What about Bose? Part 1

March 29, 2006

BoseBefore I even get started, a bit of a disclaimer is in order: This post has been years in the making if only subconsciously. That is to say I’ve been a not-so-casual observer to the Bose phenomenon for the past 16 years or so and with the sheer amount of information I’ve been bottling up for the last decade and a half. This will be a long (and potentially controversial) post so please bear with me.

Circa 1994: I’m working in a high end audio store, a couple walks in and ask to hear a surround sound system. I take them to our audio for video room and begin a demonstration of a Marantz receiver paired with a 5.1 speaker package from PSB audio. They listen for a few minutes and say, “What about Bose?” After a brief pause I replied with my standard, “We feel we’ve found other brands that offer better performance than (insert-brand-name-here) and if you’ll let me continue, I think you’ll feel the same way.”

Both the customer and salesmen won that day, i.e. I sold them a system that offered significantly better sound quality than Bose and it consisted of components not all in one box. I’ve always found it odd that more folks don’t recognize the single box approach is a liability as much as a convenience. If a source component fails, you still have the receiver on hand for radio and television playback. If your all-in-one box fails, nothing works. Not to mention the lack of an upgrade path with single box systems, but I digress.

This was far from the last time I made that speech and it’s ultimately why I got out of retail sales. Those words, “What about Bose?” conjure up memories of frustrating afternoons trying to convince someone that brand recognition doesn’t necessarily equate performance. Some people are cut out for retail sales and others aren’t. I don’t consider myself a natural born salesmen, but given the setting I made due with the skills I had and more often than not I found ways to swing potentially negative outcomes my way. But in the end, I went on to focus on areas I had more expertise in; installation, design, and management.

I suppose by this point you’ve already realized this article won’t be overly favorable towards Bose, but at the same time I won’t overlook what Bose has done right. The problem therein lies with what Bose has done right; it has very little to do with performance and a lot to do with marketing. If you were to walk down the street in any major metropolitan city, or country back road for that matter, and ask a passerby quick name a speaker brand, a large percentage would rattle off Bose in a heartbeat. How can this be? How can one audio manufacturer be so universally well known? The answer is advertising and clever marketing.

Bose’s second closest competitor probably doesn’t spend 1/4 as much on advertising and it’s paid off for them in spades. Bose was founded in 1964, Sony in 1946*, and RCA in the 1920’s. Look at the vast array of products introduced by both RCA and Sony and compare them with the relatively few offerings from Bose. Yet Bose in many circles is just as esteemed and recognized as any other electronics company. How can this be? Again marketing. Bose’s perception and product recognition among consumers is undeniable, but I reiterate this doesn’t necessarily equate to performance, value, or quality.

• Why is Bose so popular?

So let’s examine some of the reasons Bose has carved out such a strong niche in the audio market and then I’ll offer my own observations and hopefully level the playing field a bit. Going all the way back to the Bose 901’s (and farther) the company began a campaign of branding and word association that remains with them to this day. A few examples of words that have become synonymous with Bose are: Direct Reflecting, Acoustimass, and Waveguide.

Now all of these terms may or may not mean anything to you, but how about a few more examples: Lifestyle System, Wave Radio, 3•2•1 system, Mini Cube System, etc, are all examples of the strong branding behind Bose. Simply put, it’s very likely you can go out and buy a system from Bose today that was available in-name 5,10 or 15 years ago. This was a very smart branding move on their part, as it allows the product to be introduced, mature and plateau in a time frame that other products have long since been forgotten.

And how did we learn these product names? From countless print, internet, and radio ads of course. If you’re like me you probably have a stack of home theater magazines somewhere nearby, go grab a handful. I’ll bet you Bose ads can be found in the majority of them. And it’s not just the ad themselves, oftentimes who delivers them is just as important as the content of the ad.

Paul Harvey, longtime Bose pitchman is heard by millions of listeners each day, many of who regard his word as infallible. Do I believe Mr. Harvey is doing his listeners a disservice by hawking Bose products? Of course not, the show needs advertisers and the product fills the needs of many of Harvey’s listeners just fine. But again I make the assertion that sometimes good or valuable is in the eye of the beholder and what’s adequate for one consumer falls very short of the mark for others.

Ok, so far we’ve examined several of the reasons Bose is such an icon in the consumer electronics industry. Now I want to explore some specifics behind the products and hopefully shed some light on why a little research can be well worth your time, if you’re in the market for a new audio system.

Part (2) continued

*Changed name to Sony in 1958

Posted by B.Greenway | | Filed Under Surround Sound


  • henning
    Take a look at where Bose falls on this chart. Ahead of, well, everyone!

  • B.Greenway
    I'm blown away that Bose ranks higher than Nintendo,Tivo and Intel.
  • Ben Sekulowicz
    I think you're point about naming reflects how Apple acts in the current market too. They don't use cryptic names and hardly ever change the name of a ine, enforcing a must-upgrade culture on those who own products that are out of date but in the same line and a "Wow, I know that" from people who don't own their products yet.

    Compare that with Sonys latest offering, the XYZ-123
  • Tom
    For me, the primary difference between Bose and more respectable audio companies is how all Bose systems create listener fatigue very quickly. The boomy, muddy low end and strident highs actually wear a person out. Try watching a movie with a Bose system and take a look at how you feel. Worn out, dizzy?
  • David ]R[
    I can't agree more. I worked in the consumer electronics industry throughout my college years. I set up and opened the new Circuit City stores when they opened for the first time on the west coast. I have never liked Bose speakers for the same reason. I even went so far as to open a few of their speakers up, just to see what was inside. As an audiophile, I was not impressed. I would rather have a pair of B&W; or Boston Acoustics, or whatever than a full set up of acousticrap. :P No, I did not say that!. Or did I?

    Cheers, ]R[
  • Eugene Feygin
    Of course it's advertising. Look at any market, when I say computer will you say Dell/Mac? Well what about HP/Sony/Compaq/... list goes one. Sometimes the better known product is not always the better product, but it's who has the money to advertise it effectively. Where would APPLE be without it's advertising...? Steve Jobs would be gone, but thanks to his little buddy advertising, his business has grown. When I say name a MP3 player, yet there are more than 8 types, you will name the IPOD. Though Sony may or may not have a better device, which gives more features, it us ultimately advertising which ultimately penetrates our minds into believing one over the other. I used to be a salesman as well, and noticed that selling people a product that was "better" but less advertised was time consuming and in the end the consumer still wanted the "worse" product but better advertised. I ultimately gave in, and played along with the advertising; sales increased dramatically and soon noticed how we as a society are influential by any form of advertising. Whether it’s the same ad you have seen everywhere or the same commercial that still makes you laugh, advertising is key in a business.

    You can guess of course, I'm an advertising Major undergrad student. And I have the Bose headphones (150) and the IPOD.
  • Jaycen
    You know...I started out with a Bose Acoustimass system with my Yamaha receiver about 7 years ago. I took them back after about 45 min. into the first movie. I got my money back, purchased Paradigm's and have never looked back. They have the same warranty as Bose and are built much better.

  • Joe Smith
    No highs no lows... Must be Bose. LOL
  • kevin
    I agree that bose is all marketing (they even have google adwords runnung on this site!) But when you say that Dell / Mac are in the same boat in their own industry because they are good marketers that i do not agree with. Dell and Apple do not charge 200% more for their products then their direct competitors expecting people to think that because they cost more they are a better product.
  • ace
    Not to be picky, but.... Sony was founded in 1946 as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, and changed names to Sony Corporation in 1958.
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