Nearly all of the millions of visitors to the Jersey Shore each summer go to the beach at some point.
In Cape May County alone, that was 12.4 million potential customers for businesses last year, and they spent about $5.2 billion, the Cape May County Department of Tourism figures.
Beach tourists should make a lucrative market to target. The challenge, of course, is reaching them in the midst of public sand and surf.
Eye to Eye Media has developed a solution that goes far beyond towing a banner past this vast audience with a small plane.
The Woodbine-based company's Aqua Billboard Boat puts a 200-square-foot LED digital screen right in front of beach throngs staring at the waves and ocean.
Michael James, Eye to Eye president and a WZXL radio personality, said the billboard boat runs out of Sea Isle City and takes advertising messages to all of the beaches from Atlantic City to Cape May.
James said he and co-owner Bob Rush Jr. started the service two years ago, buying a 55-foot boat from a retired charter captain, cutting out the cabin and installing the massive screen on a crane turret so it turns to always face the shore.
The boat slowly motors along the shore, just past the breakers and at a safe distance from swimmers (two of whom it has rescued in its first couple years of operation).
The Aqua Billboard Boat alternates northern and southern routes, James said.
One day it heads south, covering Avalon, Stone Harbor, Wildwoods and Cape May beaches twice, down and back. The next it goes north for two transits each of Sea Isle City, Ocean City, Longport, Margate, Ventnor and Atlantic City.
The ultra-bright screen, a little bigger than 10 by 20 feet, is easily visible from the beach, even in full sun.
Computers on board running the screen are linked via the Internet to Eye to Eye office computers, which makes changing the ads and images nearly instantaneous.
"The cool thing is, if a client calls me - and they do call literally from the beach sometimes, wanting to know how much it costs to advertise and how to get on - I can literally take a credit card payment and have them on in a matter of moments," James said.
Ads typically are 10-second visuals that repeat every five minutes, and clients can pick the beaches where they want them, he said.
The digital billboard also is used for what are called "shout-outs" - birthday and other personal greetings, and of course marriage proposals.
"We did half a dozen proposals last year, where the client supplies a picture or three and the boat stops right in front of the couple on the beach," James said.
Shout-outs cost $100 during the week and $150 on the weekends, he said.
When Eye to Eye purchased its first big LED board, the sign company was "shocked and amazed that someone was doing this," he said. "They've since started marketing their signs for mounting on boats as well."
Last year, Eye to Eye operated a second boat, the Aqua Billboard Barge, out of Seaside Heights to cover Ocean County beaches. It was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, he said.
Because shore businesses in that region are coming back more slowly from their own storm damage, James and Rush decided to wait a year before replacing their northern boat.
Their other mobile screen, called Billboard-To-Go, is mounted on a trailer and can be towed around or mounted at events, delivering the same sort of digital advertising on land.
That also can turn any location into a movie night, which was done at the Atlantic City Beerfest this year, he said.
James said the business is planning to develop a larger boat with a larger digital screen for next summer.
Contact Kevin Post:
Eye to Eye Media LLC
Location: Woodbine, with Aqua Billboard Boat at Mike's Seafood Dock in Sea Isle City
Owners: Michael James, of Atlantic City, and Bob Rush Jr., of Woodbine
Revenue: Not disclosed