Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fake Review Mystery Solved

So, regarding yesterday's quizzler (and thanks to Ken, Barbara, Tucker, Max, Flithrandra, Vanessa, Vanessa2, Vanessa3, Little Timmy, Anon3023, Vanessa4, Dave's Daughter Dave, The ICEman Goth, "Mogen" David, Newzealandpithicus, Teen Spirit, Anonymous Frank Nesbitt, and all the other Vanessas for posting their guesses)...

Inevitably, Chowhound attracted dishonest guerrilla marketing. Business owners or their relatives, friends, or publicists would post a profusion of rave reviews under different aliases. We called this "shilling". When we caught them, we'd erase it all and suggest that they direct their energy toward making their restaurant so good that real people have no choice but to rave about it. You can't con people into liking your restaurant.

But here's the surprising thing: good places shilled, too. Including some famous beloved good places. When we caught on, the response from the restaurateur was inevitable: we have all the customers and reputation we need; we don't need to stuff your ballot box.

If only.

It boils down to this: shmucks gonna shmuck. Restaurateurs - even really good ones - are like any other group; some are fine upstanding people, while others are dishonest. And the deceptive/dishonest ones can't help it. That's their approach, and it doesn't shut off just because their short ribs are scrumptious and the seats are full. Success and honesty are unrelated parameters.

Counterintuitively, restaurants don't shill because they suck and feel the need to compensate. For one thing, sucky restaurateurs don't recognize that they suck; they all think they're nailing it. They shill because they see a publicity avenue, and publicity's like profit: you can never have too much.

So when Fakespot finds a shilled Amazon product, discounts the fake reviews, and offers an adjusted star rating identical to the original, it's because the product is both good and shilled. And that's so surprising to our assumptions of how we imagine things work that just about everyone will find it mystifying.


Display Name said...

Wow. Thanks for the insight Jim. Wanted to see what others guessed though. Zero comments.

Anonymous said...

you are putting a strong (and as you would add, sneering) value judgment on something that also has a neutral rational basis, whether you find it ethically abhorrent or not. In order for a good restaurant to remain good, it needs to remain economically viable, and to remain economically viable it needs a certain amount of customer traffic, and that traffic is driven not only by the people who go there because it's good and they are regulars, but also by people who are choosing a restaurant today and need to go there today in order to discover it or they are a tourist and it's their only day in town. In order for that half (let's say) the traffic to happen, the restaurant needs to be part of what marketers (and psychologists) call "the evoked set": name three brands of toothpaste; I can probably predict what three you will name because those companies advertise heavily. If you don't name them, that's not necessarily important because there are always contrarians (or should I say those who style themselves unorthodox and surreal and so maybe you've moved on from Tom's of Maine to Yogi's Daily Mindful Teeth Meditation) but what is important on a quantitative basis is that some economically viable number of people not only want to go to your restaurant, but also want to go to it today and that will only happen if they think of it today and that is more likely to happen if they see it in print today.

"publicity's like profit: you can never have too much". Actually, that's an archaic and unsophisticated notion of profit. If we are in the oil drilling business and it costs us $1 million to drill an oil well and the oil well returns $1.5 million, did we make a half million in profit? Not if only 50 percent of oil wells yield results! Because I did stipulate "we are in the oil business" to imply we do it over and over, and so each 2 wells will lose us half a million in that scenario, and according to statistics that bleak picture is rosier than the picture for restaurants in general, rather than focusing on only the few viable ones.

(Finance people do not talk about profit, that's accountants. Finance people talk about risk and return, and what I just laid out above is the reason why. And I've even tried to give you this advice before, but despite your constant braying that you love to be wrong, you just tell me I'm wrong and remain hell-bent on losing money on SIGA while you await the day you'll lose the rest of your shirt when Apple's time comes.)

to be truly zen, accept the world the way it is, with equanimity, and stop casting aspersions just because you don't understand how something works, and also don't think you've unlocked a mystery of life, when all the people who you think are beneath you but have taken a night school class in marketing could have explained it to you.

Display Name said...

It says a lot that Jim allowed your comments anonymous. I do not think he allowed them because he agrees with them.

Jim Leff said...

Different people express love in different ways (

There are a few people whose writings I’ve followed closely for years, which can only mean I greatly respect and value their view and talent. I don’t need even MORE from them.

Some people need more. They need to inflict some sort of effect, because the “relationship” seems too one-way. If they can’t feel reciprocally valued (, they try to make dents. It’s like spray painting your name over a favorite painting.

It doesn’t bug me at all (I just give a quick scan for death threats and other actionables) and somehow helps him. Back in my Chowhound years there were dozens of bona fide psychos; I feared for my life. But this stuff? Pfft. Spray away.

Display Name said...

Maybe it's the heat Jim but I admire your generosity of spirit. Thanks again for pointing me to Breaking Bad. Just finished watching the last show of season three of better call saul. Gonna start season four tonight. Is is night yet??? So hard to only watch one episode a night but that is about as bingey as I get. Had my Frankenfield moment yesterday. As I walked up to the produce Frankenfield himself was there to greet me and say what he always says the first time he sees me at the start of the season: "welcome back." There was corn.

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