In the week since Oakley’s "Bubba’s Hover" has gone viral, Thinkmodo, the agency behind the YouTube clip, has gotten a number of calls from golf courses inquiring about the hovercraft golf cart Bubba Watson is seen driving.
And while it’s going to make a promotional appearance at the 2013 Masters Tournament this week, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be gliding around the golf course in your own hovercraft golf cart anytime soon. "This is not like driving a car," says Thinkmodo cofounder James Percelay. "It’s more like driving a helicopter, and there is training involved."
The unique vehicle was born out of Oakley’s desire to make a splash while promoting its association with Watson, whose endorsement deal with the company was announced in January. "I said, ‘I’d really love to make a viral video,' and people here were into the idea," says Nathan Strange, Oakley’s director of global marketing for golf. "But the tough thing is: It’s really hard for big brands to make videos that truly go viral."
Still, Oakley was willing to give it a shot, and the company contacted Thinkmodo, the stunt masters behind viral successes like AMC’s zombie attack on New York and the Popinator. In speaking with Watson to generate ideas, Percelay and Thinkmodo cofounder Michael Krivicka discovered that the golfer has an affinity for cars. In fact, they learned that he recently bought the General Lee featured in The Dukes of Hazzard movie, so the decision was made to create a golf cart unlike any that had ever been seen before: a hovercraft-golf cart hybrid that could float over the green and easily navigate water hazards.
Thinkmodo turned to Terre Haute, Indiana-based Neoteric Hovercraft, which generally makes hovercrafts for use in police and military rescue operations, to construct the vehicle. "At first, they were a little hesitant. When you say you want to build a hovercraft golf cart, they go, ‘Okay…’ But we convinced them that we were the real deal," Percelay says.
In general, it would take three months for Neoteric to build a standard hovercraft. The customized hovercraft golf cart—incorporating parts cannibalized from, well, a golf cart—came together in just three weeks.
It was then loaded onto a trailer—and covered with cardboard and other material so no one could get a look at it—for the long journey to the Raven Golf Club in Phoenix, where "Bubba’s Hover" was shot.
As you might imagine, Watson was thrilled to tool around the golf course in the hovercraft. "He gave us that big Bubba smile. He was impressed," says Percelay, noting, "We had spoken to him along the way, and he was involved in the process because we wanted to make sure the vehicle fit who he is."
Aside from two Oakley logos at the back, the hovercraft golf cart is free of branding. "We believe in nuance and in making people squint and look and discover [the brand] themselves rather than trying to get into Nascar territory with decals everywhere," Percelay says.
Subtlety was crucial, Strange agrees. "That was one of the biggest internal battles that I fought. Once people got hold of this, they wanted to make it look like a TV commercial," Strange says, "and I said, ‘Look, if you really want this to go viral, less is more. We can have the branding, and we’re going to get credit for it if it truly goes viral. But if you make it look like an Oakley commercial, no one’s going to share it.’ "
Ultimately, the low-key approach worked. Since it was posted on YouTube on April 2, "Bubba’s Hover" has been viewed more than 7 million times, and television networks around the world have done stories on the video, thus far generating 80 million media impressions, according to Strange, who says, "The return on our investment has been astronomical. I’m not going to give you the exact numbers, but it definitely didn’t cost us millions of dollars to produce this whole video, which is really where the value comes in because we’re getting millions and millions of media impressions for a fraction of a cost of what a traditional advertising campaign would cost."
Meanwhile, Oakley.com also saw a surge in sales of its golf apparel. Watson sports clothing from Oakley’s spring golf apparel line in "Bubba’s Hover," and Strange reports that sales on Oakley.com went up 40 percent in the first couple of days after the video was released.