This year’s Discover Boating media campaign has for the first time expanded its focus to include YouTube personalities and microinfluencers, as well as connected television services such as Hulu, Roku and Apple TV. The idea behind the $9 million campaign, which launched in June and runs through mid-September, is to more precisely target younger potential buyers who are active on social media but may not be aware of the boating lifestyle.
“Our efforts are designed to reach the first-time boat buyer,” says Carl Blackwell, chief marketing officer for the National Marine Manufacturers Association and president of Grow Boating, the industry association that oversees Discover Boating. “We plan to do that by using microinfluencers on social media who really home into outdoor segments.”
The YouTube personalities — Devin Supertramp, Blacktip H, and Knorpp and South — were chosen for their appeal to different demographics, Blackwell says. Each channel’s followers number from more than 215,000 to nearly 5.5 million.
Microinfluencers — people who can have as few as 1,000 followers but are respected as experts — also will promote the boating lifestyle on their social channels. “These folks have strong, dedicated followers who might be active in other segments, like dads who are huge football fans,” Blackwell says. “We used the microinfluencers for the first time last year and found it to be very productive.”
Discover Boating also will be running versions of its 60-second “Awesome Bay” video on the websites of news organizations, including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and hundreds of others. “We’re going for quality websites that we hope will match the potential buyer,” Blackwell says.
Research shows that mobile use — which includes looking at news websites, YouTube and connected television services such as Netflix — is expected to surpass regular television viewership for the first time this year. That’s why Discover Boating is also running spots via connected television to reach its target demographic of 25- to 49-year-olds.
“We can show our video on the big screen of their television sets, but it also taps into their online apps as well,” Blackwell says. “If the viewer is watching a Disney ad on ESPN.com on television, for instance, we can instantly retarget them with a Discover Boating ad on the phone if they have an ESPN.com app. We can also send our ads almost simultaneously to their phones if a competitor’s ad is showing on their television.”
The goal of this year’s campaign, Blackwell says, is to bring younger potential boat buyers to the Discover Boating website. The average age of a new-boat buyer is 58.
The Discover Boating marketing campaign budget peaked at $16 million in 2006, several years before plummeting to $1 million during the recession. At $9 million, this year’s budget is higher than last year’s $8 million, but it’s still small enough to have the greatest impact on social media instead of, for instance, buying ads on a top-rated television show, such as ABC’s Good Morning America.
“When we started this 15 years ago, we had a much more robust budget,” says Joe Lewis, chairman of Grow Boating. “We were using television, print, radio and mixing it up to reach a broader audience. With the reduction in budgets, the digital world is a much better place for us.”
Focusing on digital also allows for more control. “We can see how long they’ve been watching the video and follow where they go afterward,” says Lewis. “We can use this information to see what is or is not working. We can see quickly how the initiative is paying off.”
DiscoverBoating.com also has added depth to its content, emphasizing transparency about such subjects as financing and the costs of boat ownership so first-time buyers have a better understanding of what they are buying into. “With this deeper content, our studies show that people are more apt to stay on the website and research boat buying longer,” Blackwell says.
DiscoverBoating.com gets 5 million visitors each year. Of those, 3 million are referred to boatbuilder websites. “The challenge is helping the builders work with these potential first-time buyers,” Blackwell says. “The builders tend to focus on repeat buyers, which is understandable since their resources are limited, but the needs of first-time buyers are very different.”
Many builders fail to follow up on leads or do not pass them along to local dealers. Blackwell doesn’t specify how many people who go to builder sites eventually convert to leads, but says 5 percent of those people eventually bought a boat. DiscoverBoating.com remains one of the top three sources for driving leads to boatbuilders.
The focus of DiscoverBoating.com has changed in the past three years, after data on first-time buyers was released. “In 2010, we were still mainly looking at demographics and gender,” Lewis says. “But then we learned that the motivation for being on the water is multicultural and crosses over these lines. Rather than talk just to the age groups, we decided to focus on the psychological motivators that make boating appealing to different segments.”
Hence, the use of the three YouTube content creators. Devon Supertramp focuses on extreme sports and situations, Blacktip H is a hard-core angler, and Knorpp and South (an all-American, husband-and-wife team with nine children) will document boating for the first time. “They’ll film the whole process as the family goes into boating,” Blackwell says.
Discover Boating is also using social media because of its tracking capacities. “We can just measure so much more,” Blackwell says. “The more data we have, the more we understand who is interested and the better we’re able to educate the industry.”
Grow Boating can now measure not only how many people have been on DiscoverBoating.com, but also how long it takes them to go to a boatbuilder’s or dealer’s website. “My ultimate goal is to track a person who goes to the Discover Boating site and then, using tracking pixels, follow them all the way to the boat purchase,” Blackwell says. “But that’s a ways off at this point.”
Lewis, who has been chairman of Grow Boating since 2011, says he is a firm believer that the current strategy is the best way forward. “As an industry, if we’re not promoting boating, who will?” he asks. “Discover Boating can’t sell a darned thing, but we can act as a conduit to give potential buyers a direction and all the information they could possibly need.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue.