Marketers Learn to Talk Like a Pirate
BY Josh Spiro
Move over Halloween. Businesses are turning International Talk Like a Pirate Day into a marketing bonanza.
THE PIRATE GUYS: John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur and Mark "Cap'n Slappy" Summers
Computer games, t-shirts, bicycle parts, snack foods, you name it, International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLPD) has been used to shill it. The impromptu holiday got its official start in 2002 after two friends, John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur and Mark "Cap'n Slappy" Summers, were catapulted into the limelight by nationally-syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry, who wrote a column on their previously personal celebration.
Baur and Summers thought the hubbub would be short-lived, but seven years later, the holiday is still being widely celebrated each September 19th; in prior Septembers their website, talklikeapirate.com, has received as many as 19 million hits, with visitors from all seven continents.
The continual media blitzes have brought the pirate guys, as they're known to fans, many endorsement offers but scant booty. "We never planned on this being something we could retire on, and we recognize we haven't been at all 'businesslike' about it," Baur says. "We'd like to make tons of money, but only as long as it stays fun."
But while the word monetize might not be in Baur and Summers' pirate vocabulary, others have made the holiday a financial hit. Sarah Shealy, who was an associate director of publicity for Harcourt Children's Books in 2003 used ITLPD to promote the book How I Became a Pirate. "It was when the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were coming out so there was a ton of interest in that, and it was right before Halloween," she says. The book ended up spending forty-nine weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.
The pirate guys aren't left completely empty handed: they've published Pirattitude, which is in its sixth printing, and The Pirate Life: Unleashing Your Inner Buccaneer. They also sell t-shirts through Cafepress, an online retailer of stock and user-customized on demand products, and make occasional appearance everywhere from Vegas to a New Orleans pirate convention. What they make isn't enough to live off of, but it's great for "beer money," Baur says. "And we can drink a lot of beer."
This year, the pirate guys have partnered with snack maker Pirate's Booty, which is encouraging their customers to have pirate-themed parties this weekend while chowing down on their baked snack treats. Other partners include Flying Lab Software in connection with their online role-playing game "Pirates of the Burning Sea," and a company called Bibliolife that had Baur and Summers curate a collection of copyright expired pirate books they were republishing.
Other companies make use of the day without even consulting the pirate guys. Some franchises of the Long John Silver's restaurant chain offer special deals on the day and BDOP Cycling, a Taiwanese bike equipment company offers all customers free shipping in celebration. The company jokes on it's website that pirates have seized their shipping lanes.
You might think these unsanctioned tie-ins would bring fearsome scowls to the pirate guys' faces but it's actually just the opposite. "If people want to celebrate the holiday, we want them to do that," says Baur. "We toyed very briefly with copyrights and trademarks, and realized quickly that that's not us."
Still two accidental entrepreneurs can cross their fingers. "My dream is to be the spokesman for Rogue Ale," Baur says. "Hasn't worked out yet, but we live in hope."