Big boat energy
Do stakeholders over-speculate on the rationale behind UHNWI spending habits?
I was speaking to the CEO of a reputable company in the security sector of the superyacht industry recently about attracting more clients. When I asked him how he plans to get more superyacht owners interested in his (rather expensive) product, I was pleasantly surprised by his candid answer; “Well, it’s all about ‘keeping up with the Joneses next door’ in this industry isn’t it. If an owner turns up next to another boat and sees someone with something that they don’t have, then they are going to want it.” It was refreshing to hear someone finally say it. Much of the business in this industry is predicated on the fact that the incredibly wealthy, just like everyone else, also experience FOMO, enfeeblement, and jealousy.
Now, I’m about to compare superyacht owners to Hummer owners. I understand some may think of this as a reductive comparison, but please hear me out... At the University of Innsbruck, in Austria, there is an assistant professor of marketing by the name of Marius K. Luedicke. Leudicke is something of an expert on the marketing of Hummers, and, about 15 years ago he wrote an article for The Journal of Consumer Research which set out to understand why people buy Hummers. The article is based on the presumption that fans and owners of Hummers are aware of the various smirks and jibes that come with owning the vehicle. But despite the cruel claims of ‘overcompensation’, Leudicke believes the intent behind Hummer loyalism is down to the need to be at the forefront of ‘Brand-mediated moral conflict’ and to be seen as a ‘moral protagonist’.
Leudicke writes, “Due to its high raised bumpers, the limited rear view, the poor gas mileage, and a tax loophole that allowed businesses owners to deduct the vehicle for their taxes, The Hummer H2 inspired an unprecedented amount of social noise amongst the North American public. It attracted fascination, longing and sympathy, as much as open conflict, insults and violence amongst owners and non-owners.” His theory boiled down to the idea that owners preferred to stick to the virtues of rugged individualism, freedom, and adventure over listening to the sound of their critics - Sound familiar?
There has without a doubt been an active industry push to try and retain the same values that appeal to superyacht ownership, while still trying to appeal to the more philanthropic side of the ultra-rich. With that being said, there are still shipyards who are willing to build the ‘Hummers of the sea’, and there is nothing wrong with that in my opinion, because the basic laws of supply and demand still apply and if that option were removed a lot of business would probably be lost. We can’t shy away from the basic human principles that essentially drive the market, but what we can do is improve and expand the range, and put the spotlight on more efficient, sustainable and future-proof vessels. While the image of tearing through the natural environment on an enormous, phallic-shaped diesel-guzzler may be attractive to some, it doesn’t mean it will appeal to others.
And I do think that the overall image of the industry has become less offensive and more concerted in recent years. The ‘Porsches’ and ‘Ferraris’ of the sea are getting a lot more detailed attention and god only knows how many PR and marketing campaigns there have been for ‘The next Tesla of the sea’. The next generation of superyacht owners will be, in my opinion, much more self-aware and conscientious than previous generations. If the superyacht industry truly wants the sustainable and ethical accreditation that it clambers for, then it must acknowledge the current anthropological elements of the marketplace. Only then can it identify and adapt a future marketing strategy and make big boat energy cool again.
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