Strange bedfellows: ‘Mad Men’ and Discover Boating’s ‘Good Run’

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It was one of those special TV moments. Ad agency creative director Don Draper is making a pitch to two Kodak executives about a different way to position the company’s new slide wheel, which Draper is about to dub the “carousel.”

What does a fictional scene about a slide tray from the television series “Mad Men” have to do with selling boats? On the face of it, nothing. Below the surface, more than you might think.

Smart marketing plays off the powerful connection that exists between consumers and the products that are woven deeply into their lives. The easier, more common strategy is simply selling the product as, well, a product, be it a slide tray or a new boat. It’s the difference between selling the “ing” (as in boating or, better yet, living) versus selling the mere “thing” or commodity, the boat. Done well, the former can move mountains of product from Madison Avenue to Main Street to Marina Boulevard.

“Technology is a glittering lure, but there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash if they have a sentimental bond with the product,” said the fictional Draper, played by Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm, the star of AMC’s Emmy-winning TV series, now in its sixth season. “My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old pro copywriter — a Greek named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is ‘new.’ Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of Calamine lotion.

“But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate,” said Draper, pausing, “but potent.”

Take a few minutes and watch these two video clips. The first one is from “Mad Men.”

The second is the emotionally powerful Discover Boating video, “Good Run,” which was produced in 2006 by the Carmichael Lynch agency of Minneapolis.

It also touches on those deeper bonds with boating by putting emotion and memory ahead of the product. As in the “Mad Men” segment, the “Good Run” video has brought tears to the eyes of more than a few buttoned-up boating executives, some of whom have had to excuse themselves from the room for a moment after viewing it.

“I’ve seen that happen, honest to God,” said Carl Blackwell, chief marketing officer for NMMA and president of Grow Boating Inc. “I’ve seen it happen more than once.”

Blackwell remembers the first time he previewed the short movie. “I was bawling like a baby,” he said. “Everybody was.” Blackwell recalls showing “Good Run” to a woman in a noisy restaurant on his mobile phone. “And she cried,” he said.

“Good Run” was directed and shot by Wally Pfister, who won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for “Inception” in 2010. In addition, Pfister has been nominated three other times for an Oscar in cinematography, including for “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” Talented guy.

“He saw the concept,” said Blackwell, “and he really wanted to do it.”

Quality work does not come cheap. Once the agency pitched the concept, Discover Boating had to find the funding, which was north of $200K. General Motors underwrote the cost, said Blackwell, who estimates that the video has been viewed more than 500,000 times.

“It’s timeless,” said Blackwell, which is one reason he extended the use rights for an additional five years. “We’re going to keep running it. It’s so strong.”

Blackwell said Discover Boating is working with leading industry Web developers to make it easier for dealers to post the video on their sites. “Good Run” will again be posted to Discover Boating’s popular Facebook page for Father’s Day. “I’m not sure we’ve uncovered the best way to use it yet,” he said.

In a somewhat related development, Blackwell said Discover Boating has been selected by the Olson agency of Minneapolis as the host account for its 2013 summer “O-tern” program, a unique internship that brings together eight recent college graduates to work on a special project.

Blackwell said the project assignment will be the “youth initiative,” one of the six key efforts that came out of the industry’s Growth Summits. The eight aspiring creatives will work in two teams to develop integrated marketing strategies focused on kids and boating.

“They’ll be able to take that concept and move it further along,” Blackwell said.

Final presentations from the teams will be in mid- to late August. Blackwell said he’s committed to executing the ideas that resonate and advance the industry’s goal of increasing youth participation.

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