How Princess Cruises is trying to stay top of mind as ships remain grounded
Travel brands from online reservation marketers to luggage makers have started to get more aggressive with their marketing as vaccine rollouts spur new interest in vacations. But the cruise industry still faces choppy waters—the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has yet to greenlight cruise lines with U.S. departures to resume operations, with reports saying that may happen by mid-summer.
Still, the uncertainty is not stopping Princess Cruise Lines from putting out new ads. The brand has a new social media campaign called “Why We Travel” that tries to keep the brand top of mind with would-be travelers.
Created out of Omelet and Princess’ creative services production team, the effort centers on an aspirational film compiling scenes of Princess customers, employees and partners sharing what motivates them to travel and how travel has enriched their lives. The clips were captured by the cruise company’s senior video production manager, Scott Martin, over a period of 10 years. On various internal shoots throughout the last decade, he asked various individuals in the Princess network the same question: “Why do you travel?”
Princess’ message takes a soft touch. “We’re not making ads telling people to go book,” says Andrew Krensky, managing director at Omelet. “We’re currently not sailing so we thought it best to focus on maintaining our relationship with guests, connecting through a shared love of travel.”
“Travel brings us together. It’s what we’re craving— that connection to our loved ones, to nature, culture and people,” adds Shelley Wise, VP of integrated marketing at Princess. “We wanted to remind our guests, our teammates, and travelers why we travel, to inspire them, to spark that curiosity, to drive consideration and begin to build that anticipation to explore the world by sea.”
After the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) halted cruise operations more than a year ago, Princess Cruise Lines continued to maintain its marketing to consumers. In July, it released a social film, “Dream With Us,” which acknowledged that travel was not yet possible but reminded consumers that Princess Cruises would be there when the world opened up again. It also noted how the brand was assessing its safety protocols in light of COVID-19.
The latest film arrives as Omelet remains embroiled in a legal dispute with a former employee, Tiffani Harcrow, who alleges she was fired for refusing to work on a project for the cruise brand after raising concerns that it would mislead consumers about the safety of cruise travel during the pandemic. The suit was filed last June before the “Dream With Us” film came out. A California judge has since ordered Harcrow to revise her complaint (more below).
Cruise lines could be facing tough times for a while, and brands must wrestle with how aggressively to approach travelers. At the height of the pandemic, one analyst told Ad Age, “It’s going to take a miracle for the cruise line industry to recover in less than a decade,” given all the negative press around cruises at that time.
Of course, widespread vaccinations could change that perception. And some travel brands are going full force with their marketing as optimism spreads. Expedia recently debuted a website redesign and a new brand campaign starring Rashida Jones. D-to-C travel lifestyle brand Away, which markets suitcases and other travel gear, took a more tentative approach to promoting its new line of accessories and created a cheeky catalog advertising how such products could serve them well at home while still in lockdown.
For Princess, Krensky says that the campaign’s message positions the cruise brand for a broader audience of those who will just want to get out in the world post-COVID. “The cool thing about the emotional tack we’re taking is that I think we can appeal to people interested in travel, not just cruising,” he says. “At the end of the day, cruising is a great option for people who want to see the world but may not want to deal with the barriers of other kinds of travel.”
During Princess Cruises parent Carnival Corporation & plc’s quarterly update, President and CEO Arnold Donald noted that booking volumes across the company, which also includes brands such as Carnival, Costa and Cunard, are “accelerating.” In the first quarter of 2021, they were about 90% higher than those of fourth quarter 2020 “reflecting both the significant pent-up demand and long-term potential for cruising."
Legal case continues
Omelet declined to answer questions about Harcrow’s lawsuit, including if the new campaign was in any way related to the brief in question.
The lawsuit claims the campaign brief shared with Harcrow on April 22, 2020 stated: “Before our audience can consider booking again, we need to address their concerns and convince them that Princess has taken the appropriate actions to ensure that guests remain safe & healthy during their cruise vacation.”
Among Harcrow’s allegations was that “representing to the public that it was permitted—let alone safe—to travel on a cruise line on June 30, 2020 violated the CDC’s orders. As a result, Harcrow told her supervisors that she reasonably believed that the campaign was misleading, fraudulent, unethical, violated public safety laws and protocols, was inconsistent with the CDC orders and congressional investigation, and would endanger the health, safety, and lives of consumers.”
Omelet denied the allegations saying Harcrow was let go as part of a round of layoffs that was a result of the pandemic.
Harcrow was forced to file an amended complaint in February of this year after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara Scheper ruled in January that none of Harcrow’s complaints met standards for labor code violations. For instance, she ruled that “nothing in the CDC No Sail Orders prohibited Princess Cruises from developing or engaging in a marketing campaign.”
Harcrow came back with an amended complaint filed on Feb. 3 that alleges that the brief she objected to working on was unlawful because it “made unsubstantiated, false, deceptive, and/or misleading representations” that violated false advertising laws.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for May 27.