Discover Boating campaign exceeds expectations

he first Discover Boating media campaign is complete, and research shows favorable results in nearly every category.
“We exceeded expectations in 90 percent of the areas we targeted,” says Steve Tadd, director of the Grow Boating campaign, which encompasses Discover Boating, dealer and product certifications and water access issues.
One crucial area for boat manufacturers and dealers – sales – will show a decline for the year, but Tadd stresses that the campaign isn’t a retail promotion and notes that, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s annual survey, participation in boating is up 3.3 percent in the latest report.
“We’re targeting people who are not interested in boating, planting a seed, nurturing it and harvesting it in two, three or five years,” says Tadd. “It’s a long-term strategy to grow boating.”
Although there is no research to back this up, Tadd posits that the campaign may have blunted a further decline in boat sales, which are expected to decrease 4-6 percent.
The $15 million campaign included $12 million for ad buys and other programs and a $3 million contribution from the NMMA in staff, overhead and costs associated with the product certification program. With the maturation of the engine assessment fee, the campaign budget is expected to rise to a total of $16.5 million during the next fiscal year.
Studies of attitudes toward boating during and after the Discover Boating campaign used the “2004 Barriers Study” as a baseline. The Barriers Study gauges willingness to purchases a boat, with four distinct measures: those who say they never plan to purchase a boat; plan to purchase one someday, but not within three years; planned purchases within three years; and planned purchases within 12 months.
Surveys were conducted in April as the Discover Boating campaign was in full swing, with more in June and July, after the campaign was concluded. Differences between the baseline study and the later one show a 300-percent increase among those who are actively shopping for, or researching, boats and plan to buy one within 12 months. They also show a 13-percent increase among those “seriously considering” buying a boat within three years, and a 14.3-percent decrease among those who say they never plan to purchase a boat. Subsequent Barriers Studies will be conducted before and after each annual campaign.
“The Barriers Study shows that people seem to be moving down the funnel” toward a purchase, Tadd says. “One of the things that is clear is that we were able to move the needle. It’s not a be-all and end-all type of movement, but it shows us there is an impact.”
Television ads started running in March during the NCAA college basketball tournament, then moved onto cable television on such networks as The History Channel and CNN as well as national magazines such as Time and Parenting. A robust Web site ( provides visitors with a wealth of information about upcoming boat shows, safety tips, reasons to boat, costs associated with boat ownership, financing and information about certified boat manufacturers and dealers. During the campaign, the number of page visits increased by as much as 537 percent, and Tadd expected total visits to be up by at least 250 percent by the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30).
Consumer media impressions are another important way to get Discover Boating’s message out. After tallying 82 million impressions in fiscal year 2005, the goal was to increase that to 125 million. The result was 163 million impressions, a nearly 100-percent jump over the previous year. The campaign also met its goal of distributing nearly 41,000 Discover Boating DVDs to Web visitors who requested one.
The goal for dealer certification was to have 250 dealers in the program by year’s end, but staff believe that number will be 175 by Dec. 31. Among manufacturers, the goal was to increase that number from 150 to 350, a goal Tadd believes will be met by the end of next July.
Concerns about water access, the fourth plank in the Grow Boating initiative, are being met by an economic impact study expected to be complete this fall, the start of work on a National Boating Access Monitoring System, and support and participation in the first dedicated water access conference, scheduled for May in Norfolk, Va.
“Obviously, a campaign like this will take time to reap benefits,” Tadd says. “There are so many factors that impact boat sales. Consumer confidence is a much better measure,” as are interest rates and perceptions about fuel prices.
The 18-member Grow Boating board was expected to approve the fiscal year 2007 budget at a meeting in mid-September, tweaking the campaign as necessary. Print advertising for the campaign, which was completed before the television ads were prepared, might be changed in the upcoming year to more closely align with the TV spots, Tadd says. The Grow Boating board is comprised of five boat builders, five engine manufacturers, five dealers, two accessory manufacturers and a representative of the Canadian marine industry,
Research into the campaign showed that the ads were well-liked, which increases their effectiveness in translating desire into action. “There has been a huge leap in the awareness of Discover Boating,” says Tadd, pointing to a study that shows that 5 percent of respondents had heard about the program before it started, compared with a 25 percent recognition rate after the campaign ran.
“From my perspective and after having interacted with a lot of folks on the (Grow Boating) board, people are very pleased this is happening,” Tadd says. “We need at least two years to produce results, and I believe people will be patient for a while.”

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