Cunard sets sight on a bygone era

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After Carnival Corp. purchased the blue-chip yet red-ink Cunard brand two years ago, attorneys for the Miami company were surprised to find themselves in a fight with the British crown.

Carnival executives believed one of Cunard's greatest assets was a crown, affiliated with the House of Windsor, used as a symbol for its QE2 ship. But as executives moved to turn the one-ship symbol into the icon for the brand at large, the British Secretary of the Interior balked. It was a crest of Her Majesty, he said, and off-limits.

So Carnival lawyers embarked on a research voyage and found Cunard had used the seal prior to the existence of applicable U.K. trademark laws. An agreement was reached and Cunard's re-branding sailed out of the port.

The battle sheds light on just how rich is the history of the luxury line. And Carnival has embraced this 160-year-old heritage to re-christen the Cunard brand.

The line promises the chance for passengers to sample leisure-class life of yesteryear, which dovetails with a zeitgeist where even young adults lust after a bygone era.

"Watching younger people smoke cigars and drink martinis as the 70-year-olds were, I came to the conclusion that there was something to be said for nostalgia-that, in fact, kind of the golden age of sea travel would be attractive to not only older guests, but younger guests," said Larry Pimentel, president-CEO of Carnival's luxury brands, Cunard and Seabourn. "So what we began to do is look at Cunard's history."

That quest sent Dorn Martell, senior VP-group creative director at Tinsley Advertising, Miami, to the University of Liverpool in northern England, where he found images of Cunard ships starting with the 1840 Britannia.

When Carnival purchased Cunard, the just-under $10 million account was at another Miami agency, Crispin, Porter, Bogusky, which had proposed creative focusing on celebrities. But Carnival wanted less glory days of Hollywood and more luxury at sea. It shifted to Tinsley.

Mr. Martell grew tight with a Liverpool archivist, and their research formed the basis for a new ad campaign launched in mid-1999. The print effort, referred to as the "Continuum Campaign," featured an illustrated timeline with images of the many cutting-edge ships Cunard has sailed over 160 years and the tagline "Advancing civilization since 1840."

The Cunard brand and the campaign may also have benefited from the boffo performance of the movie "Titanic." Cunard is to relaunch the campaign as the cruise industry moves into "the wave period"-the time when post-holiday doldrums and cold weather spark travel plans for the year ahead.

But Cunard must navigate carefully its reliance on the past. Done right, people may be enticed to role-play a life in a different time ("You can't live in the past, but it's a glorious place to visit," one ad for Cunard reads). But if it's overdone, Cunard could be left with a dowdy image. It's a tricky balancing act as Cunard nears the launch of the $780 million Queen Mary 2 in 2003.

The marketing of the 2,620-passenger ship, with cutting-edge Internet access in every room, is expected to be folded into the current campaign tactics, while the ship will boast a retro feel, thanks in part to a grand staircase like the one in the silver screen "Titanic."

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