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Carnival Repositions, Launches New Campaign to Lure Back Customers

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After cruising in troubled waters for the past couple of years, Carnival is boosting its marketing budget and unleashing a new ad campaign, in the hopes of convincing travelers to book vacations with the company.

The campaign is the first big ad push since Carnival's been embroiled in a myriad of PR problems. The cruise line says it will spend more than $25 million on the campaign between September and December -- a figure it says is "substantially higher" than is typical. Indeed, in all of 2012, the company spent $27 million on measured media, according to Kantar Media. And in the first half of this year alone it has spent $15 million. The campaign is slated to continue through the first quarter of 2014.

The new marketing effort is a major departure from the brand's past ads. Notably, the new campaign -- which is called "Moments that Matter" and was handled by the cruise line's longtime agency, Havas-owned Arnold in Boston -- does not take place on a cruise ship. Rather than touting cruise-ship staples such as pools, water slides, fancy drinks with umbrellas and dinner buffets, it tugs on the heartstrings and focuses on the lasting memories created by families on vacations.

Throughout the 60-second ad, users see framed photos that spring to life, which show kids dancing, a wedding proposal and an onboard game of mini golf.

The cruise line is hoping the heartwarming campaign will help consumers to get past the slew of negativity publicity that has been plaguing the brand.

In January of last year the Costa Concordia capsized, killing 32 people. That was followed by a stateside disaster with the Carnival Triumph, which stranded passengers for five days and was eventually evacuated amid grotesque reports of raw sewage problems. Several other ships in Carnival's fleet made headlines this year, as they dealt with mechanical issues, prompting the company to debut the "Great Vacation Guarantee" earlier this month. The guarantee promises passengers a 110% refund on their fare and passage home free of charge, if they lodge their complaints within 24 hours of departure.

Still, it's clear that it has some loyal fans; the spot is made up of real vacation photos and videos from past Carnival cruisers, chosen from more than 30,000 pieces of content submitted via social media by past guests.

"For more than 41 years, Carnival has been creating the backdrop for lasting vacation memories for more than 60 million guests and we know there is no one more qualified than them to tell the authentic story of what a Carnival cruise is truly like," said Carnival CMO Jim Berra in a statement. "This campaign features real guests of all backgrounds and ages having fun and making great memories together."

"We found those looking to book a cruise are much more likely to listen to recommendations from previous cruisers," added Pete Johnson, executive creative director at Arnold, in the statement. "There's a level of trust there that can't be fabricated."

To get the attention of large swaths of American audiences, Carnival is unveiling the new TV spots on Monday, September 23rd on major primetime network shows including "How I Met Your Mother", "Parks and Recreation", "Big Bang Theory" and "The Voice." The media buy includes several cable networks including Bravo, TNT, TLC, ABC Family, TBS and Food Network, and the spots will appear online as well. Radio and direct mail efforts will complement the broadcast ads.

Carnival just last month brought on Omnicom Group's PHD as its new media agency of record, succeeding Havas Media on the business, which it had since 2008.

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