SOMETIMES THE WORLD REALLY IS YOUR OYSTER. This well thought-out marketing slogan is the main headline banner for the famous Oyster Bay Winery
, one of New Zealand's foremost vineyards producing wines that 'Capture the special character of the region's cool climate viticulture ... Elegant assertive wines with glorious fruit flavours'. I bet you're tempted to buy a bottle already - it's there, it's nice wine, we've seen Oyster Bay on supermarket shelves everywhere. Marie loves a tipple of their white sauvignon blanc whenever she's in the mood... which can be described as more than frequent, but a little less than most days.
Oyster Bay, in marketing brand awareness parlay, has positioned itself as a low to mid-range priced wine - one that's widely available off the shelf in most wine-drinking countries. Whether it really is elegant and assertive, with glorious fruit flavours, is down to your interpretation of what it says about the wine on the label - are you buying it because it's assertiveness makes you feel elegant? Or are you attracted by the price when you scan the price of every other brand sitting alongside it. Perhaps you just like wines with glorious fruit flavours. Think about it - it is important.
Both Marie and I know a thing or two about the psychological tricks of marketing. Advertising is our work life background... at one time I made my living writing the colourful splurge found on wine and coffee labels, I would liaise with a professional taster who would give me the lead on which flavours to lean on - usually on the basis of filling a gap in the client's stable or jumping on the back of a competitor's successful brand in the same price range. Sometimes, quite often in fact, the expert taster is given a steer by the marketing man of what flavours are needed. For certain, there are high class wines that cost money, but professional wine makers and middle-men sellers, for wine to drink themselves, rarely they pay more than twenty quid.
So, you might wonder why am I telling you all this. When the Oyster Yachts World Rally hit Panama's Shelter Bay, Shelter Bay was smugly renamed Oyster Bay by the more cynical of disgruntled boat owners of whom there were many already there in the marina. Most of these fiercely independent sailors, ourselves included, had battled their way across the pacific or the Atlantic, some had even fought their way up from the southern cape of South America or slipped down from the cold icy fiords of Alaska - which we had done - in the absolute requirement to transit the all-important Panama Canal. Which is why the Oyster Yacht Rally was here, in Oyster Bay, to transit the canal.
Even a smallish Oyster yacht is gonna set you back a few million. Twenty-six multi-million quid yachts will make their mark in the confines of a small marina containing a hundred boats or so that cost their owners nothing like this - so straightaway there is a social dividing line that's not based upon seagoing experience or the knowledge of what keeps you alive when the ocean is crashing over your bows threatening to completely overwhelm you. Which is, in my marketing and business building experience, precisely what the makers of Oyster Yachts intended. Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc has its place on supermarket shelves, an Oyster Yacht is for those who would choose to pay much more for their wine - and likely do not have the same seamanship skills to cross an ocean. Most Oyster owners onboard hire skippers or captains with crews to do it for them - but not every time. I myself have a friend who has bought two Oyster yachts - he's experienced, he has crossed the Atlantic three times though the last bottle of wine we both shared cost him over three-hundred quid. Oyster boats are fine, they're good yachts, but are they better than all the other vessels in Shelter Bay?
What happened in Shelter Bay was out-and-out aspirational brand marketing in its most brutal form. The makers of Oysters are having a rough time of it right now, they went bankrupt when the keel fell off a big ten-million quider that sank just off Spain - the insolvent business was rescued by an investor that urgently needed to resurrect the damaged brand. Oyster needs to reestablish its premier position - ongoing the company strives to elevate itself back above its competitors of which there are many. What better than to show a whole fleet of Oyster yachts sailing in hardcore redneck luxury around the world, the strength and reliability of their build...
Of course, it's the razzmatazz that's important. When the twenty-six or so Oysters berth side-by-side, with their magnificent Oyster banner flags flying from every single yardarm, it's the photographic media that's key. The media feeds the brand message right through the sailing world - glossy magazines, YouTube channels - social media. It's magnificent, it's immensely powerful and it works.
The meaner side of all this is the deliberate demeaning of the lesser brands - an important tactical tool of aspirational advertising. Yes - you are the social live-aboard scum if you do not own an Oyster. For me, this was the depressing feature of the Oyster Yachts World Rally in Shelter Bay. Straightaway both me and Marie knew what Oyster's game was, we saw how important it was to overwhelm the other brands in the marina. It made things worse on a practical level - the multitude of Oyster chefs and cooks (most of the Oyster rally boats carry their own chef) descended on the vital once-per-week travelling vegetable & fruit market and pretty much cleaned it out when it came to provisioning to leave - with the requisite ritual photo-shoot of good, wholesome organic local produce being loaded onboard.
There was great resentment and grumbling from most other yacht owners, the whispers of dissent were spread from boat to boat before the midnight hour without anyone really understanding why. You don't know why, that's the power of advertising, you don't know why you envy that person who has something you haven't got, that person you say you don't respect - it's called aspirational reverse, but for this concept reversal there has to be an opposite forward motion, the laws of physics - aspirational marketing in its finest form.
But there's also a more neater trick, it might make you feel good. The cost of each Oyster vessel entry into the rally is twenty grand each, paid by the Oyster owner. On top of this each crew member has a cost of between two and three grand paid to the rally organisers depending upon their status and experience in the crew. These cumulative funds are used by the rally team to provide a support mechanic (yes - Oysters experience the same maintenance breakdowns as the rest of us), administrative costs and, more importantly, the marketing & advertising of the rally itself which, of course, means the advertising of Oyster Yachts. In essence, the vessel owners are paying a major cost contribution to the company's re-establishment in the luxury yacht market. This, in advertising speak, is called customer cost participation or, at the agency working-desk level who manage the budgets, mug money.
Mine's any decent sauvignon blanc, if you don't mind...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at www.facebook.com/SV.Sanna. Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.
Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat