Magazines' Guides to Products Are Challenged by Manufacturers

Article excerpt

Popular Electronics and 4-Wheel & Off-Road tied to recent lawsuits.

Two publishers have been put to the test recently after running product reviews in their magazines. While the cases are distinctly different, both illustrate the potential problems of evaluating and reporting on a manufacturer's goods.

Popular Electronics, a 90,000-circulation consumer title published by Gernsback Publications Inc., received unwanted attention as a result of a lawsuit filed in May by The Gillette Company, manufacturer of Duracell batteries, against the Ralston Purina Company and subsidiary Eveready Battery Co. Inc., which produces Energizer batteries.

The false advertising lawsuit alleges that a print and television campaign--which touted Energizer's winning rating in Popular Electronic's January 1999 product test feature--misled consumers about the comparative performance of the battery brands, and that the campaign falsely denigrates the performance of Gillette's Duracell ultra batteries.

The campaign, which was televised nationally and in Sunday supplements in April, shows the Energizer Bunny pummeling and stomping competitors Duracell, Rayovac and Panasonic batteries.

Subsequent to the filing, a judge ordered Ralston Purina Co. to stop running the ads, ruling that the title's test results were unreliable.

The motion was granted based on five criteria, including a finding that testing protocols did not reflect the way that consumers actually use batteries; the number of batteries tested was not statistically significant; and that there is no standardized test to measure the use of high drain batteries such as are used in camcorders and cell phones.

A spokesperson at Golin/Harris, a Chicago-based public relations firm that represents Energizer, said no one at the company or the firm could comment because of the injunction.

Gernsback's president, Larry Steckler, says the lawsuit has not had any effect "right now," and stands behind the testing methods carried out by the Advanced Product Evaluation Laboratory in Bethel, Connecticut. "We would not do anything differently," says Steckler, adding that the magazine will continue to test electronic goods. …