When you hear the word lobster, you probably think of Maine. Now the industry there is proposing to spend big bucks on advertising. Some lobstermen say that’s a waste of money, but others want in on new markets.
Lobsterman Nelson King fishes from the village of East Boothbay, about a third of the way up the Maine coast.
“It’s a nice place to live,” he says. “One of the best hurricane-hole harbors around here.” King has been a lobsterman there since 1959, when he says a license cost a couple bucks.
“They’re $167 today, and about to go through the roof,” King says.
Lobstermen’s license fees include a surcharge that pays for the Maine Lobster Council to plug the industry in the U.S. and abroad. A bill before the state legislature would more than double those fees over the next few years to boost the council’s annual budget to $3 million.
That’s ten times the current amount, and Nelson King doesn’t see the point.
“You’ve never heard anyone go into a restaurant and say, ‘I want a New Hampshire lobster, I want a Canadian lobster, give me one of them Massachusetts fellas’,” he explains. King says more marketing would benefit only restaurants and dealers.
Maine lobstermen are catching more lobster than ever but the prices they get for their catch hit record lows last summer. Boothbay lobsterman Mark Jones doesn’t mind the surcharge hike if it helps increase demand.
“You know, I’m looking at this through my own eyes as a business owner, that it's minimal effect and it could have huge payoff,” Jones says. “Five years down the road we may be looking at a huge spike in our price.”
If the new law passes, Maine lobstermen will spend about one percent of the gross value of their catch on promotion. The state got that number from commodities marketing expert Harry Kaiser at Cornell University.
“There’s a basic threshold in a marketing budget,” Kaiser explains. “If you spend under the threshold you’re really not going to have any impact because the message is just not going to get out there.” Kaiser points to successful campaigns like “Got Milk” or “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”
Some Maine lobstermen say their commodity is much higher-end, and it’ll never sell like hamburger, no matter how much they spend on marketing.
Tell us: If you were to come up with slogan for lobster, what would it be?