Buoyed by the success of food and drink advertising campaigns such as “Got Milk?,” the state Lobster Advisory Council wants Maine’s lobster industry to spend $3 million boost sales and market prices.
In a series of four meetings across the state, the Lobster Advisory Council will present a business plan and marketing proposal to strengthen the brand of the Maine lobster and build more profitable demand in new and existing markets. The first meeting will be held from 6 to 9 tonight at the Log Cabin in Yarmouth.
“The time has come. We need to do something,” said Bob Baines, the council’s chairman. “The price of lobster is the same as it was 10 years ago. The cost of bait has doubled. Fuel has tripled.”
The new business effort includes a goal of spending $3 million on marketing, up from about $400,000 currently, Baines said. The budget and marketing effort would be phased in over three years.
The money for the campaign would come from lobster harvesters, dealers and processors. The industry employs about 4,000 people in Maine.
“It’s a supply-and-demand business. We need to increase demand,” Baines said. “Our biggest competition is the other seafood on the center of the plate. We need to do more to get that center plate role.”
The meetings will provide a chance for the council and its consultant to present the marketing plan and for people in the industry to provide feedback. That will determine whether the Lobster Advisory Council moves forward with the idea or abandons it. Officials from the state Department of Marine Resources will be at the meetings to hear responses.
Details of the marketing plan were not available Monday.
“Selling a commodity is very challenging,” said Timothy Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It’s not enough to say that it’s a Maine lobster. You need to say why that matters.”
Barbara Sullivan, managing partner of a branding and marketing agency in New York, likened the idea of marketing Maine lobster to what Perdue did with chicken years ago.
Perdue’s advertising slogans, such as “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” and “We believe in a better chicken” helped make Perdue chicken a household name and a prestige brand for which consumers were willing to pay higher prices, marketing experts said.
“Given all the information that bombards consumers, it’s hard to get a commodity — something people think they already understand and that’s been around forever — to stay on top of your mind,” said Bonnie Wan, group brand strategy director for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners of San Francisco, the ad agency that created the “Got Milk?” campaign. “The residents of Maine already have pride built in. People outside the state may need to learn why a Maine lobster is different.”
Baines said the state’s lobster catch pulls in about $350 million a year and the current marketing budget is insufficient to promote Maine’s lobster to new markets internationally and strengthen the brand identity in the U.S.
“It’s a very good brand, known throughout the world; but we haven’t expanded our markets. It’s very expensive for lobster dealers to find new markets,” said Baines, who has been a lobsterman for 30 years off Spruce Head.
Wholesale prices paid to lobstermen averaged $3.31 a pound in 2011. Last week they ranged from $3.75 to $4.50 a pound for soft-shell lobsters and $5 to $5.50 a pound for hard-shell lobsters, according to the council.
The idea of a marketing campaign for Maine lobster is not new.
In 2006, the Maine Lobster Council started identifying Maine lobsters that were destined for out-of-state delivery as “certified Maine lobster.” The “certified” lobster is purchased from fishermen who adhere to harvesting practices that protect and preserve the resource.
In 2009, the consulting firm The Moseley Group suggested that Maine’s lobstermen and wholesalers work together to ensure the future health of the industry. Moseley recommended a $2 million marketing and research investment in the first year, and at least $7 million a year in future years. Such an infusion of money into marketing would generate higher prices and $15 million to $20 million in additional revenue for the state’s lobstermen, the firm said.
Nothing came of that effort.
Talks about starting a marketing effort were held about two years ago but went nowhere, Baines said.
The Lobster Advisory Council formed a subcommittee this winter to focus on ways to market Maine lobster better. The group hired the marketing consultant John Sauve, president of the Food and Wellness Group, to develop a plan and a budget.
Sauve, who was the director of the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, said in a prepared statement, “There is not nearly enough happening to boost global demand for Maine lobster and truly help the lobstermen and everyone else in the industry. … Think about it not as an issue of over-supply, but rather an issue of under-demand. If you have 100 million pounds of lobster, you want to be 20 million short of the demand.”
Baines said the biggest hurdle will be convincing the industry to contribute money to the campaign.
“We need to convince fishermen and dealers that we need to do this,” he said. “Canada is setting the standard for what is considered a quality lobster, and they are doing that by investing more time and resources in marketing. Maine is playing catch-up.”
Marketing experts cautioned that any campaign would take time.
“One of the challenges will be to set reasonable objectives. There’s not a short-term impact on demand for efforts like this,” said Calkins, at Northwestern University. “You have to build it over the years. People don’t change how they feel about something overnight.”