Take golf balls. We're often told in advertising that Distance Ball A or Feel Ball B is perfect for our games. And with the insouciance the advertising industry thrives on, the fact that none of these people really know our games is blithely ignored.
Starting last June, though, the industry's attempts at player segmentation took a goofy turn. A bunch of men started playing a ball that was supposed to be wrong for their games. And for their gender.
Yep, the Lady Precept, with its very soft solid rubber core, became all the rage among the macho set.
'It's purely a compression issue' that makes the ball different from balls with other core recipes, says Stephen Graham, director of marketing for Precept Golf. '[The core is] softer, so it the ball will stay on the driver face longer and spin less.' Of course, that's what you want on your tee shots.
The unexpected interest was a pleasant surprise for Precept, which has seen sales of the ball skyrocket. In December 2000 alone, 62,000 dozens of the Lady Precept flew off the shelves. A normal December, typically a slow month, might yield sales of 3,000 to 4,000 dozen.
Good for Precept. But a ball that says 'Lady' on it? Played by men? With all the extra swagger men bring to the first tee, how did they live this one down? It's the golf equivalent of riding to work on the subway in a pink party dress and cha-cha pumps.
'Initially, there was hesitation,' Graham says. 'But people decided it was worth the risk of $20 to find out if what they were hearing was true. A lot of guys took the balls out of the box and took a Sharpie to them and crossed out the 'Lady' part.
'But in one foursome I saw shortly after the ball became popular, the guys weren't crossing it out. They were circling it.'
Which only goes to show the lengths men will go to for longer, straighter drives. If you made a soap that made men's skin perfect, made them wealthy, and cured cancer, and you branded it 'Lady,' men would flee from it in droves. Indirect allegations of sissy-hood are not allowed in marketing.
That's where golf diverges, and perhaps happily so. Maybe the industry will learn a lesson in gender-based marketing from this little episode, which I'll condense here for your convenience: Don't do it.
Fortunately, golf long ago abandoned pink and purple coloring as acceptable ways to market golf balls to women. Some companies have shown a preference for speaking in terms of swing speed, not gender. (After all, Karrie Webb can swing rings around most men on the planet. Is she supposed to play a ladies' ball?)
The lesson is not lost on Precept, which is planning a gender-bias-free, soft-core ball for the PGA Merchandise Show, Jan. 26-29 in Orlando.
Perhaps it's time for the rest of the industry, from course design to golf clubs to golf balls, to dump the boy-girl thing for good.