Duct Tape and Coon Cat Hair, the Secret to Consumer Reports’ Non-Profit Success

Blogs may have launched the first and most extreme critcism of the iPhone 4’s antenna issues, but David Carr notes today that Consumer Reports — the sleepy, old-world title published by the non-profit Consumers Union — was the only voice that Apple really couldn’t ignore.

With its reputation for earnest testings, the magazine can’t be ignored when it publishes a crtical review of a product, which Mr. Carr notes is the most common public relations strategy today — “If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger.” 

Consumer Reports is beyond attack. The Wall Street Journal reported in May that the title spends over $20,000 a year on fabric stained with things like coffee and pigs’ blood to test washing machines and orders “bags of Maine coon cat hair from a cattery” to test vacuums.

The Journal also noted $100,000 worth of kickbacks in 1994 to the chief financial officer of the Consumer Union, but that doesn’t seem to have a lasting impact on the efficacy of the magazine’s reviews.

According to Mr. Carr, the magazine is also quite strong:

It was a big week for Consumer Reports and a reminder that media that is unsupported by advertising can often have an impact that more traditional publishing, or even the most tech-savvy, enterprises don’t. With 3.9 million subscribers to its magazine and 3.3 million paid subscribers to its Web site, Consumer Reports has a combined paid circulation of 7.2 million, up 33 percent since 2004.

Of course the magazine came up with the everyman’s solution for the iPhone’s antenna problems: duct tape. Watch Consumer Reports engineers testing the phone below.

Duct Tape and Coon Cat Hair, the Secret to Consumer Reports’ Non-Profit Success