The Go RVing Coalition, in a standing-room-only session held during RVIA Committee Week in Washington D.C., again exhibited the kind of unity that has been a hallmark of the recreational vehicle industry’s ongoing marketing campaign since it was launched some 14 years ago.
At the end of the day, the all-industry panel unanimously agreed to move beyond the cost-effective “Ambassadors of Affordability” theme that had carried it through the recession to an all-new, integrated television, print and digital campaign utilizing an “Away” lifestyle theme that resembles in many ways the more emotional formats of earlier campaigns.
“What we really want to accomplish here is to think about our strategy as we move forward into the next level of the campaign,” said Chad Strohl, a brand manager for The Richards Group, the coalition’s Dallas-based agency. “Specifically what we want to do is return to our original strategy, which is about pursuing your passions and doing the things we like to do with the people who matter most.”
The Richards Group, along with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) staff and members of the coalition’s Creative Work Group, had been working on the campaign’s next wave for a couple of months. And the coalition Monday (June 6) gave the agency the go-ahead to begin production work on four print ads and three television spots, samples of which are to be available for industry review at this winter’s Louisville Show. The new ads will begin running in 2012.
“‘Away’ to us is a very simple word, but it becomes much more than just that,” Strohl told coalition members before showing them some early Power Point samples. “‘Away’ can be a place. It can be a mindset that’s different for everyone. It depends really on what you put into it and what you want to take out of it. So, it makes it a very personal idea. In short, away is about traveling in an RV, which is the perfect way to get there because what’s more personalized than traveling on your own terms and on your own itinerary and to make it on your own budget as well?”
In the same meeting, the coalition’s leadership, including co-Chairmen Bob Olson, chairman and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, and Tom Stinnett, of Tom Stinnett RV Freedom Center, Clarksville, Ind., issued a decidedly positive review on the 2011 campaign to date.
“On the dealer side,” said Stinnett, “I’d like to express that the dealers are real excited about the Go RVing leads prioritization system to increase the value of Go RVing leads. It does seem to be working. The ‘Leads Plus’ program is delivering more qualified leads categorized by RV purchase likelihood, helping us all follow up more efficiently and effectively.
“And, so far this year, more than 420 dealers signed up for the Go RVing leads program compared to 382 a year ago,” said Stinnett. “That’s a 10% increase over 2010, and we’re not done yet. We’re still working hard to get more dealers signed up since research shows that the best time to work with these leads continues to run through October. So, we’ve had some terrific support from the industry partners this year. Several manufacturers and state associations have really helped us get the word out regarding the Leads Plus program. So, we appreciate their involvement.”
Olson, for his part, said he liked the way things were shaping up. “I’m really excited about the direction that our coalition’s headed in 2011,” he told the group. “We are starting with our cross-media promotion on The Food Network, which will include Go RVing messages on their TV program, in their magazine and on their web page. With the growing popularity of the Food Network, it’s a great venue for us to reach our potential customers. We have also partnered with National CineMedia, with Go RVing ads airing prior to PG movies soon in theaters across the country. What a way to get our message in front of young families, just the kind of people the industry wants to reach.”
Go RVing, he adds, will continue to advertise with the ESPN family of networks, including NASCAR, professional bowling and Major League Baseball. Also still on the agenda are cable networks, including Discovery, the Travel Channel, the Outdoor Channel, and The Weather Channel and a wide array of magazines from Better Homes & Gardens to Parents, Budget Travel and Family Circle.
“We will continue to utilize the Internet (in 2011) with buys on 40 sites,” added Olson, with Google, Yahoo and other sites playing key roles while social networking outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube remain an inexpensive means of harvesting millions of impressions for a negligible cost.
After introductory comments by James Ashurst, RVIA’s new vice president of communications and advertising, RVIA Senior Director of Marketing Communications Chris Morrison reviewed some of the other highlights in this year’s media plan.
In 2011, she said, Go RVing is enjoying exposure with 40 cable TV networks, 28 magazines and 42 websites and search engines.
“Both the staff at RVIA and the Richards Group are continuously tracking the impact of the media plan, and we track against three key measures: impressions, web traffic on GoRVing.com and, of course, the consumer leads that the ads generate,” she said. “By all these measures, I’m happy to say that the 2011 campaign is performing very well. We’re going to have by the end of the year a total of 2.4 billion viewings of our ads by our target audience, and 1.6 billion of those will be among the primary target families of adults age 30 to 49 with children in the household and a household income of $50,000 or more. And our secondary empty nester targets are also getting good exposure.”
Thanks to a larger per-unit seal assessment, this year’s media spend is somewhat bigger, with an estimated $10.3 million committed during 2011 versus $8.2 million last year, and Morrison says the media impact is evident. “Right now,” she noted, “we’re at about 600,000 total visits to the website this year and at about three million page views. We are slightly behind last year at the moment, but a few weeks ago we were 50% ahead. And this week we’re expecting a big jump because our Food Network cross-platform promotion is going to be fully kicking in.”
Morrison, at the same time, said that ad dollars were shifted this year to focus on lead-generating media.
“We shifted the ad investment somewhat in 2011 to more lead-generating media,” she explained. “This was by direction of the coalition to help provide the industry with more qualified prospects during the industry’s recovery. And we have found that the media plan is doing a good job of targeting people – the right people in the right media to be exposed to our ads — and that’s shown by our conversion rate this year. This year, people who are responding to our online ads are converting to become leads at a rate of 7%. Last year, it was 3%, so that’s a nice jump.
“And as a result of our more aggressive leads generating buy, we posted 70,000 new leads so far this year. That’s up 26% over last year at this time.”
The RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, scheduled for Oct. 4-8 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., comes at a crucial time for the U.S. economy in general and the RV industry in particular as both work their way out of the tough recession of 2008/2009.
On one hand, the industry’s rebound has exceeded expectations in many ways, especially for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers aligned with the right towable recreational vehicle brands. On the other hand, however, the aftershocks of the Great Recession are obviously still with us in terms of unemployment, stock market fluctuations and a general discomfort among many Americans with regard to the general state of the economy.
And while most Americans assume that the worst is over, many of the nation’s durable good manufacturers – including RV builders — are still looking to bridge their way to the next year and the next level of recovery and to find a comfort zone in this new post-recessionary age.
“There is a consensus we have to recalibrate our definition of what is a good business environment,” said Mike Molino, president of the Fairfax, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), lead sponsor of October’s annual Con/Expo. “We’re not going to get back to the 400,000-unit years any time soon. We’ll probably never return to that. The next couple of years will be tough, but doable. If dealers stay within the cash structure they have, they will survive. The consumer will come back — slowly. We won’t see a significant increase (in sales) until there is more certainty (about the state of the economy). I’m not so sure the election of 2010 will bring more certainty. That might just bring more confusion.”
But Molino, generally a realist, does tend to see the cup half full.
“The dealers who are still in business, for the most part, are the ones who will survive,” he maintained. “The dealers coming to the convention are in good shape. The shakeout is well on its way to being complete. But it’s not totally over. Dealers are telling me they have inventory but are paying more finance charges on the inventory they have than they used to, and retail financiers are very stringent on who they are lending money to, so the ability to buy a recreational vehicle, the threshold for buying, is higher and the ability to buy is a lot lower.
“Another dynamic is that there is uncertainty among businesses, both large and small, and that drives employment, and employment drives the mentality of the economy,” Molino continued. “When a consumer is hearing levels of unemployment we currently have (around 10%), it’s still not conducive to them going out and buying an RV, even if they can afford to get a loan for an RV. Until unemployment goes down and employment rises, we will have some issues.”
A New Era for the Industry As Well as RVDA’s Con/Expo
The RVDA is tackling this new era head-on with a refreshing revision of the annual convention, which is co-sponsored by RVDA of Canada and the RV Learning Center.
A crowd of between 475 and 550 U.S. and Canadian dealers, with total registrations of about 1,100 attendees, is anticipated for the five-day event.
“I think it’s going to be the best convention ever,” adds Molino. “We’ve got a very, very active committee under (Convention Chairman) Peter Albano. Between him and my staff and the volunteers on the committee, I think they have put together the most pertinent program for dealers and the management level of staff I’ve ever seen.”
As ever, of course, there will be an aggressive educational component including workshops on everything from wholesale and retail financing options to new inventory management strategies and how to reach new customers through innovative marketing communications. And the 2010 convention will again feature an exhibit hall filled with the RV industry’s leading OEM and supplier companies offering products and services to help dealers improve profitability.
But attendees will notice significant changes, starting with the brand committee meetings, closed door sessions in which dealers meet as a group with representatives of the recreational vehicle brands they carry. RVDA’s “Partners in Progress” brand committees, among other things, will work on important dealer-manufacturer issues and address results of RVDA’s Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI).
“We’ve restructured the brand committees meetings, so they come early in the session,” Molino explained. “We tried to make it so there is no conflict between the committee meetings and anything else they want to do. I think it will enhance the experience for the dealers, especially the manufacturers.”
Before he took on the assignment of chairing this year’s convention committee, Albano confides, he talked with many dealers and asked them what they wanted with regard to the convention. “They said that we need to change and get some new blood into the system and see how we’re running the sessions, break it up and make it new,” Albano, owner of American RV in the Memphis suburb of Olive Branch, Miss., told RVBusiness. “We’ve worked very, very hard at doing that.”
Former Interior Secretary Kempthorne Will Keynote
Albano predicts that convention attendees will especially enjoy the remarks of former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who will serve as keynote speaker at the first general session on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
“Secretary Kempthorne has a track record of developing innovative approaches to meet the outdoor recreation needs of RV travelers and other outdoor enthusiasts,” Albano said. “As a long-time motorhome owner, he is enthusiastic about the future prospects for our industry. He will provide an inspiring message for everyone who makes their living in the RV business.”
Kempthorne continues to champion outdoor recreation and is an active RV traveler and motorcyclist. As Secretary of the Interior during the George W. Bush administration, he brought fundamental relational changes in the environmental, conservation and outdoor recreation arenas.
During his service in the U.S. Senate, Kempthorne led successful efforts to create a sustainable funding source for building and maintaining trails and to promote balance between resource protection and outdoor fun – which is among the reasons he received the 20th Sheldon Coleman Great Outdoors Award in 2008 from the American Recreation Coalition (ARC).
A second general session, on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 7, will feature an “RV Outlook Panel Discussion” for which panelists will include Ron Fenech, president of Thor Industries Inc.’s RV Group; Craig Kennison, analyst with Robert W. Baird, Inc.; and Pete Lannon, GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance.
Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., will chair the discussion, which will focus on minimizing risk factors with RV floorplan loans, a manufacturing outlook on the future of RV product development and distribution, financial markets and the impact the issues will have on the dealers’ bottom lines.
“This session is sure to be extremely informative for everyone attending the upcoming convention,” said Albano. “It will provide some important steps that dealers can take to reduce their risk and successfully meet the financial challenges we are all facing today. The Convention/Expo Committee secured an outstanding group of RV industry experts to participate in this event.
RVBusiness HostsTop 50 Dealer Awards Festivities
RVBusiness magazine (and RVBUSINESS.com) will host its 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards during a Wednesday, Oct. 6, reception and dinner at the Rio hosted by Affinity Group Inc. President & CEO Mike Schneider and keynoted by conservative political commentator and author Ann Coulter.
While the award eligibility has been expanded this year to include recreational park model dealers – just as it was expanded last year to include Canadian retailers — the awards format will include five Blue Ribbon retailers and one individual receiving the Altman Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Go RVing Coalition Convenes at Con/Expo
Concurrent with RVDA’s convention agenda, the pan-industry Go RVing Coalition will convene 8-11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 6, in the Rio’s Tango Room to continue discussions of topics raised during the coalition’s last meeting June 8 during RVIA Committee Week in South Bend, Ind. This will likely include campaign planning, 2011 funding levels and development of the Go RVing consumer leads prioritization system approved by the coalition in June.
Along with recent shipment and retail data, the coalition will rely on a new University of Michigan RV market forecast and new ad tracking research. “Go RVing’s 2010 ad tracking research will be complete, giving us a better handle on the impact of our media mix and the Ambassadors of Affordability creative,” reports Gary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the coalition’s staff liaison.
Additionally, LaBella says results of the new study of Go RVing leads over the past three years will be reported by The Richards Group, the coalition’s Dallas-based agency. “This study will enable us to better prioritize leads, to provide more information to users about the specific products and price ranges consumer are considering, the lifestyle attributes of our leads and which media are most effective in delivering them,” he said. “All of this information will be helpful to future Go RVing media and creative planning as well as industry marketing efforts.”
A survey of consumers conducted by Go RVing found that the new Ambassadors of Affordability television commercials are very well-liked and effectively communicate the message that RV vacations are a cost-effective way to spend time with family and friends, according to the current issue of RVIA Today Express.
In order to obtain a preliminary sense of the general reaction to the new campaign, Go RVing emailed a questionnaire to a random sample from its leads database in April, asking questions to gauge the ads’ likeability as well as the clarity and impact of their message. A total of 242 consumers returned the survey for a margin of error of 6 percent.
All four ad spots were very well-liked.
The survey had these findings:
- The cornerstone “Back in the Saddle Again” spot — featuring all the animal ambassadors singing the classic Gene Autry western ballad — was the most popular with 82% of consumers reporting that they liked the commercial.
- The “Turtles” spot, which features several turtles in a campground pond who wish the shells on their backs could be as comfortable as RVs, scored a close second in popularity, with 80% of consumers reporting that they liked the ad.
- 75% of consumers liked the “Rabbits” commercial, which features a father jackrabbit who is happy to see that an RV can fit his large family comfortably.
- 70% of consumers liked the “Bison” commercial, which stars a bison and a fox enjoying a romantic escape in their RV.
The top reason consumers gave for liking the commercials is that the spots are “entertaining and funny,” according to just under half of respondents. Nineteen percent reported liking the “Ambassadors” ads better than most other TV commercials.
General consumer comments about the spots included, “It really brought a smile to my face — I can’t wait to go RVing,” and “It is cute and friendly and ‘warm and fuzzy’ and makes you feel that camping with the family in an RV is adventurous and fun.”
When asked about the main message of the ads, consumers reported, “that an RV vacation is affordable — more than many others,” and “It’s a great alternative to more expensive vacationing.” And when asked if the campaign inspired them to go RVing, over half responded “yes,” and added statements like, “it shows people having fun and that is the main idea of RVing.” and “it shows that you can go on a vacation with the family and not spend a ton of money.”
Go RVing brand planner John Baker of The Richards Group said of the survey results, “The spots elicited exactly what we hoped for: they were well liked and got people’s attention, they communicated our key strategic messages extremely well, and they make people want to go RVing. I don’t think we could have asked for better results.”
A major ad effectiveness study will be commissioned this summer to further explore the findings of this poll.
A new phase of the industry’s popular Go RVing marketing campaign — stressing the affordability and value of recreational vehicles — will launch in early 2010 with new television spots and a revised Go RVing website.
The Go RVing Creative Work Group, consisting of manufacturers, dealers and state association executives, gave the go-ahead for the revisions at an Oct. 7 meeting in Las Vegas during the RV Dealers International Convention/Expo.
The new ads, created by Go RVing’s advertising agency, The Richards Group, Dallas, Texas, utilize existing and unused creative material from previous Go RVing campaigns as a cost-saving measure.
“The affordability and value messages in the new creative materials for Go RVing will show today’s cost-conscious consumers how an RV can meet their family needs today as an affordable vacation option that will provide them with years of pleasurable return on their investment,” said Gary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), which administers the program for the all-industry Go RVing coalition.
The new ads will debut during the ”Outlook 2010” breakfast Dec. 1 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., prior to the opening of the 47th Annual National RV Trade Show.
”The new concept chosen by the group is now in production, with the new spots to debut in early 2010 as part of an effort to reenergize the RV industry and motivate consumers to buy as the economy improves,” according to a press release.
The revised Go RVing website will go live when the TV spots begin running after the first of the year.
Meeting attendees included Debbie Brunoforte, owner of Little Dealer, Little Prices and chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA); Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA); Eleanore Hamm, executive vice president of RVDA of Canada; and Becky Lenington, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Recreation Vehicle and Camping Association (PRVCA).
Also, Mike Molino, RVDA president; Chad Reece, director of marketing for Winnebago Industries Inc.; Dicky Riegel, COO of Thor Industries Inc. and co-chairman of the Go RVing Coalition; RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon, assistant to the president of Monaco RV LLC; Go RVing co-Chairman Tom Stinnett, owner of Tom Stinnett RV Freedom Center; B.J. Thompson, president of B.J. Thompson Associates; Larry Troutt, Topper’s Camping Center and immediate past RVDA chairman; and Lance Wilson, executive director of the Florida Recreation Vehicle Trade Association (FRVTA).
The Go RVing Creative Work Group will meet Oct. 7 during the RVDA Convention and Expo in Las Vegas to choose from among four potential series of new television ads created by Go RVing’s ad agency, The Richards Group.
The concept that is preferred by the group will be refined for production and the ads will debut in early 2010 as part of an effort to reenergize the RV industry and motivate consumers to buy as the economy improves, according to a news release.
The Creative Work Group, which consists of manufacturers, dealers and state association executives, will select their favorite treatments among concepts developed by three different creative teams within The Richards Group. Founder and head of The Richards Group Stan Richards and Creative Group Head Glenn Dady will join to the creative teams to present their concepts.
Utilizing cost-effective, new production techniques, the TV ads are being designed to maximize the value of Go RVing’s existing and/or unused creative materials by featuring them in innovative ways. The new ads are expected to be a combination of existing materials from the Go RVing archives of video and still images, possibly animated with special effects.
This economical approach to production (budgeted for $300,000) will enable Go RVing to introduce new spots with a strategic “affordability/value” message for 2010-2011 and maximize the funding available for ad buys. The affordability and value messages in the new creative materials for Go RVing will show today’s cost-conscious consumers how an RV can meet their family needs today as an affordable vacation option that will provide them with years of pleasurable return on their investment.
A new, more interactive website experience is also being developed by The Richards Group’s online arm, Click Here, for 2010. The Creative Work Group will review alternative new home pages for GoRVing.com to coordinate with the various new ad concepts being presented Oct.7.
The new television spots and the updated website, which will go live when the new TV spots begin airing next year, will be previewed at Outlook 2010: Let the Sun Shine, the kick-off event for the National RV Trade Show Dec. 1-3 at the Kentucy Exposition Center in Louisivlle, Ky., and at the Go RVing booth.
A video production crew is in Elkhart County this week shooting new RV product images to update consumer information video on the Go RVing.com website.
Since the original video was produced in 2004, many new products and technological developments have hit the market, including smaller, fuel-efficient, lightweight and eco-friendly RVs that target younger, cost-conscious buyers. That’s the focus at this week’s photo shoot, said Chris Morrison, senior director of marketing communications for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Answering an RVIA request for vehicles, eight RVs were selected in a lottery to represent several product categories. Those participating include: Damon Avanti Class A motorhome, Winnebago Via Class A motorhome, Roadtrek Adventurous Class B motorhome, Jayco Precept Class C motorhome, Forest River Inc. R-Pod ultra lightweight travel trailer, Evergreen Ever-Lite lightweight travel trailer, Airstream Ocean Breeze lightweight travel trailer and a Heartland RV Sundance ultra lightweight fifth-wheel.
The crew spent time on Tuesday and again today at Eby’s Pines Campground east of Bristol, shooting interior and exterior photos, she said.
Families from the area were chosen to help represent all the target age groups — from couples with young children to empty nesters and retirees — in the video.
The crew filmed a campfire at the campground Tuesday night.
Besides the campground, the crew is filming along country roads, at a nearby golf course, along the Little Elkhart River and at a local park, she said. “We’re trying to do a little bit of everything that people enjoy on RV trips,” she said.
Passing footage also will be taken at the RV/MH Hall of Fame east of Elkhart.
All told, the production crew expects to shoot 10 to 15 hours of raw video this week.
The Richards Group, the Go RVing Coalition’s PR agency, is assisting RVIA on the shoot.
The crew hopes to wrap up the work on Thursday.
Portions of the new video will debut at the RVIA’s industry breakfast on Dec. 1 that kicks off the National RV Show in Louisville, Ky.
The final edited video will begin appearing on the Go RVing.com website in 2010.
Photos provided courtesy of the RVIA.