Every woman has a story to tell, and a secret to share...
By Ellen Benoit, Forbes Magazine, 1986
How valuable is getting your product on a hot TV show like Miami Vice? Consider Wellcraft Marine, a $165 million (sales) boat manufacturer based in Bradenton, Fla. A year ago Wellcraft expected to sell maybe a dozen versions of its souped-up, $130,000 powerboat, the 38 Scarab, KV with twin 440hp engines. Then it agreed to supply the muscular machine to Michael Mann Productions, which puts out the blockbuster TV series. This year the company says it will sell at least 75 of the powerful cruisers, mainly close replicas of the sleek, lavender-and-turquoise model that Don Johnson and costar Philip Michael Thomas roar around in chasing bad guys.
Happily for the company, the sudden popularity of this one boat seems to have helped move the rest of its line as well. Wellcraft, a division of Irwin Jacob's Minstar Corp., now sells about 50 different boats, ranging from 18-foot outboards ($5,000) to 50-foot high-speed Italia 50 cruisers ($500,000). Thanks in part to the Miami Vice exposure, Wellcraft says sales should grow about 21% this year, to perhaps $200 million.
Much of that new business is coming from buyers first intrigued by the customized Miami Vice Scarab with its 28-hue paint job (that fades from lavender to turquoise), its black Plexiglas dashboard packed with 22 aircraft-style gauges and its overhead radar arch mounted aft. There are even two stand-up bolsters instead of traditional seats, because most h-performance drivers prefer to stand at the helm. And for those who consider the 440s too puny, twin 500hp engines are available that will push this craft across the water at a gut-churning speed of 80mph.
Companies often pay for such exposure or, as airlines frequently do, trade services for it. The famous trail of Reese's Pieces candy in the picture, E.T., was a well-publicized example. But television series may turn out to have far more clout with consumers.
The impact is obvious, certainly at Wellcraft. The original top-selling Scarab, with its raised deck for more headroom and storage space, hardly resembles the Miami Vice boat. Today's top seller has a high-performance look, and though the boat can be painted to order, many buyers insist on Miami Vice colors. "The racing model was never as popular as the high deck," says Bill Erickson, senior vice president of marketing and product development for Wellcraft. "Not until Miami Vice got hold of it.”
Who buys a boat that devours gasoline and whose only real function is to slice through the water at speeds most suitable for evading law enforcement officers? Typically, a male entrepreneur or corporate executive, Erickson says, 30 to 55. The buyers, in other words, reflect the show's audience. NBC says that men between the ages of 25 and 54 constitute 26% of the viewers and that Miami Vice now ranks third in popularity among men aged to 49.
The Scarab has been a TV star for only one year. The original Miami Vice boat was a Chris-Craft. When that relationship soured, for reasons still murky, Erickson of Wellcraft quickly promoted his boat as a replacement. "I watched the pilot, knew the show was special and felt it could be a super marketing opportunity," he says. In fact, the very morning after he first saw the show he phoned John (Moby) Griffin, an independent contractor in charge of Miami Vice's boating scenes, and pitched the 38 Scarab KV.
Neither Miami Vice nor Wellcraft will disclose the terms of their deal, but both seem satisfied. "The contract has practically no dollar value," says Griffin. " And we didn't guarantee any air time. But we've gotten letters because viewers notice the boat, so we've put it on the air a bit more often. If you figure what it would cost Wellcraft to advertise on the show, well, they're making lots of money on this."
True enough: Thirty seconds of air time on Miami Vice now sells for about $165,000.