In today’s PC world, the author challenges boatbuilders to bring bravery back to their ads.

I grew up reading Power & Motoryacht in the ’80s. In those days, ads from boatbuilders were a lot more fun than some of the boring, milquetoast stuff you see today.

The boatbuilders of my youth had bold, memorable ad slogans. The key word here is memorable. These advertisers wanted to make an indelible impression on a potential boat buyer’s psyche. Striker, the defunct builder of big aluminum sportfishing yachts, had a great ad in the ’80s. Picture this: an elegant couple in formalwear sitting in the luxurious salon of a 70-foot sportfisherman, drinking champagne and eating caviar. Behind them, the windows have been blackened by 10-foot seas drowned by a dark sky. “Live well in some of the world’s worst neighborhoods,” it read. Fantastic! Experienced boaters knew this whole scene was completely implausible, but it got the intended message across.

Southern Cross, the now defunct Australian builder, threatened to “Blow Bertram and Hatteras out of the bloody water.” This would be called hate speech on Facebook today.

Four Winns had an ad for its 27-foot Liberator featuring an, ahem, very well-endowed woman splayed across the sunpad in an extremely revealing swimsuit. It sure made impressions, but that ad might be considered soft porn compared to today’s tame visuals. I’m sure my kid would be in trouble if he took that issue of Power & Motoryacht to school today, like I surely did in 1986.

Bertram, however, did it best. The builder purchased two-page spreads in the front of the magazine and set a tone for masculine American fishing boats that resonated around the world. It started out simply enough. The copy for a 58 read, “Do us a favor. When you get it, don’t flaunt it.” And then there was the classic “Old Bertrams Never Die” campaign, with slogans like, “They’re too tough to kill, and too good to retire.” Another ad featured a 46 speeding past the Rock of Gibraltar under 3-inch tall print: “Solid As The Rock.” Awesome. Now this is advertising.

Illustration by Brett Affrunti

Once Bertram grew fully into its britches the tune changed to “The Sun Never Sets on the Bertram Empire.” Indeeeeed.

And then Bertram pulled off the greatest boating advertisement of all time. The entire left page of a spread was a painting of a 42 Convertible flying off a 40-foot wave. The bow pulpit was depicted hovering 60 feet off the water, while the full-page testimonial on the right hand side of the spread went something like this: “Hi, this is Dorothy. I’m just writing to let you know that my husband, Englebert, and I were cruising in Mexico on a calm, sunny day when out of the blue came this forty-foot rogue wave and we both yelled shit! Then we were flying through the air and when we landed my gin and tonic was missing an ice cube, but the boat was fine.”

Where were the corporate lawyers on this one? There was no small print anywhere. I’d like to see Westport sell its 125s this way. But alas, we have some yawn-inducing advertisements today. One advertiser’s headline is “Built To Last.” Well I should hope so. “Geez, Marge, this boat is—it says right here—built to last. Sold!” (“Built To Last” is as milquetoast as Toyota’s “Let’s Go Places.” Really? In a car? You don’t say.) Another builder gives us “Feel the Spark.” (Yeah, only if I wire the batteries wrong. No thank you.) One builder simply pitches “Timeless” (...zzzz).

Come on, builders! Step it up. Your customers are well into the self-actualization tip of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so sell the fun, sell the sizzle. Go find some ad agency with a creative department that still drinks and smokes all day, as they did in 1982. Anything’s better than copying Toyota.

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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