Billboards set sail with ads on yachts

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Marketers looking for a non-traditional media outlet this summer can literally set sail by wrapping an 80-foot racing boat with their advertising message.

Sailing Billboards Outdoor Media, San Francisco, purchased three of New Zealand's 1992 challenger boats last year and has brought two of them back to the U.S. to peddle as venues for floating advertising in New York and San Francisco.

The company hasn't yet sold any advertisers on the racing boat wraps. But John Sweeney, owner and partner at Sailing Billboards-whose main business is selling ad space on walls in San Francisco-used it recently to drum up new accounts. Sailing Billboards wrapped one of the boats in its bright red logo, sailed it in the vicinity of the recent America's Cup races in Auckland, and added two new wall advertisers as a result: Hewlett-Packard Co. and FogDog Sports.


Sailing Billboards has experience with a similar concept. In 1994, the company started selling ad space on sails and hulls of 11-meter boats in San Francisco to clients including Eastman-Kodak Co., The Gap's Old Navy Stores, Kraft Foods' Altoids, McDonald's Corp.'s Ronald McDonald House, Remy Amerique's Cointreau liqueur and Warner-Lambert Co.'s Schick Advantage razor.

Corporate logos along the hulls of America's Cup racing boats have become a common sight at sailing contests but, according to Mr. Sweeney, racing rules don't allow sailors to wrap entire boats in ads. The 80-foot Sailing Billboards boats won't sail competitively, but will simply cruise up and down New York and San Francisco waterways.

Marketers pay the $560,000 per boat for advertising sponsorship to wrap the hull, boom, spinnaker and nine-story-high mainsail with an advertising message for 120 days. The boats, which will be outfitted with a full-time crew, will sail at least 4 hours a day during the summer and can be directed by the marketer to sail around certain locations.

Mr. Sweeney said he's heard from media buyers who have pitched the boat idea to clients ranging from dot-coms to traditional financial services companies.

"It's a great, exciting medium and I would love to be involved in the first boat," said Carolyn Walkin, manager at Outdoor Vision in New York, who has pitched the boat wrapping idea to several clients. "I'm thinking about the impressions and the excitement it will create, the awareness it will generate and the publicity."


While many media buyers see dot-coms as an ideal sponsor since they are battling to rise above the clutter in more traditional media, shrinking marketing budgets might make the endeavor too prohibitive.

"The type of client that's going to be interested in this is going to have a big budget," Ms. Walkin said.

However, Andrea MacDonald, president at MacDonald Media, New York, said breaking through the clutter isn't reason enough to spend $500,000 on a single advertising venue. "Doing something non-traditional just to be non-traditional isn't making strategic use of a marketing opportunity," she said.

Mr. Sweeney, who hopes to expand the boat-wrapping plan to other waterfront cities next year including Miami and Chicago, said the cost for advertising on the boats is not that outrageous in booming outdoor advertising markets.

"We have people who buy a single wall in San Francisco that runs $900,000 for a full year," Mr. Sweeney said. "It's not expensive. We're talking about maintenance, docking, insurance, purchase of the boat."

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