When the pandemic hit a year ago, with boat plants shutting down and dealerships closing, anyone who would have predicted the subsequent increase in boat sales would’ve been asked, What are you smokin’?
Some might believe it was dumb luck that Covid-19 triggered the CDC’s recommendations to get outdoors and recreate. There’s no question that played a role. But why would people think of boats? What drew so many first-timers to dealerships, draining inventories?
The answer: Our industry’s Discover Boating initiative and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing campaign.
Discover Boating and RBFF have spent millions of dollars in recent years calling national attention to boating and fishing. In fact, these were actually boating’s only national outreaches, and each campaigned separately. Until Covid hit, our industry was recording low-single-digit annual boat sales growth. What we now see is that these campaigns were laying the groundwork for the sales blitz we’ve enjoyed since last summer.
In April, 2020, as epidemiologists were trying to determine the extent and course of the pandemic, Discover Boating and Take Me Fishing came together for the first time to jointly develop a national marketing campaign dubbed “Get On Board.” It was aimed squarely at Americans seeking safe, restorative, outdoor recreation, and it touted boating and fishing as the answer.
“Many Americans were looking for ways to safely get outdoors last summer,” said Frank Peterson, RBFF president and CEO. “We wanted them to think boating and fishing. What’s more, our research documented these activities have proven health benefits.
“So we unleashed a campaign that conveyed the ability of boating and fishing to provide stress relief, a vacation close to home, the ability to connect with loved ones, and to promote boating as the answer to CDC’s emphasis on healthy outdoor recreation. Teaming up with Discover Boating made it happen,” Peterson added.
Get on Board featured public service announcements for television and radio that aired around the country, plus extensive online advertising, and social media and public relations efforts promoting the joy of boating in local areas, with an emphasis on responsible outdoor recreation.
“We wanted people to equate outdoors with boating and fishing, the perfect family respite during the uncertain pandemic times,” NMMA president Frank Hugelmeyer said. “This powerful collaboration of Discover Boating and RBFF gave our industry the chance to unify our voices and invite everyone to experience the restorative and healing benefits of being on the water.”
RBFF and NMMA weren’t the only organizations publicizing the boating message. The power to solidify the campaign’s success was engagement across the industry in helping spread the word that the water was open and everyone was invited to Get on Board.
Other major players sending out the message include the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, American Sportfishing Association, BoatUS, the Water Sports Industry Association, Association of Marina Industries, Sea Tow, and state and local marine trade associations.
With these groups streaming the same message, new and existing boaters were impacted as never before. One undeniable result has been the demand for boats and fishing products. The pandemic helped industry players realize that when many send out the same message, good results happen. It’s a model to follow going forward.