Houston Chronicle reporter L.M. Sixel recently conducted a Q&A with RVIA President David Humphreys covering a range of issues, including high gas prices and the growing appeal of RVs with American consumers.
The following is the report published in the Chronicle:
Chronicle: Why are RVs so popular with the price of gas so high? Does it have anything to do with Sept. 11 and the search for a safer way to travel?
Humphreys: We certainly can’t argue that has hurt us, but to say that creates a major misunderstanding of what the industry is all about and why we’re strong. For example, in 1999, well before Sept. 11, 2001, we had the best year in 20 years.
At that time, the things that were responsible for our success were long-term trends – things like the pace in our society is getting faster and faster, and people are looking for a less hectic way to spend their leisure time.
People were concerned with the quality of the time they spend together, especially with their children. Also, it had become quite popular to be physically active on vacation, and people found that by using an RV, they met a lot of these needs in a unique way.
The other thing that is essential to understand is that 20 years ago the average RV consumer was getting older and older, so seven years ago the industry started a major campaign to lower the age of the average RV consumer.
We did it primarily through a national advertising campaign called “Go RVing,” and the primary target of the campaign was the Baby Boomers.
Chronicle: I’ve seen those ads and they do making RVing seem really appealing. How did they work so well?
Humphreys: They’re emotional and very powerful.
The industry did psychographic research, which is designed to figure out the hopes, dreams and fears of the target audience – in this case, the Baby Boomers – and then designed the campaign to match up with those hopes and dreams and fears.
One thing that people are worried about is safety while they’re on vacation. In the first phase of the campaign there was an aerial shot of a campground with the words “The biggest crime was the steak you burned last night.”
Our research showed that Baby Boomers are very clever shoppers, and one of the things they want is the product to be good for multiple purposes. We’ve tried to convey that.
Our current campaign is “Pursue Your Passions” and we show young children at the ocean and people at the mountains. We even have an ad of young people riding mountain bikes over big rocks. That’s the generation Xers we’re after.
Chronicle: Still, how about those high gas prices?
Humphreys: A rise in gas prices doesn’t hurt us.
Say you’re taking a 1,000-mile trip and you get 10 miles to a gallon. You’d use 100 gallons of gas. If it goes up a $1, that would increase the cost of your trip by $100. That’s not enough money to put four people in an airplane, hotel and restaurants.
Chronicle: What is the most popular RV feature?
Humphreys: The biggest thing going on in the industry is slideouts. That means that after setting up your vehicle, you push a button and the wall moves out. It gives a tremendous increase to the amount of living space inside the RV. It’s really hard to sell a used RV if you don’t have slideouts.
Chronicle: RVs seem to be featured in a lot of movies, television shows and commercials lately. Are you paying for product placement?
Humphreys: No. Never. It’s the darndest thing. The people who are spending many millions on commercials, sitcoms and movies are convinced people view RVs as very positive. They’re hot and hip.
In the Frasier sitcom, Frasier and his brother wanted to give their father the ultimate vacation. Damned if they didn’t pick an RV.