Boat Advertising Copy: Beware the Buzz

There’s a joke in real estate ads about certain watch words that don’t necessarily mean what the writer wants you to think they mean, but something else altogether. For example, when you see the word “cozy” in an ad for a home for sale, it really means cramped or small. When you read “close to shopping,” it means you can hear traffic noise from the backyard. When you see terms like, “lots of potential,” it means bring a contractor. Or a wrecking ball.

boat sales buzz copy
Whether buying or selling, remember that in boat ads there are buzz phrases that can be entertaining, annoying — and sometimes even effective.

So that got me thinking: there had to be some kind of parallel in ad copy for used boats, right? Now, granted, there’s a tongue-in-cheek slant to this story, but the point is to help clue you in to what might be waiting for you the next time you look at yet another used boat. On the other hand, if you’re in selling mode, maybe this will help you avoid buzz phrases that will make potential buyers wince.

Must see to appreciate!  This is probably the least insidious lie someone will tell you in their used-boat ad. It could mean a few things. First, it could mean that the guy didn’t have a decent camera. It also could mean he didn’t bother to detail it before he shot it, but it’ll be cleaned up when you arrive. Or, in the case of a dealer, it could be just a line to lure you onto the lot. These are usually worth considering.

Won’t last long! This is at best a manipulative sales tool, and of course it’s usually wrong.  How does the seller know how quickly a boat will sell? He doesn’t, so he makes it up. In scholarly terms, the tactic is based on the scarcity principle: Get yours before they’re gone. Hurry, or you’ll miss out. It’s bogus. Look, if someone is interested in a used boat, it’s because he’s interested in that kind of boat or that brand of boat, not because someone with a fifth-grader’s sales savvy writes “won’t last long” in his ad. Save that line for the mattress sales.

Nicely equipped!  This almost always applies to a middle-of-the-road boat. Either that or it comes from someone who didn’t feel like listing all the features it has. The boat it describes is not bare bones. It’s not high end. It’s just, well, meh. But sometimes meh is where the deals are.

Priced to sell! More often than not, this means the owner isn’t going to budge much on the price, if at all. It also could be baloney. Check prices on the same models for sale by other people in other areas if you have to. Just because this guy’s telling you the price is good doesn’t mean it is.

Great on gas! Wrong. It’s a boat, which means fuel consumption is measured in gallons per hour, not miles per gallon. Why? Because measuring a boat’s fuel consumption in miles per gallon is depressing. There’s only one marine engine that’s “great on gas” and it flows from areas of high atmospheric pressure to areas of low pressure. It’s called wind, and sailors have been taking advantage of it for centuries. If you’re looking for fuel economy, buy a Prius. Don’t look for fuel economy in a powerboat, because the term “fuel-efficient boat” is an oxymoron.

Call for price! In most cases it means overpriced. Or expensive. Or if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. It means if I list the price, you’ll skip over this ad faster than a Beetle Bailey cartoon strip. If you have the means, there’s nothing to be afraid of, but don’t go sniffing for deals here.

Custom paint! Be wary of this in boat ads, because there’s no middle ground here. It either means someone paid a capable artist to custom-paint his boat, or it means, “My neighbor Cletus owns a paint gun and a compressor.”  Look, there are so few people out there with the equipment and skills to apply a decent paint job that this terminology in a used-boat ad is cause for alarm. The one giveaway that signals it might be a decent application is when they list how much they paid for the paint job, because good painters are also artists and they aren’t cheap. Nor should they be.

Rebuilt engine!  This often means “My neighbor Cletus also rebuilds engines.” Unless the ad mentions who rebuilt the engine, this phrase should raise flags in your mind. If it just says “rebuilt engine,” lord only knows who did the work. If it says, Crusader-rebuilt engine, you might have stumbled onto something viable and worth looking at.

Never registered! This invariably means that this boat was so disastrously unappealing that even three years after it was manufactured, not one person who set foot on that dealer’s lot in that time frame thought enough of it to buy it. It also means you might be able to get it for a great price, which can make even the homeliest of boats seem desirable. All the girls are prettier at closing time.

Low hours! This either means the rings are stuck from disuse or that someone thought they would use the boat more often than they did. Now, low hours is usually a relative term. Figure 50 hours per season. More if you live in Florida. Low hours on an old boat is still going to be a lot of hours on the powertrain, and a low price might not save you enough to get your neighbor Cletus to rebuild it for you. Low hours on a boat that’s only a few years old is probably worth a look. And they usually don’t last long.

Must sell! Hurry up, the repo man’s coming. There can be genuine bargains to be found behind such claims. There also can be headaches and psychos that make Craigslist look like a MENSA convention. If you’re interested in the boat, these ads are always worth checking out. Sometimes, even if it isn’t a boat you’re into, these ads might lead to good candidates for flip sales.

Super clean! Fastidious boat owners are good to find, especially when you’re buying their used boat. They’re not so great to sell to. Picky, picky, picky. But to buy from, they are aces. They are not, however, highly flexible on price. They know their boat’s clean. You know their boat’s clean. That’s worth a bit extra. You both know that, too.

I know there are more, but I’ve got a lead on a super clean used walkaround the next town over. The price isn’t listed, but I’m sure it won’t last long.

This article originally appeared on Boat Trader in September 2012.


Used Boats and the Scarcity Principle

Back in 2012, I highlighted some of the buzzwords and phrases to be wary of in ad copy for used boats. In that blog, I talked about the use of phrases like “won’t last long,” and how it was almost always baloney. Typically the seller has no idea how long it will take to sell a used boat. The phrase is put in the ad because of the “scarcity principle” and its influence on people reading the ad.

Classic Bertram 31s are sought-after boats. Newer Bertrams, too, have their followings. Some of them may even be "rare." But it takes research to know.  Even then, is rare a good thing in this case?
Classic Bertram 31s are sought-after boats. Newer Bertrams, too, have their followings. Some of them may even be “rare.” But it takes research to know. Rare doesn’t necessarily mean more valuable, and even a boat that’s both rare and valuable may not be right for you.

You see the technique used all the time, nearly everywhere you look, in phrases like “Time is running out! So is inventory!” “Last chance to save!” “Hurry! Sale ends Sunday.” “Five days only.” Open your local newspaper and the odds are good you can find an example of the scarcity principle in use.

Let’s examine it for a second. In simple economic terms, that which is rare is more valuable than something that is plentiful, right? That’s why antiques go up in value, because there aren’t many around anymore. That’s also why auctions are so effective. Lots of buyers pursuing one item drives up the price.

People selling used boats would like you to believe the same thing.

The interesting thing is how we as people are drawn to what is rare or even perceived to be rare. For example, there was a story in the Los Angeles Times about a plant called the corpse flower.  This particular plant is extraordinarily rare, and it rarely blooms, but when it does, it emits a stench so foul you have to hold your nose whenever you get close enough to look at it. Despite the objectionable odor, people were lining up to see it. Nobody wants to miss out on something, even if it’s awful. We can’t help ourselves, it seems.

Here’s how powerful the concept is. Florida State University students were surveyed to rate the quality of campus cafeteria food. As you might expect, they found it unsatisfactory, that is until nine days later, when the survey was administered again after the cafeteria had closed due to a fire and they had not been able to eat there for two weeks. In the second survey, they rated the food quality higher. The food quality hadn’t changed a bit, but the availability had.

The technique of using the scarcity principle  finds its way into ads on For example: 1996 Bertram 30 Moppie Loaded Rare in Marina Del Rey, CA.  I don’t know whether the listing will still be there when you read this, but my point is that the word “rare” is in the headline to let you know this is something you should covet, even if you’re not looking for a Bertram.

So, how do you defend yourself against an emotional response that is ingrained in human behavior? It’s difficult. Even knowing the causes and mechanics might not be enough to defend ourselves against it, because conscious thought is suppressed by an emotional reaction to the scarcity principle. We believe it’s baloney, but what if it isn’t? That nagging doubt is always there, well, nagging.

The best defense is to investigate. In the case of the rare 30-foot Moppie, anyone interested in such a boat should do a search on and other classified sites to see exactly how many of them are out there — and to remember that the emotional pull of the scarcity principle is that the joy comes not from experiencing a boat, but from possessing it. With all due respect to the owner of the Moppie, even if it is rare, it’s still just a boat.

So as you shop for a used boat, be aware of how the scarcity principle can affect you, and be prepared for how it can affect your decision-making process. It’s a wily little phenomenon.


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