Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Tale of Two Articles



You can tell a lot about a magazine by the flavor of it’s reporting. Give you an example; if I wanted hard news about the state of politics in America, I might read Time, or Newsweek, or US News & World Report, or maybe National Review or Harpers, depending on which way I liked to vote.

On the other hand, if I wanted to know if Britney Spears shaves her pubis, I’d read People or Us or Entertainment Weekly or Hollywood Reporter.

So, anyway, I was reading two of our industry magazines this week; Pool & Spa News and Pool & Spa Marketing.

This week, Pool & Spa News ran a second article about the problems we’re seeing because of salt systems. This new one is called "Coping With Salt" and it shows a two page closeup picture of a single piece of limestone coping that looks much like the surface of the moon. Much like the pictures I’ve been publishing along with some of my blog pieces. The article quoted Greg Donoho, the director for IPSSA Region 9, talking about an eight month old fountain where the coping looked like someone had taken a claw hammer to it.

They quoted Lew Aikens, the owner of Ocean Quest Pools, saying that he’s replaced $100,000.00 worth of Lueders limestone on his projects because of the damage from salt.

They quoted Guy Wood of Westside Pools and Buzz Ghiz of Paddock Pools. They all said the same thing; Salt is ruining our pools.

They even quoted me; "With other products out there, when there was a defect, it would just malfunction or fail. But this is the only product I’ve seen that damaged the whole pool."

They did the Fair & Balanced thing, of course, and allotted about 50% of the article space to the manufacturers so they could tell their lies, like "it must be the homeowners fault", and "3,000 ppm salt isn’t corrosive", and a bunch of guff about everybody ought to start using stronger and more corrosion resistant metals... Wait a minute. If 3,000 ppm isn’t corrosive, then why do we need to use more corrosion resistant metal?

Because they want to have it both ways. They want everybody to upgrade their metals so that they can continue to sell their Pandora’s Boxes, but they don’t want to accept any of the liability for the latent defect that has caused all this damage because they didn’t tell you to upgrade your metals in the first place.

The manufacturer’s also used their interview time to try to foster the myth that every responsible stone mason and pool builder and homeowner has been sealing their stone decks since the beginning of time, and so, you see, they’re not really liable for all the damage to all that stone, like that $100,000.00 that Lew Aikens spent, or the ten’s of millions that will have to be spent nationwide to fix all the failed coping and decks.

And it is a myth that everybody has always sealed their stone and concrete. I’ve been walking on concrete and stone pool decks every day for 28 years, and the only ones I’ve ever seen that might have benefitted from sealing are the ones that disintegrate on salt pools.

But that’s what the manufacturers are trying to do now. They’re playing a waiting game; "The group (of seven manufacturers) plan to conduct research on the topic and have it available by next pool season". The way this game works is you delay, and while you’re delaying, you send your army of reps out there saying the same things over and over again. Things like, "we should be sealing all stone and concrete on every pool anyway", and "we ought to be using marine grade stainless steel anyway". And then, by the time you release your research, you’ve changed the perception of what the problems were to begin with and you’ve got people thinking that it was their own damn fault for not sealing everything like they were supposed to. And why were they such cheapskates as not to afford their customers the benefit of marine grade stainless steel?

But you really have to give Pool & Spa News huge kudos for trying. I mean, they have to do the Fair & Balanced thing. All News Organizations do. And just think where we’d be if we didn’t have Pool & Spa News and people like Rebecca Robledo to bring this discussion out in the open?

Which brings me to the second article I read this week about salt systems. It’s from Pool & Spa Marketing, written by the editor, David Barnsley. It’s titled Salt Chlorine Generators, A Competitive Alternative to Man Made Chlorine, and it’s billed as the Feature Article. But, just as the term "alternative to man made chlorine" is misleading - as if chlorine generators just fell from the sky or something - this whole Feature Article would be more appropriately set in a box labeled This Is A Paid Advertisement.

For that is surely what it is. I won’t go so far as to say that David didn’t write this ad piece - I’m sure that as the editor of Pool & Spa Marketing he’s quite capable of turning out three or four pages of text - but given the fact that there are so many issues these days with salt systems and that none of them are addressed in this Feature Article, I kind of hope that the manufacturers did write the whole thing for him. Then there would at least be a clear cut reason why the whole four page piece is just a salt system pep rally, nothing more than a marketing brochure for nearly every salt system out there, complete with pictures of all of these systems.

The closest the piece comes to touching on any of the real issues that surround salt systems is near the end where they quote the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) saying "when natural stone is properly treated... it will last indefinitely. If not properly treated natural stone can be very porous and vulnerable to weathering and deterioration - whether the stone is used with a salt chlorine pool or not. It is therefore imperative that pool and spa builders and stone suppliers educate homeowners about the appropriate treatment of any type of stone they should use."

And you see? This is how it’s done. You buy space in a magazine so you can get your word out there, that those dumb old builders and homeowners should have been sealing their stone and concrete all along. And you keep buying that space and saying it over and over and over again.

Pretty soon, it’ll stand proud and tall alongside all the rest of the lies that have been swallowed as the truth, like:

No More Green Hair!

Well Below The Level Of Taste!

Never Buy Chlorine Again!

You Need Only Check pH And Alkalinity Periodically!

You call it a Feature Article. I call it Paid Advertisement dressed up as a Feature Article. Advertising parading as News. And this isn’t the first one they’ve done. If you subscribe to Pool & Sap - I mean Spa - Marketing, look back one issue to their Product Insight piece titled Electrolysis & Corrosion From Chorine Generators. It’s another, "Everything is fine, folks. Go back to sleep." piece. It quotes just enough "industry experts" to sound legitimate. But if you check their credentials, you’ll see that they are, for the most part, reps from the companies selling chlorine generators. Zodiac was heavily quoted and Zodiac had a 1/3 page ad on the last page of the piece.

Coincidence?

Next week, I’m going to get back to some of the technical issues with salt systems. I received an e-mail from a builder that just set me on fire again. Here’s a little taste of it before I sign off. He’s talking here about chasing warranty issues on his salt pools over the last fifteen years:

"I think the biggest single factor was the propensity [for the salt system] to negatively effect the grounding system around the pool. The stray current in the system created an environment where the grounding lugs would corrode off and leave large portions of the pool disconnected and very prone to shocking our customers. Whether it was hand rails or coping sections, it made the whole pool experience less inviting."

And just when I thought I’d run out of bad things to say about salt.

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