The humble JB Hi-Fi review. You’ve seen them in-stores, you’ve seen them go viral on social media. Sometimes they’re straight down the line, others are satirical or flat out hilarious. Every once in a while they absolutely hit the nail on the head.
We spoke to numerous JB Hi-Fi ‘reviewers’. The men and women making you laugh to figure out the rules, regulations and weird little secrets behind the infamous JB Hi-Fi review.
These are the confessions of JB Hi-Fi reviewers.
1. The Process
Sammii Not every store is blessed with a dedicated "sign-writer", like each store was back in the day (early 2000s). Usually it's someone in the Media department who is just neat with Sharpie pens. Most times though it ends up being one of the three managers in a store, due to time and staff constraints (these signs are usually the least flashiest for obvious reasons!)
First step is deciding on the size of the plastic to fill the space, and then cutting to size. Vertical? Horizontal? Pointy bottom bit? Whatever. If you ever see a random JB member with a tape measure pointed towards the ceiling or along a rail, they're measuring for a sign. I can't say this for all stores, but at my stores we had a book with pictures and measurements of our most common signs and their placements, so that we (I) would just measure and cut.
Next would be figuring out either mentally or on a piece of paper, the basic structure of the wording and numbers. Some people would be a bit anal retentive and draw lines and measure things out, some would be a straight copy of printed merchandising, but for the most part most staff just winged it and fixed it up as needed (hurray for Windex). Many a time would you hear a loud expletive emitting from the back room of my own store, due to my own mistakes.
2. The JB Hi-Fi ‘Style’
Andrew It's not mentioned by the company but it's kind of unsaid that you have to be able to write in that "JB" font you see all stores use. Same goes for banners as well that you see hanging in stores. Although with the banners you are encouraged to get creative.
Sammii In terms of the way it was drawn/written, it's all unique to each store, and that's something I really liked a lot. Some staff have their own way of writing, others have perfected the JB-style, and some others truly just don't care and want nothing more than to get signs done and out of their face. I took pride in my signs, and did my best to mimic the JB-style font. There was an A4 sheet in our region that was a lettering and number guide, showing pen strokes etc., but it was never a forced thing to learn.
3. The Rules
Andrew There's not really any rules for writing a sign but more so things you have to abide by within ACCC guidelines, as in no false advertising or anything like that.
Joel We used to have a rule that software categories should have a review on each shelf every metre or less, though that's not really enforced anymore. Each of the three software categories has templates for reviews on our company intranet, and any staff can print them out and put up a review.
Jason In terms of rules, there really weren't any. It was up to us as to how informative, silly or funny we wanted them to be. I would usually do a bit of both — keeping the serious reviews for big games like The Last of Us, Call of Duty and using humor for lesser known games or ones I would rather promote myself. Some of my favouriteswere reviewing the Deadpool game in the fourth-wall breaking style, as if Deadpool himself had written the review, or calling Camping Simulator one of the most 'in-tents' game of the year.
4. The Three Star Rule
Jason The only hard rule I got told was that we couldn't give a game less than three stars.
Andrew All reviews have to have at least a three star rating. To quote my regional manager, "don't put any less than three stars on the review as we don't want to discourage customers from buying them."
Sammii Yes — the reason being that obviously we want you to purchase the product! While I know a lot of people complain about "lying" in a review when it comes to ratings, or the fact that it seems dirty because it's just a money-driven rating, but like... if it's nothing worthy of a three star minimum review, then perhaps don't review it? Common sense drives a lot of things in JB, however unfortunately a lot of people lack in that department, staff or otherwise.
5.Getting In Trouble
Jason Generally the people I know kept it satirical but never went so over the top as to offend. A friend of mine suggested the Tour De France game should be rated higher than PG for drug references — that was the closest we came to offending, but we found it hilarious. I had a couple of my reviews ripped up by a stick-in-the-mud staff member who seemed to not like my way of doing things or didn't 'get' my humor, but that was the worst it ever got.
Sammii There are two stories that stick out as being "trouble worthy" (and trust me, stories well and truly travel in JB). The first was about the Duke Nukem Forever review (as you wrote about back in 2011). It was a friend of mine who wrote it, and initially he got tiny slap on the wrist, but once the media started giving JB attention for it, they soon forget about being upset at him.
The second was from an email that circulated between managers, which was then screencapped and sent to me from another friend as he thought perhaps I had done it (I did not). It was a bin kicker, the little yellow card you'll see at the bottom of those cardboard display units that have dvds or games and it had a drawn picture of Pedobear, with the quote "did someone say under 15?".
Andrew One time one of the other software coordinators had one up in front of the Kardashian series having a dig at people who watch it. The store manager just took it down though and gave him a slap on the wrist.
Joel There're been a few risky reviews, most of them nothing major. You probably already heard about the infamous Wolfenstein 'nazi' review that had managers scouring games racks to make sure it wasn't in their store.
The same sort of thing happened with a Whitney Houston review that went up immediately — and I mean immediately — after her death. We had flurries of emails going around trying to find it. They never told us what the text of the review said, but the word 'crack' was definitely involved.
6. Going Viral
Sammii It slowly turned into this little "who can get featured on Kotaku/JB Review Tumblr" sort of thing. Never a vicious competitive thing, but being one of the most prominent JB Twitter users at the time, I saw a shift in more staff members posting things, drawing signs that were meme-related and relishing in the fact that someone on the internet actually gave a shit about these ridiculous review cards we had to do.
Jason The best challenge was trying to be featured on the Tumblr page that used to be around. I never made it there but I'm pretty sure one of my friend's reviews did. I found it fun to write reviews but it was never a really major part of the job, just something to break things up every now and then. It was always cool to try to bring more attention to games that I knew were good (or ones I was a big fan of myself) and try to get people to buy things I recommended.
Andrew At a store and even a region level you noticed a bit of completion pop up with staff/stores wanting to out do each other. I remember sending some through to Kotaku myself back a couple of years ago!
Joel There’s definitely a push on 'viral' reviews, at least from a middle- and upper-management stance. On the floor it's more about making each other laugh, but there's an eye on internet fame now as well.
7. A Dying Art
Jason I eventually moved out of games and into TV sales, unfortunately the demand for reviews for those products was low and there wasn't any room for creativity.
Joel They're (kind of) a dying art now. Software sections are struggling for hours, so there's not the downtime to write reviews like there used to be. And now head office are trying to encourage creative reviews on our corporate social media, so it's kind of like your grandad asking what music you like.
Spotted any good JB Hif-Fi reviews recently? feel free to shoot them here!
This story originally appeared in January 2016.