Plotting Viking's course

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With its $12 million account win of Viking River Cruises, WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles, faces a big task: Market a new product in the mature though lucrative $9 billion cruise industry.

Viking River Cruises controls a fleet of 28 smaller ships that travel Europe via rivers-a fairly new cruising option to U.S. consumers-and last month enlisted Ogilvy as its first agency of record in the U.S. to help with advertising and public relations.

Ogilvy snared the account in part through a WPP connection: Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen is a friend of WPP Chairman-Chief Executive Martin Sorrell.

"It's always nice to be in with a client at the very first stage because you can really grow together," said Angus Fraser, co-president of Ogilvy, Culver City, Calif. "But to do that at a time when there isn't much new business around is doubly pleasing."

The cruise industry is marked by imitation. Though U.S. cruise-goers have grown at a steady 8.4% clip since 1980, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, major lines now resemble each other in amenities, itineraries and price levels. Viking is offering itself as an alternative to colossal ocean liners.


Mr. Fraser hopes the campaign will squash the U.S. notion that river cruising equals whitewater rafting or gambling on Mississippi paddleboats. Ogilvy will focus its drive at the baby boomer-plus age range and market intimate 150-cabin ships, smoother rides and a chance to see Europe's interior while only unpacking once. "We consider this a new category in travel," said Jeff Dash, Viking River Cruises' VP-marketing.

In mid-August, Viking will launch a campaign aimed at travel agents, followed by a consumer push that will include direct marketing and TV spots. Ogilvy Public Relations will be involved in the campaign. WPP's MindShare will handle media buys.

Executives at Viking, a four-year-old Swiss company, said they aren't worried about a troubled U.S. economy. One analyst agreed Viking seems well positioned.

"Specialized cruising with smaller boats is something that will continue to emerge because smaller boats can get to places larger boats can't," said Scott Berman, partner with the hospitality and leisure consulting group at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Viking River is part of a niche group that has a very interesting and dynamic itinerary and that's going to appeal to a certain market."

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