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It’s time for the industry to take a bite of the Apple

It’s time to confess. I’ve owned nothing but an Apple computer since graduating from an IBM Correcting Selectric. In fact, I was so enamored with the Apple experience back then that I bought my first shares in 1996 (for a split-adjusted price of about $10) and have held on to them as the company morphed into the iconic juggernaut it is today.

The truth is, I don’t know much about personal computers and, quite frankly, never really cared to delve too deeply into their inner workings. For a writer, Apple’s devices were simply more intuitive and made the computing experience easier. Apple also had Steve Jobs. When he strode out on stage to introduce some new device, he was the epitome of confidence and cool. You identified with him and his products and bought into the entire Apple universe.

I live just outside Washington, D.C. — a short distance from a shopping mall that is home to Apple’s first retail store. Microsoft opened a store at the other end of the mall not too long ago. On a recent visit, I passed both stores. Crowds were abuzz at the Apple Store, but the Microsoft outlet looked like a library. Why are so many paying so much more at the Apple store for products that some would argue pretty much do the same thing as those that Microsoft, Amazon, Dell and Samsung sell?

In its quest to grow boating, the marine industry could learn a few things about successful marketing by taking a closer look at the community upon which Apple’s success is based. Apple attracted a loyal base of committed users — for which price was not a determining factor — mainly because its devices always seemed to be on the cutting edge in terms of function and form, its products generally got rave reviews from the media and the company backed its products with decent service.

It was also “cool” to own a Mac when everyone else owned a PC. Hollywood isn’t stupid. When was the last time you saw anyone open a laptop in a movie or on TV that did not have an Apple logo? Rumor is that Apple doesn’t even pay for these product placements. Wrap all of these attributes into one bundle and what you have is a product that delivers an experience the competition can’t match.

Now think about boating. Boating sports a loyal user base that is used to paying a premium for the goods and services the industry provides. Boating delivers an exciting on-the-water experience and challenges that just can’t be equaled ashore. Boating can take you to places you can’t get to any other way. Boating also provides a place and time for relaxation and recreation — activities vitally important in our fast-paced lives. So why are consumers not breaking down the doors to acquire our products? Although there is no simple answer, I do know Apple has two things that boating has never really had: a vigorous national marketing campaign and a spokesman whom people can identify with and emulate.

For the last quarter century, Apple’s products and marketing prowess have helped define the company so much that it is now the No. 1 brand in the world, according to a study released by Britain’s Millward Brown Optimor. Apple’s “So 1984 won’t be like … 1984” TV commercial that aired just once during that year’s Super Bowl is legendary and still reverberates today. It’s worth watching because it helps show how Apple was able to differentiate itself in a crowded field of competitors that IBM dominated at the time ( Memorable slogans such as “I think, therefore iMac,” “Life Made Easier” to promote the new Mac Pro and “1,000 Songs in Your Pocket” to introduce the first-generation iPod helped to define this budding community.

Think about it. When the average American thinks about boating, what thought first comes to mind? For most folks, it’s “boats are holes in the water that you throw money into” or “the happiest days in a boater’s life are the day the boat is bought and the day it’s sold.” If boating is to grow, it will need to blot out those old bromides. During the NMMA’s recent Growth Summit, Thom Dammrich gave voice to what I thought was a clever new acronym — BOAT, or “Best Of All Times.” Turns out it was coined a few years ago by Grady-White’s Doug Gomes. It neatly captures what boating has to offer and has great potential as an industrywide slogan if it’s put in the hands of some really creative and talented marketers.

The missing link is the lack of a spokesman, a celebrity who avidly boats and can personify what the boating lifestyle is about. I witnessed such star power some years ago when I was involved in the PBS TV series “Boatworks,” which was produced by the Peabody Award-winning director Stephen Reverand. The series’ host was actor Robert Urich, of “Spencer for Hire” and “Vega$” fame. What made Urich such a catch was that although he was a known celebrity (he holds the record for acting in the most TV series), he was also a down-to-earth, approachable guy. When we showed up at the Miami Boat Show one February with Urich in tow, fans surrounded him.

Boating could especially benefit from a spokesman or spokeswoman with whom non-boaters can identify. Why not? Other industries do it. Actor and pilot John Travolta promotes Breitling watches. William Shatner is almost as famous for pitching Priceline as he is for playing Capt. Kirk. And let’s not forget Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein jeans, who cooed, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

The good news is that there are a host of celebrities who reportedly own boats that the marine industry could choose from, including actors Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, Stephen Colbert, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Goldie Hawn, Burt Reynolds, Uma Thurman and John Travolta, plus singers Marc Anthony, Bono, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, Eric Clapton, David Crosby, Gloria Estefan, Enrique Iglesias, Alan Jackson, Billy Joel, Barry Gibb, Gordon Lightfoot, Keith Richards, Kid Rock, Rod Stewart, Taylor Swift and Neil Young.

Numerous current and former athletes also own boats, including Goose Gossage, Derek Jeter, Michelle Kwan, Greg Norman, Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Spitz and Tiger Woods. My list of nearly 100 names also includes Paul Allen, Sergei Brin, Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, David Geffen, Rosie O’Donnell, Suze Orman, Geraldo Rivera, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart, Ted Turner, Greta Van Susteren and Steve Wozniak, among too many more to mention.

My choice would be an actor whose name does not immediately come to mind, but whose face and persona are instantly recognizable to almost anyone who turns on the tube. He is a lifelong boater and reportedly lives on a sailboat in Marina del Rey, Calif. He’s Jonathan Goldsmith, a.k.a. “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” His long-running commercials for Dos Equis beer are brilliantly conceived and his pitch, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends,” is, in some circles, becoming as memorable as “A diamond is forever,” “Where’s the beef?” “Great taste, less filling,” and “Don’t leave home without it.”

Not convinced? Dos Equis’ sales have increased 15.4 percent since Goldsmith began urging his audience to “stay thirsty.” Because mere words might not do justice to the appeal that Goldsmith could project for boating, click here, then have a few laughs, consider the possibilities and let me know what you think. How about, “I don’t always boat, but when I do I have a great time. Go boating, my friends.”

Michael Sciulla is vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the Boating Writers International and Marine Marketers of America boards of directors. During a 28-year career at BoatUS, he built the association’s brand as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000.

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.



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