Great marketing can be a lot like gambling. It involves making smart choices, acting on good insights and accurately assessing the odds. It can, however, be a perilous slope that can easily lead you in the wrong direction.
Although it is essential to keep on top of developments in your market niche, marketing professionals also need to be plugged into what is going on in the industry as a whole. There have been a number of marketing initiatives involving TV during the past few months that you may have missed, but which I’ve gathered here for your consideration. The web links I suggest are especially worth checking out so that you can get the full measure of what I’m talking about.
Take Discover Boating’s Memorial Day weekend slam dunk on the national morning show “Fox & Friends.” During a five-minute-plus segment on May 31, Discover Boating VP Ellen Hopkins expertly led her gaggle of TV hosts through a show and tell of four boats that offer a variety of ways to get started in the boating lifestyle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox2F6Th-Rpg).
Although the show is not my usual morning fare, the Fox personalities were upbeat and enthused as Hopkins led them through an array of new entry-level boats displayed on the Fox Plaza in Manhattan, including a $7,000 personal watercraft, a $17,000 pontoon boat, a small $76,000 fishing boat and an $89,000 cruiser (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOd9jUWAZgk).
Discover Boating says the Fox segment reached more than 1.8 million viewers across the country with an advertising value of $887,000, the approximate public relations value if it were a paid ad.
Although the industry has been doing this sort of dog and pony show for as far back as I can recall, Hopkins came across as energetic and believable, and she smartly made sure that viewers heard the politically correct message that 95 percent of the boats sold in the United States are American-made and that most of the boats on the water are under 26 feet. Hopkins was telegenic, and the industry should consider using her to train local boating executives on how to effectively perform before the camera so they can generate more positive local news coverage.
That said, her assertion that 75 percent of boaters have a household income under $100,000 — a factoid the industry often uses — comes across as a tad tone-deaf when you consider that the median household income in the United States is but $56,000. In all likelihood, Hopkins made this assertion after her TV “hosts” kept referring to a 23-footer as a “yacht,” a characterization that has plagued the industry since the Roaring ’20s.
Which brings me to Discover Boating’s 2017 “Vacation on Demand” promotional campaign (https://www.tradeonlytoday.com/2017/06/video-vacation-on-demand-is-discover-boating-campaign-strategy). Although I am sure the brains behind this campaign are well-meaning, the sad truth is that for the most part you actually have to own a boat before you can take that vacation on demand — a move that just does not hold water for many consumers.
The entry prices for the two 20-footers displayed on Fox Plaza were $76,000 and $89,000. Even if you are relatively well off, spending $76,000 for a nice, but admittedly modest fishing boat to engage in an entirely discretionary and mostly weekend pursuit requires quite a commitment and a chunk of change. This prospect becomes even more untenable when you consider that you could buy a sleek Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Airstream or Harley that can be used any time you want to go on vacation for those kinds of dollars.
The elephant in the room is that this industry is geared to selling new boats and generally operates on the premise that you’ve got to own the boat before you will be able to vacation on demand. Imagine being told that you’ve got to purchase the horse before going on a trail ride. This also runs counter to the aspirations of millennials, who prefer to experience something rather than own it.
True, there are boat clubs and rentals, but they only furnish a small slice of the broad array of what this industry has to offer. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am not aware of any major players or promotional dollars being spent to get people out on the water without having to purchase a boat beforehand. To me, this is a significant hurdle that kind of throws cold water over the strategy behind this promotion.
Rather than try to “motivate people to consider boat ownership,” we need a national campaign of smart TV commercials to promote the boating lifestyle. Check out this 30-second commercial produced by Publicis and run by Citibank for its American Airlines AAdvantage credit card: (https://www.ispot.tv/ad/wZBO/citi-aadvantage-platinum-select-boat).
This gem came out of the blue and popped off my TV screen recently while I was watching an episode of the highly rated “Big Bang Theory.” It depicts four guys and a mangy dog in sunglasses as they zoom across the water with nothing but huge smiles on their faces. The words water, boat and buddies appear separately onscreen. It made me want to just jump off the couch and hop into a boat.
To my mind, there’s nothing like TV to generate awareness. This is the kind of campaign the industry should be blanketing the airwaves with, especially when it comes to the millennial market. That Citibank and Publicis went to the expense of creating and airing a national commercial that had nothing to do with credit cards except for the tag line “Use the card that helps you put more priceless in your life” is astonishing. Perhaps they know something we don’t?
On a more local level, perhaps one day the industry will get behind a national awareness campaign that encourages and provides incentives for boat owners to take a friend boating or for dealers to offer free rides during a nice summer week. Think about it. There could be substantial prizes — boats, trips, etc. — for the best video or social media posting. If only 10 percent of boat owners participated it could produce more than a million prospects that now had a real taste of what it’s like to actually be out on the water.
Or the NMMA could make a permanent effort at every one of its boat shows to actually get newbies out on the water. For an overview of NMMA’s boat show PR and marketing highlights, take a look at this video clip: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMkvZGiiJU4&feature=youtu.be).
Lastly, I can’t let this short commentary on the power of TV pass without mentioning a must-read article in Politico Magazine about the life and times of Jonathan Goldsmith, a lifelong sailor and iconic marketing superstar better known as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/06/02/most-interesting-man-world-friends-barack-obama-215215).
Regular readers of this column may recall I suggested some years ago that the boating industry find some way to hire “The Most Interesting Man in the World” as a national spokesman. With his worldwide recognition he could turn the tide and give boating the boost it has long needed. Well, as most of you know, “The Man” was retired last year and replaced by someone who we were told would appeal to a younger demographic. Although this poseur turned out to be a dud, there’s opportunity here because I don’t think Dos Equis is going to bring Goldsmith back anytime soon.
Yes, marketing is a lot like gambling. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Sometimes you shouldn’t listen to the experts, and sometimes you should.
Michael Sciulla is president of Credibility & Company Comunications, as well as vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the board of directors of Boating Writers International. During a 28-year career at BoatUS he built the association’s brand, as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000. He has testified more than 30 times before congressional committees.
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue.