Barnstorming with Discover Boating & Take Me Fishing

In early May, before leaving for a Discover Boating “dress rehearsal” at LaFayette, La.’s Crawfish Festival, Steve Tadd, Discover Boating programs director, and his team of seven, were working late hours getting ready. “I spent 34 of the last 48 hours working on getting the tour on the road. It’s going to be awesome, thanks to the hard work of a very dedicated and creative team,” Tadd said.

The Tour’s centerpiece is an 83-foot 18-wheeler that converts into a “mini-marina,” stocked with simulators and a virtual boat ride. Over seven months, Tadd says the tour will make an appearance at 20 “huge” events (festivals and state fairs), throughout the U.S., giving future boaters a taste of the boating and fishing “lifestyle.” (Note: The truck does not go to boat shows, because most people there are already “sold” on the boating lifestyle.)

This year, the interactive exhibit has been redesigned, adding more fun features to lure in potential boaters and their families. The tour itself is taking a slightly different tack to make use of every spare minute and mile traveled.

And that would be a lot of miles — about 22,000 — with more than 200,000 people streaming through the exhibit. In marketing parlance, the tour will create 13 million impressions on the road, and an additional 11 million impressions through public relation’s avenues.

The boat-mobile

The layout of the marina has been expanded from 4,000 to 7,200 square feet. Returning from last year is the popular “Fishing Simulator,” with which attendees try to catch “virtual” white marlin, large mouth bass and other fresh and saltwater fish. Also back by popular demand are “Underwater World,” which simulates the feel of being underwater with the fish; “Splash Theater,” a video presentation promoting the excitement of boating; and the “Next Steps” tent, where attendees learn what they need to do next in order to buy a boat or start fishing locally. The truck will also sport-test versions of the new Discover Boating television commercials stemming from the Grow Boating Initiative.

The Discover Boating Tour has a new name this year, adding “and Take Me Fishing” thanks to its “co-title” sponsor, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. “‘Take Me Fishing’ is a powerful message,” says RBFF president and CEO Bruce Matthews. “If we get more people to go fishing, they’re going to buy more boats.”

What’s new

The 2005 tour includes an expanded “Boat Walk,” now known as the “Mini Boat Show,” with 10 boats on display, up from the four that were included last year.

“Consumers are more responsive when boats are included in the exhibit,” said Tadd. “More boats allow us to accommodate more manufacturers and local dealers who want to participate. It also allows consumers to get a better idea of the variety of boating activities and products available to them.”

“Discover Boating has put the Bayliner brand in front of tens of thousands of people who have an interest in boating and who appear to match Bayliner’s customer base and brand position,” said Matthew Vetzner, director of marketing for Bayliner. “We want to continue to be in front of new-to-boating prospective buyers as well as existing boat owners, and be able to build a database of solid prospects.”

“I saw the results from the Minnesota State Fair,” said Mike Menne of Premier Boats, which sold at least 11 boats after participating for a weekend in the mobile tour display. “I saw for myself that the truck did its job. I would recommend it to other boat builders and dealers. We achieved uncommon results - unlike any we’ve seen in the past.”

Fewer events, more people

In terms of event strategy, in order to be placed in the best possible location at each event, Discover Boating will participate for the duration of the fairs and festivals. Though it will be at fewer events, compared to the 2004 tour, Discover Boating will reach even more people by removing some of the days that it would otherwise be in transit, according to Tadd.

But is it worth the trouble?

Research conducted for NMMA by Info-Link Technologies would seem to indicate that it is. Info-Link found that nearly 700 boats have already been purchased by people visiting the truck. And that’s just among those who took the time to fill out a survey.

“This research sample is a strong representation of the total audience for Discover Boating and a testament to the dramatic impact that this vehicle has on consumers,” says Info-Link’s Peter Houseworth. “This number will most likely increase significantly as we enter the main selling season.”

One of the goals of the tour is to collect consumer demographic data, which is gathered by offering attendees the opportunity to win one of four boats. Of the more than 40,000 people responding last year, 62 percent said they would like to buy a boat in the next one or two years--compared to 44 percent in a 2003 survey.

The types of boats people are interested in runs the gamut of boat lines, but most (40 percent) would like to buy a fishing boat. Other lines of interest are ski/wakeboards (35 percent), runabouts (25 percent) pontoon and deckboats (23 percent), and sailboats (16 percent).

“We will share the marketing information we collect with tour sponsors and local participating dealers to help with post-event marketing opportunities,” said NMMA Integrated Marketing Director John Marcinek.

The tour will cost NMMA and its sponsors about a million dollars this year, says Tadd. The return on this investment is thousands of additional boat sales for the industry and hundreds of thousands of people who are at least thinking about boating.

“By documenting that 700 boats that were purchased so far, and this represents only a small portion of those who took the time to go through the entire exhibit, we can extrapolate with confidence that the truck impacts consumers and this impact leads to a significant quantity of boat sales — worth tens of millions of dollars to boat manufacturers and dealers,” says Tadd.

After the dress rehearsal in LaFayette, the truck heads north to the Rochester (N.Y.) Lilac Festival, where Tadd and Discover Boating will continue the seven-month road-trip. For more details on the tour’s schedule, visit

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