The Real Story Behind Bubba Watson's Hovercraft

The sunglass maker engineers a stunt to get lots of eyeballs for its brand
Image via YouTube

On April 2, eyewear and apparel maker Oakley posted a YouTube video titled “Bubba’s Hover” that shows last year’s Masters champion Bubba Watson zipping around a golf course in a hovercraft. “It takes you everywhere you want to go, through sand traps, through waters, shortcuts, into the woods, out of the woods,” Watson says of his upgrade from the standard four-wheeled golf cart.

The video is real. Or at least, that’s really Watson zipping across a water hazard at Raven Golf Club in Phoenix. But it is not, as the clip suggests, the result of his idea for “improving some of the limitations of existing golf carts.” Instead, it’s the result of Oakley’s idea of creating a viral video to promote one of its athletes. Oakley wanted it to get passed around. As of this morning, it has been watched more than 3 million times. The company also wanted people like me to call. I did.

April 3 (Bloomberg) -- On today's "Weird Wall Street," Bloomberg News discusses bizarre stories in business. They speak on Bloomberg Television's "Street Smart." (Source: Bloomberg)

When Oakley signed Watson to a sponsorship deal at the beginning of this year, says Nathan Strange, the company’s head of global marketing for golf, they immediately set about coming up with ideas for a marketing stunt. “I knew I wanted to do a viral video,” says Strange. “We brainstormed a bunch of ideas, and we ended up with creating the world’s first golf cart hovercraft.” Watson approved. “Bubba was out of his mind,” Strange says. “This is the kind of stuff he loves.” From there, things moved fast. Because of Watson’s tournament schedule, Oakley had only a couple weeks to find a hovercraft maker, build a prototype, and shoot the video. Strange turned to Neoteric Hovercraft in Terre Haute, Ind. The company quickly modified one its base models for duty on the links. And Watson set aside a day in January to cruise around at the Raven club near his home. “He was like a kid getting his first toy,” says Strange.

Oakley certainly got the attention it coveted. Now it has to decide if it really wants to get into the hovercraft business. “To be honest, we haven’t put a whole lot of thought into it,” says Strange. “We specialize in eyewear and apparel and footwear, so it’s not really our core competency.” Still, Oakley may yet partner with Neoteric if the demand is strong enough. Bubba’s hover was built from a model that goes for $16,000 to $20,000. After the video went up, Strange says, Neoteric got a call from a man in Australia who wanted 100.

In an e-mail, Neoteric spokesman Filip Przybysz says the company has had more than 500 calls since the video’s release. About 150 of those are serious inquiries about either buying a hovercraft golf cart of using a hovercraft in corporate branding. Based on that interest, he says, the company is open to partnering with Oakley to sell golf hovercrafts.

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