New Direction for Go RVing is in the Works

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December 20, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Gary LaBella

As it marks its 16th anniversary, the RV industry's successful Go RVing market expansion program is in the midst of an important transition that will play out in 2011.

First, the Go RVing Coalition is preparing to leave behind the "Ambassadors of Affordability" semi-animated characters and morph the "Go Affordably. Go RVing." marketing campaign into a theme that is a little more hard hitting now that RV sales have picked up to an extent after plummeting in 2008 and 2009.

Television, Internet and print advertising under the direction of the Richards Group, a Dallas, Texas, agency, likely will reflect the new theme in early 2012.

Administratively, leadership at the top already has changed with the retirement at the end of 2010 of Gary LaBella, vice president of communication for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), who has been involved in the Go RVing program as staff liaison since the first ads kicked in in 1996.

James Ashurst, formerly vice president of communication for the Travel Channel, was introduced in late November as LaBella's successor at RVIA and as lead administrator of the Go RVing campaign.

Even as LaBella prepared to depart, work already was well underway to create a new Go RVing theme that will be implemented in 2012.

The Richards Group in late 2010 was developing a series of ideas for the next campaign that will be pared down by a coalition subcommittee scheduled to visit Texas sometime over the winter.

All things considered, the two-year-old Ambassadors of Affordability campaign was scheduled for retirement even as it began.

"(The affordability) ads were well-received by the industry and the consumer, but they were intended to be re-evaluated for their relevance in 2010 and beyond," LaBella said in late November. "The 'affordability' program was right on the money for the times.

"The ambassadors did their job of helping us elevate ourselves above the clutter," LaBella added. It's likely that as the economy recovers, Go RVing will move toward more of a focus of family fun and the outdoors. That doesn't mean that 'affordability' will be eliminated. It just won't be as emphasized."

While Go RVing's new direction is still under development, an enhanced lead program already is in place that is designed to better identify people who are most likely to buy an RV.

"If there's one thing that the Go RVing campaign needed, it was shoring up the leads process and the quality of leads," LaBella said. "We think that by doing this, we've made a major step forward."

The lead prioritization program is based on an analysis of about 1,200 out of 6,000 Go RVing leads selected from the Go RVing data base that resulted in the purchase of a new or used RV between 2007 and 2009.

Equifax, a leading credit reporting company, analyzed the purchase information to devise a mathematical formula that predicts which leads are "highly likely," "likely," "moderately likely" and "interested" in purchasing an RV based on a number of variables: average retail-purchase size, assets, net worth, stated RV purchase intentions and permission to be called by phone, among them..

Dealers joining the lead program for an annual fee of $225 will receive a report on leads in their areas detailing that breakdown.

That the Go RVing campaign survived the Great Recession even in a reduced form is a testament to the program's industrywide support over a decade and a half. The marine industry's derivative "Grow Boating" campaign, for instance, collapsed during the recession and voluntary contributions to the program were returned to boat manufacturers.

"We had an impactful program in 2010, despite the budget cutbacks," LaBella said. "Preliminary top-line results indicate that despite the negative market condition of recent years, Go RVing has been delivering quality leads to the industry, evidenced by the finding that 20% have bought either a new or used RV since becoming a lead."

Go RVing Coalition Co-Chairman Bob Olson, chairman, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, said the Go RVing campaign showed its value during the global economic slowdown.

"It's worth has been really seen during this downturn," Olson said. "We've had to do a lot of budget cutting, but for those companies who survived the recession, it was an absolute necessity."

Go RVing Co-Chairman Tom Stinnett, owner of Tom Stinnett RV Freedom Center, Clarksville, Ind., also believes Go RVing was a valuable asset for dealers and manufacturers.

"I'd hate to think where the RV industry would be without Go RVing over the last couple of years," Stinnett said. "What we've put together is rather extraordinary."

Money — retail RV sales — is the key to keeping the Go RVing program relevant even in an age of relatively low-cost social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The Go RVing program is funded by an assessment levied against each RV built by an RVIA member-manufacturer — $46 for each folding camping trailer shipped, $61 for each travel trailer and fifth-wheel and $74 for motorhomes.

Shipments dropped to such a level in 2009 that the Go RVing media budget was trimmed to $3.5 million from a high of more than $15 million.

Media spending climbed to $8.2 million in 2010 and the program is expected to spend $11 million on media in 2011, based on projections by economist Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan that wholesale RV shipments next year will in grow 4% to 246,000 units compared to 2010.

In 2011, Go RVing will spend $5.5 million on TV advertising, $3 million on print and $2.5 million on the Internet. Total Go RVing for 2011 spending is budgeted at $19 million, which includes development and production of the new ads.

"It would not be truthful to say that we have been able to make the same impact on the consumer marketplace compared to 2005-2007," LaBella said. "But nonetheless, because we got smarter in our use of social media and buying more web advertising, and because of money we save on creating the 'Go Affordably' ads, we are doing very well."

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