “heath-neutral”. According to Herman Miller, over time the Embody chair can actually improve the health of the person sitting in it. There have been several scientific studies (cited below) to have shown that Embody users can experience better circulation, reduced resting heart rates, and less tissue damage around the sitting muscles. Embody is intended to promote natural alignment in the spine, and relieve stress across the entire back.”

Things which were previously stated as facts coming straight from the personal experience of the reviewer are now merely quotes of Herman Miller’s design aims. The bottom of the page now does indeed provide links to all of the scientific studies praising the chair’s health-enhancing qualities, which by an astonishing coincidence were all undertaken by the dedicated scientists at… Herman Miller. Wow! Who saw THAT one coming, eh?

(Other parts of the “review” have had similar hurried makeovers, and you can compare the results for yourself against the original version by downloading the retrieved original files from this link.)

Quite where this leaves Olin Coles’ angry insistence in the comments thread that “99.9% of the article is a fully independent review of a self-purchased product” is a tricky one to fathom. Clearly, changing those parts would seem to be an unacknowledged admission that they were not impartial, and were in fact stating Herman Miller PR claims as being the opinion of the reviewer. Why, after all, would an independent reviewer make up unsupported and unqualified claims on a company’s behalf in the first place?

So that’s one interesting thing. The even better one, though, is that the current version of the “review” has a whole different bunch of advertisements inlaid on all the pages to the ones that were there when the page came to WoSblog’s attention. And the site they’re advertising is another big surprise.

Because at the time of writing, every inlaid ad across the eight pages of Benchmark Reviews’ fully independent review is a link enabling readers to go and buy the chair in question from… Smart Furniture.

Now that’s properly intriguing. Because it pretty much obliterates any idea that anyone was copying anyone else’s text without their permission, and instead provides what you’d have to call fairly comprehensive proof that independent review site Benchmark Reviews and expensive-chair retailer Smart Furniture are working directly together to flog you these $1200 high-tech bum-rests.

But how, exactly? There are three possible explanations:

1. Benchmark Reviews and Smart Furniture have both simply reprinted a Herman Miller press-release with minor editing. This, of course, would mean that they were both lying about having written the text themselves, and that Benchmark Reviews was explicitly lying to its readers about the review being independent.

2. Smart Furniture did – as they’ve claimed – write the blurb themselves. Benchmark Reviews must logically then have agreed to print it in the guise of a review (presumably in return for payment) and link that review back to Smart Furniture. That would mean that Benchmark Reviews were shilling their readers by recommending a $1200 chair under the pretence that they’d written an honest review of it.

3. Benchmark Reviews wrote a genuine review themselves, and licenced it to Smart Furniture for use on their retail site. That fails to make sense on several levels, however. Firstly, why (as noted above) would a genuine review feature a load of statements that turned out to be Herman Miller PR claims in need of subsequent alteration? Secondly, why would Smart Furniture present a genuine review as merely part of the chair’s specification blurb? Obviously if they published it saying “Look how great this independent review says the chair is!”, that would carry a lot more weight as an inducement for people to buy the chair.

We will, of course, continue with our efforts to get to the bottom of this fascinating mystery. Stay tuned!


13 Responses to “Exciting Benchmark Reviews update #3”

  1. Whatever the end result is, I encourage and applaud the continuing heavy usage of terms like Herman Miller and the Embody Chair (a.k.a. the Herman Miller Embody Chair).  Benchmark Reviews obviously needs some kind of independent review to help its users be aware of the quality of its product.  Whether or not Herman Miller (the makers of the Herman Miller Embody Chair) are a part of all this or not, it would serve potential customers of Herman Miller who are considering buying an Embody Chair to know to be wary of sites like Benchmark Reviews and their reviews of Herman Miller products.

  2. Fascinating?

  3. I don't see any chains holding you down, sonny.

  4. A warning to anoyne trusting review sites or indeed magazines. This kind of thing no doubt goes on all the time at varying degrees.

  5. I'm confused!  How can this be when their website (under the 'Legal' tab) clearly says:-
    "It is the policy of this Web Site not to allow third-party influence into the content of any article […] We believe in honesty […] The views and opinions expressed on this Web Site are purely by the author of such content."

    • Aaah, *now* I see the point of the hunt; had been confused why this sap was being chased. If he’s purporting to be an unbiased reviewer then… nah.

  6. Hypocee Says:

    If their 'reviewer' never touched the text, technically all that's true.

  7. Have you considered that Smart Furniture may have become aware of the review that breached their copyright? They could then have threatened to sue BR but settled. The terms of the settlement being that the review text be edited and Smart Furniture get free advertsising on the site.
    Just a thought to add to the three unlikely sounding possibilities you suggested.

  8. How about a fourth possibility?
    BMR lifted the copy wholesale from the SF website. Then you got involved and SF found out. BMR then "pays off" SF with some free advertising.

    • I daresay the fourth possibility could be true, but it seems pretty outlandish. The whole reason that anyone started looking into all this business in the first place is that the original BMR “review” was so enormously suspicious, and sounded so much like press-release blurb, and it was already being hastily edited before we discovered the connection to Smart Furniture. Olin Coles’ insanely guilty response also came before anyone had noticed the text appearing on Smart Furniture.

  9. "The views and opinions expressed on this Web Site are purely by the author of such content."
    To be fair this is correct, it is the view of the person who actually wrote the content, namely the PR manager for Herman Whatever.

  10. I miss Ivor Cutler.

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