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Cruise Marketing: Competition Drives Messaging Innovation

October 11, 2019 Kathy Bryan

The number of ocean cruisers around the world has almost doubled in a decade — from 17.8 million in 2009 to a projected 30 million in 2019. According to The Motley Fool, this growth has “caused a sort of arms race between the biggest cruise operators.” Reflective of the competition, cruise marketing campaigns are focused on creating perceived differentiations between the cruise lines, expanding cruise audiences and encouraging cruisers to take action.

Celebrity Cruises: Wonder Awaits

With “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane in the background, the recent “Wonder Awaits” campaign from Celebrity Cruises creates an “Alice in Wonderland” vibe to portray the discovery and amazement that awaits cruisers — especially, we assume, on their newer ships like the Celebrity Edge featured in the “Wonder Awaits” spot. In fact, according to the Celebrity Cruises website, the Celebrity Edge is the first ship in Celebrity’s new Edge class of ships, which was “designed to shatter expectations.”

Celebrity Cruises – part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the parent company for Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Silversea Cruises – is often thought of as a cruise line for the older set. As described by, Celebrity Cruises attracts “generally moderately affluent and well-educated adults, but the line also attracts families.” This balance is well portrayed in the new “Wonder Awaits” spot which features a kid at the beginning but highlights the adventures of an adult throughout. Ryan Barwick of AdWeek describes “Wonder Awaits” as “an interesting spot for a typically conservative industry, which is now beginning to market itself to young professionals.”

Royal Caribbean: 4 Seconds Of “Must Hear TV”

Partnering with NBCUniversal, Royal Caribbean (RCL) recently debuted a TV commercial that starts with four seconds of “Must Hear TV.” Appearing only after TV shows that cut to commercial break with scenes that complement but juxtapose the RCL spot, the new commercial from RCL starts with a black screen and noises of the beach and laughter at their recently upgraded CocoCay private island. After four seconds, on “the cusp of uncomfortable,” as described by Kara Wallace, RCL Vice President of Marketing, words appear on the screen and then the spot transitions to a more standard-format commercial.

RCL is the first brand to partner with NBCUniversal on the creation and placement of “Must Hear TV.” According to Josh Feldman, Head of Marketing and Advertising Creative for NBCUniversal, “The whole idea behind this ad innovation of ‘must-hear TV’ is to really draw people’s attention back to the TV screen. We all know advertising works, but the idea is to get people to pay attention to that advertising.”

Advertising spend for TV is estimated at $70.6 billion in the U.S. this year, just 57% of the $123.1 billion estimated for digital advertising. By 2023, that gap is projected to be wider with TV advertising spend at $72.2 billion compared to $160.8 billion for internet advertising. Though still leveraging and experimenting with traditional ad formats, RCL is no stranger to digital advertising. In 2017, RCL shifted a significant portion of their ad spend to digital, radio and video-on-demand (VOD) formats with their campaign that launched the Symphony of the Seas cruise ship. RCL has also regularly enhanced their website, featuring interactive elements that engage travelers and match them to cruises that fit their vacation styles.

Carnival Cruise Line: Choose Fun

Carnival Cruise Line believes many would-be cruisers experienced or heard about boring cruises in their past, and they’re inviting them to reimagine cruising and “Choose Fun” with Carnival. The Carnival 2018 campaign, according to Carnival President Christine Duffy was designed to “inspire people who’ve never considered a cruise, or those who don’t think it’s for them.”

Also in 2018, Carnival appointed Shaquille O’Neal as their Chief Fun Officer. In an announcement about his new role, Shaq stated, “I used to live right there. I used to ride by, and I used to make fun of these ships, like ‘Look at those old people going on their little retirement cruises.’” Despite his fame and fortune, Shaq understands Carnival’s “average guy” audience for their “Choose Fun” campaign. Or, as Shaq put it, “The average guy that’s working very hard and wants to take his family on a nice cruise, this cruise is for him, not for ritzy farts like me.”

Disney Cruise Line: See All That’s Included

Mouse life… mmmm life… hold on for dear life… date life… princess life… stage life… slide life… private island life… club life… the time of your life. It’s all included in #DisneyCruiseLIFE. And that’s the message of the 2019 Disney Cruise Line “See All That’s Included” campaign which aims to explain the premium cost of Disney cruises.

The team at Disney is comprised of marketing masters proficient in brand building, cross-selling, content marketing and promotional marketing. Rated as the best large-ship cruise line by Conde Nast Traveler readers, Disney doesn’t have to work hard to build interest in their cruise vacations. But, with above-average cruise prices, they need to explain why cruisers should spend more to cruise with Disney versus their competitors. The first page of the Disney Cruise Line website aims to answer “Why Choose a Disney Cruise?” and, like their “See All That’s Included” ads, the website immediately dives into what’s included in the cruise price and encourages cruisers to “expect something more.”

Princess Cruises: Doing This

Princess Cruises inspires travelers to #ComeBackNew with their 2018 “Doing This” campaign. From a couple “finally doing this” to an eager cruiser that is “so doing this,” Princess Cruises emboldens vacationers to take advantage of today.

In 2019, Princess Cruises launched their first-ever campaign targeting Asia and emerging international markets. A dynamically translated microsite encourages visitors to take a short quiz to discover their travel personalities. In addition to generating first-party data, the quiz lets Princess Cruises customize cruise recommendations for prospective cruisers.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Feel Free

“Rooted in the cruise line’s fundamentals of freedom and flexibility,” Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) launched their “Feel Free” campaign in 2016. Played across TV, display, online video and social media, NCL continues to urge travelers to #FeelFree both in spirit and in cost.

As part of the NCL “Feel Free” campaign, NCL promotes their “Free at Sea” offer which gives cruisers the choice of five free cruise deals: free unlimited beverages, free specialty dining, free shore excursions, free wifi or friends and family traveling for free. For guests traveling in select cabins on select cruises, all five free offers plus free air are included. The intent, of course, is to help NCL cruisers feel as though they’re getting a good deal and to help alleviate concerns of onboard expenses which have increased across the cruise industry in an effort to further monetize guests.

Virgin Voyages: Shake For Champagne

Known for redefining travel, Richard Branson is at it again with the adult-only Virgin Voyages, “the new lifestyle brand set to disrupt the travel industry.” Announced October 9, Virgin Voyage travelers will be equipped with an app that allows them to shake their phones for champagne delivered right to where they are, because “there’s nothing more luxurious than having champagne at your beck and call.”

Launching in 2020 with a ship named Scarlet Lady, according to Frank Weber, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations, Virgin Voyages is “creating an authentic experience that is not based on cruising, it’s base on creating a vacation product.” The Virgin Voyages website promises “All The Things” in their onboard experience. Their cabins leverage technology to transform lighting and bedding configurations, they’re offering unlimited wifi throughout the ship and there is food available throughout the day. (Or as they put it, #NoStomachLeftBehind.) Though they’re not sailing yet, Virgin Voyages is encouraging travelers to let Virgin get “behind the velvet rope and into your inbox” by opting in to their newsletter subscription.

Though most of the cruise marketing examples highlighted above focus on TV campaigns, every cruise line is active across multiple media channels. Remarketing and email marketing are frequently leveraged by cruise lines, as cruise marketers understand cruise planning ranges from last-minute opportunity bookings to extensively researched bookings.

According to CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), 18 new ocean cruise ships will be debuted by their members this year. With both bigger ships and more ships on the horizon, there is no sign of a slow down in the competitiveness of cruise marketing.

Are You Looking For New Ways To Engage Prospective Cruisers?

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About the Author

Kathy Bryan

Kathy Bryan is the Chief Marketing Officer at Digital Media Solutions (DMS). In this role, Kathy is responsible for all aspects of marketing and communications for DMS, the leading global martech company leveraging innovative, performance-driven brand and marketplace solutions to connect consumers and advertisers.

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