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‘You cannot sell a man who isn’t listening’

Gray Page’s James Wilkes argues shipping ought to be advertising its usefulness to the general public more often.

Have you seen BIMCO’s video ‘Ships make the world go’?

If you haven’t, can I recommend you check it out by clicking here?

It is really good. Much better than the 30,688 views it has attracted so far on YouTube. So much so, I think it should be running in prime-time advertising slots on televisions around the world, sponsored by major shipping companies in their home countries.

Maersk in Denmark. CSAV in Chile. Oldendorff Carriers in Germany. CMA CGM in France. SCI in India. MSC in Italy. Hyundai in South Korea. Mitsui OSK in Japan. COSCO in China.

Imagine millions of ordinary people seeing it. Hearing that first-spoken sentence, “At a time when the world stopped. Ships kept moving.”

Imagine the impact it could have.

Snort in derision if you wish, but let the idea percolate for a minute or two. It’s got more substance than you might think.

Great advertising is immensely powerful. People respond to it.

If we want shipping to feature in the mind of the public, then the public has to feature in the mind of shipping

You’ve shared a Coke with someone, haven’t you? Compared the Meerkat (market), perhaps? Didn’t Frosties taste Grrrreat!, when you were a kid?

It is why in other industries, companies that make and do things spend billions of dollars on advertising to the general public.

They want – they need – to get their products and services noticed by consumers.

And that’s what we want – what we need – for shipping, isn’t it?

To be noticed. To be talked about and remembered.

Shipping doesn’t have a brand problem. It doesn’t need moonshots, name evolutions, humaning, repurposing or any other such vacuous flim-flam that has no meaning.

What shipping needs is to tell its story.

And it needs to tell its story directly to the people whose attention it craves – the public.

“A global community of knowledge and passion. From salt and sugar to the latest fashion. Our ships keep moving, products we love using. Ships make the world go. They help trade flow and let business grow. ”

These are words that people understand and can connect with.

As the legendary American advertising creative director, Bill Bernbach, once said, “Simple, timeless, human truths.”

If we want shipping to feature in the mind of the public, then the public has to feature in the mind of shipping. We have to communicate with the public through mediums that the public understands and responds to: television, radio, billboard, newspapers, magazines and digital platforms.

For it to demand attention, shipping has to find a way to cut through the noise and craziness of peoples everyday life, just like other products and services do.

Apologies to its producers in advance, but if you edited the BIMCO video slightly. Had it voiced-over by someone as sonorously recognisable as James Earl Jones or Russel Crowe. And then added a shipping company logo at its conclusion accompanied by the strap-line, “The journey never ends.”, I think it could be tremendous. It could give people a reason to listen.

My suggestion to any of the big shipping companies is, “just do it!”

For as Bill Bernbach also said, “You cannot sell a man who isn’t listening.”


  1. The problem with shipping is that it is run by “old farts” who just can’t understand the power of social media and storytelling. They still see SM as something that should be feared. Why just social media, most of the industry players don’t even have a website of their company.
    It is time for ALL the C-level “leaders” in the industry who are over 50 years of age to gracefully step down and let the Millennials and Centennials take shipping into the 21st Century (albeit 2 decades late).

    1. You could not be more right. Let the millenials have a chance

      As a 23 year old mariner, living and breathing most of my time on the internet, it’s almost hilarious how aloof shipping is from the general public. For being such a basic need, it’s hardly ever visible, save for the times when some disaster happens such as the MV Ever Given right now
      Huge changes can sky rocket the shipping world if concepts such as conveying a story, highlighting how interwoven our lives are with the shipping and showing its humans after all running the show behind the stage
      The biggest issue is the initial cost of business is too high for new players to make a dent on the world market

  2. 🤣😂🤣 come back when you’re 50, admit you’re an old fart and tell everyone you’re stepping down.

  3. I responded to a similar clarion call last week where I shared the development of the Global Maritime Information Coalition, an initiative to unite the industry on messaging to the public. While I agree with James’ premise that we need to get the word out about the value proposition of our industry (the goal of the GMIC), we don’t have to spend millions to do it on traditional media, but can take advantage of the cost effectiveness and reach of digital platforms/social media. As a former executive at Ogilvy & Mather, it still holds true that Reach x Frequency= Impressions. We can do this!!

    1. I know there are many in awe of ‘new media’, digital platforms and social media ‘advertising’. Personally, I am hugely sceptical that they are genuinely effective at the scale I’m advocating. For a start, there are just too many people around the world who don’t connect with digital platforms or social media. I’m willing to be persuaded, but I’d like to see a digital or social media-only campaign that had the impact of one of the great traditional-media advertising campaigns, or even a bit of a mediocre one.

      “Cost effectiveness” is, of course, a dog-whistle to the shipping industry, which has the wonderful ability to measure ‘cost’ without any meaningful metric for ‘effectiveness’. There are plenty of people in advertising too who can’t meaningfully define it either.

      I wish it were different, but the notion that it’s possible to get millions of people to take notice of the BIMCO video (or similar), talk about it and remember it, by digital and social media-only channels, is for the birds.

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